Why Lefty Bloggers Are Owed a Living

Beccah Golubock Watson has a longish piece at the Nation highlighting the plight of lefty bloggers who are unable to sell advertising space for $10,000 a week and quit their day jobs.

As bloggers become some of the progressive movement’s most effective voices, the left still has not figured out how to provide them with the resources they need to keep going. Although philanthropists like George Soros have shown that they aren’t scared of the Internet–Soros gave $5 million to MoveOn in 2004– bloggers still are not on the radar of most grant-making foundations. “Bloggers are nobodies in the political funding world,” says Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. Although some blogs are making money through blog ads (Daily Kos charges $9,000 per week for a premium spread; over at TPM, advertisers pay up to $10,000 for a spot on its premium sidebar), blogging remains a labor of love for the vast majority of online reporters and pundits. And that’s a real problem.


Peer-produced media like blogs and Wikipedia have become the cornerstones of new creative projects that largely depend on the coordinated work of volunteers. But can they thrive without financial backing? Moulitsas says no. “There has to be a financial incentive to stick with blogging,” he says. “There will be a subset of blogs that will be OK on their own, but there is a larger group of bloggers who need to be taken care of. There are bloggers like Digby who should not have to work a day job given what they bring to the progressive movement.”

Kathy at Liberty Street and Shakesville argues that what’s needed is more socialism, with the A-list lefties spreading the link love, starting mentorship programs, and otherwise living up to their values of “diversity, inclusiveness, a place at the table for everyone, [and putting] human needs before defense contractors’ wish lists.” In doing so, they should take a page out of books from the evil right-wingers who, despite being, “narrow, intolerant, exclusive, and hateful are so much better at supporting their ideological soulmates than we on the left.”

Let’s leave aside for now the irony of demonstrating inclusiveness and tolerance by lack of same as well as our understandable puzzlement over why the “exclusive” and “hateful” side would be the ones helping out the less fortunate rather than the side that works so diligently for “a place at the table for everyone.” Let’s even dismiss the longstanding notion expressed by Chris Bowers and others that the reason the lefty political blogs have surged to such prominence is their networked effects and communitarian spirit as compared to the top-down model of the most prominent conservative blogs.

Instead, let’s focus on the basic premises of the piece: 1) Bloggers that promote their party’s agenda effectively are owed a living and 2) Blogs will fail as a medium unless thousands of bloggers are able to quit their day job and make a living blogging.

The A-list bloggers that are making oodles of money from their products are able to do so because they have the combination of traffic and prestige to make it worthwhile for advertisers to pay for the privilege of appearing on their sites. Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Duncan Black, Markos Moulitsas, Michelle Malkin, and a handful of others have done that so well that they’re making large sums of money and employing others. Others, including John Hawkins and myself, are making a living at it, although at rates far below $10,000 a week.

If, however, one’s part-time writing has not attracted a large readership and a passel of advertisers, why is it that The Powers That Be ought to swoop down and fork over some cash to keep you in business? For one thing, you’re already in business, meaning the return on investment would be rather minimal. Moreover, almost by definition, the net harm to The Cause of your blog’s disappearance from the scene would be negligible.

Moreover, where is the evidence that blogs are going to go away if people can’t make a living from them? Most of us blogged for free for years before making more than minimum wage for the time invested. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs being created every day, including a small number of readable ones.

Where, exactly, is the blogging crisis?

Other reactions:

  • Dale Franks does not leave aside what he sees as Kathy’s “smug, morally superior attitude.”
  • Hugh Hewitt throws some link love in the spirit of the occasion.
  • Chris Bowers is “not whining” about how little Netroots leaders make for all their effort in raising millions for ungrateful Democratic politicians.
  • Duncan Black hopes you’ll throw some change at the hard-working little guys.

More at Memeorandum

UPDATE: Via David All, I see that David Sifry has released his latest “The State of the Blogosphere” assessment which finds, “Technorati is now tracking over 70 million weblogs, and we’re seeing about 120,000 new weblogs being created worldwide each day. That’s about 1.4 blogs created every second of every day.”

Steve Rubel notes that, while the number of blogs is increasing, the number of blog posts is decreasing, owing perhaps to the growth of other social media, and thinks blogging has therefore “peaked” as a phenomenon.

Brad Levinson respectfully disagrees. He notes a number of trends, including the emergence of corporate and non-Western blogs, which he believes are primed for an explosion in growth. Further,

Also not taken into account is the difference between “journalistic/trade/opinion” bloggers versus the “OMGZ! Sanjaya is awfulz!” bloggers. My bet is that the amount of “personal” bloggers is dying off as they move to social networks laden with RSS and other types of blog-like CMSes. So, blog consumption and usage has merely changed and morphed and evolved, not peaked.

Time will tell, I guess. My bet’s on blogging to continue to evolve and thrive. Indeed, in the not-too-distant future, I see the distinction between blogs and other social media largely disappearing.

UPDATE II: Jon Swift provides some background on the Blogroll Amnesty fever that swept the left-o-sphere a while back that caught my attention but not my interest. It provides additional context for Kathy’s complaining about the stinginess of the Lefty Blog Elites.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, Blogosphere, Economics and Business, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t see Kathy arguing for socialism in any but the most general sense. I see her arguing for a greater sense of community among the Left Blogosphere. The Right Blogosphere is certainly more generous in linking to other Right Blogosphere blogs and I think it’s reasonable asking why. I’m open to suggestions.

    The tiny, not-very-influential Centrist Blogosphere (of which I’m a proud member) is extremely good about linking to blogs left and right and, as a general principle, believes in linking to its own as often as possible.

    Why not the Left Blogosphere?

    More than anything else I think that Kathy is complaining about the “Long Tail” which appears to be an inflexible principle of psychology or group dynamics.

    Her blogospheric history is a little confused, however. LaShawn Barber and Blackfive predated Hugh Hewitt’s and Michelle Malkin’s blogs by, literally, years and developed a following (and Ecosystem ranking) before those blogs even existed. Claiming that Blackfive gained prominence because it was linked by Hugh and Michelle is wrong on the facts.

    Hugh and Michelle leapt to prominence on a combination of name recognition, red meat, and, let’s admit it, hard work. The guys at Power Line toiled in the vineyards quite a while before gaining prominence, scarcely an overnight success (and a great example of my belief that the best way to become a top blog is to start in 2002).

  2. James Joyner says:


    The history angle occurred to me as well. It’s true that LaShawn and others gained greater notoriety after getting noticed by the Malkin but it’s not as if they were plucked from obscurity.

    No doubt that getting in on the ground floor would have been helpful. I felt like a latecomer in January 2003 but it was immensely easier to get noticed then than now. As I observed nearly three years ago,

    I would also add a version of the advice sage golfers give to the “How do I improve my golf game?” question: Go back and take up blogging three years ago.

    You’re likely right on Kathy’s plea. Certainly, relatively early notice by the likes of Scott Ott and Stephen Green helped OTB’s growth immensely. Then again, I hope that their motivation was primarily “this guy’s stuff is worth reading” rather than “help a brother out.”

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s another factor. Daily Kos, the top Left Blogosphere blog in the EcoSystem, is a group blog with a large number of contributors. All those diaries. For practical purposes TPM, the #2 Left Blogosphere blog in the Ecosystem is, too. I remember not too long ago this emphasis on (solipsistic) communities was being touted as an advantage on the part of Left Blogosphere blogs. Communities define themselves by exclusion as well as inclusion.

    The real question may be why Markos and Josh aren’t sharing the wealth.

  4. It is entirely consistent in the liberal philosophy that “good people” should be supported in some “community” way when the market doesn’t do so naturally. Give this time and I suspect that you could see them doing a “NPR” and offering federal grants to help deserving bloggers. ‘extreme right wingers’ like Ann Althouse would get some support and ‘centrists’ like Kos would receive more. There will be rules on inclusiveness and no hate speech that will be used to winnow down to the few ‘good’ blogs. And of course, that will be the death of lefty blogging.

    Look at student organization funding at universities for examples of the public funding for the left.

  5. Steph says:

    I have a blog and have received money for adspace on it.

    I never knew I could live on that.

    There is no reason someone can’t have a 9-5 job and a very active blog.

    Actually I do data entry production at home which I can do anytime of day (for company I used to work in office for) and since I have a Cubs/Bears blog (sports teams not gay stuff) I need to be able to watch the games to comment on so I work around it.

  6. Mark Hasty says:

    Just for the record, I’m not a liberal, but I think the world should pay me for blogging.

  7. Mark,

    If I agree that the world owes you a living for blogging, can I get a few hundred million for breathing? (and yes, as long as we are going to be putting our hand out, I’m going for a bit more than the paltry $9K/week per ad that Kos gets).

  8. Mark Hasty says:

    I didn’t say they owed me, just that I thought they should pay me. As to whether or not you should get paid for breathing, yetanotherjohn, I’ll go with my usual motto: “To each their own, as long as I get mine.”

  9. Mark,

    My point exactly. If someone with more sense than money is going to be handing out money contra to the market, lets get in line.

    I suppose the left is viewing blogging something along the lines of performance art. Support it because of some ill defined public good even though the market isn’t willing to support it.

  10. Bithead says:

    Kathy at Liberty Street and Shakesville argues that what’s needed is more socialism, with the A-list lefties spreading the link love, starting mentorship programs, and otherwise living up to their values of “diversity, inclusiveness, a place at the table for everyone, [and putting] human needs before defense contractors’ wish lists.” In doing so, they should take a page out of books from the evil right-wingers who, despite being, “narrow, intolerant, exclusive, and hateful are so much better at supporting their ideological soulmates than we on the left.”

    Well, of course, that particular dog barking up the wrong tree. In watching what’s been going on on the left side of the sphere lately, the one conclusion that you can draw is that the left is anything but charitable, even to each other. THe whole thing seems to be about personal power and satisfaction, and to hell with anyone else. They are all out for themselves. “By their fruits, ye shall know them”, he said. And so we do.

    Funny thing, they’ve been charging the right with precisely that, for quite a while now. Kathy may be on to something, when she observes that it is not in fact happening on the right as their conventional wisdom would have it. Personally, I wonder how many on the left will take the hint. I doubt wrongly that it will be many.

  11. Bithead says:

    umm i doubt STRONGLY it’ll be many.