Why Lefty Bloggers Are Owed a Living Redux
Susie Madrak, under the attention-grabbing headline “No More Dead Bloggers,” laments “the utter injustice of a Democratic political system that is very, very happy to take the money and volunteers the blogosphere sends its way” and yet returns only “Bubkis” to the non-A-listers.
There is not even a little doubt in my mind that, if Rittenhouse Review’s Jim Capozzola had remained a Republican, he’d be alive now. He would have been in a well-paid think tank job, living the high life. (He did, after all, have a masters degree in foreign policy.) Most importantly, he would have had health insurance for the past six years.
I don’t know much about the circumstances of Jim’s death but if he died for want of money, it’s tragic, indeed. That we manage to spend more per capita on health care than any other developed country and yet have people falling through the cracks of the system is surely evidence that we need to fix it.
As a Republican blogger with a doctorate in foreign policy and no well-paid think tank job, however, I’m pretty sure Richard Mellon Scaife and the boys aren’t hunting down Republican bloggers and ensuring we all have health insurance. For that matter, from what I know of think tank jobs, few of them are “well-paid,” at least by D.C. standards, let alone provide the resources for “living the high life,” at least economically speaking.
Furthermore, if the standard is hiring by think tanks and opinion journals, it would seem to me that the Left blogosphere is way ahead of us. Mickey Kaus was the blogger for whom the phrase “take the Boeing” was coined and Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Duncan “Atrios” Black, Oliver Willis, Steve Clemons, and Steve Benen come readily to mind as examples of those who followed.
It’s also rather ironic that Jim Capozzola is being invoked in defense of the position that bloggers should be taken care of by the Establishment. His most famous post, cited in most of the eulogies (including Susie’s) that followed his untimely death was AL GORE AND THE ALPHA GIRLS: The Enduring Power of Cliques in a Post-High-School World.
[W]ebloggers, some of whom I find smarter, more eloquent, and more perceptive than a sizable portion of their professional counterparts, do not share the punditburo’s status anxiety and do not join with the punditboro in enthusiastically casting aside whatever principles they might have in a craven effort to curry favor with their colleagues.
The media’s Betas, in their quest for higher professional status and a more public personal profile, fear nothing more than alienating the industry’s powerful Alphas. And for this reason, Betas hold back, mute their voices, temper their criticisms. Regularly. Consistently. Shamelessly. The Betas know who the gatekeepers are. They know that arguing too strongly against eliminating the estate tax would hurt their chances of appearing in The Wall Street Journal. They know that any hint of recognition that the Palestinians are human beings and not animals will result in their being permanently blackballed by the New Republic. And they know that expressing opposition to school vouchers or the privatization of Social Security will keep them from securing a plumb appointment in the Bush administration. The media consumer is poorly served by this rampant but well hidden journalistic deceit.
He contrasted this with a hypothetical blogger, Sally Smith, who “although a conservative Republican since college, nonetheless recently has become a vocal critic of at least two well-known conservatives, one a high-ranking member of the Bush administration, the other a prominent pundit.”
The hypothetical Smith has a good job, separate and apart from, and wholly unrelated to, her politically oriented blogging project. And she has a full and happy life. It is actually because of this — not despite this — that Smith writes with incomparable fervor about Daniels and Kristol, along with a few other conservatives she finds woefully lacking in intelligence and perspicacity, because she believes passionately in the issues she addresses at her site. More important, because Smith has a good job and a full and happy life, one in which her comments on pundits, commentators, and journalists of varying authenticity have no bearing, she has no reason to fear offending Daniels or Kristol or any person, institution, business, or enterprise with which they are associated, affiliated, or related.
Although Smith is a brilliant thinker and an outstanding writer, she cares not one whit about ever being published in conservative magazines like the Weekly Standard (Kristol’s home base, though one it is obvious is the subject of little of his purportedly brilliant mind’s attention), Commentary, the Public Interest, or City Journal (to name just a few of the little magazines where Daniels, Kristol, Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, and their friends have influence). Nor does Smith expect or wish ever to appear on the op-ed pages of the New York Post, the Washington Times, or the Washington Post. However, as a conservative, Smith appreciates the Post‘s increasingly evident enthusiasm for right-wing writers, both in the editorial section and even more obviously in the “Style” section — that portion of the paper that used to be called “the Lady’s Page,” now home to gossip columnist Lloyd Grove and consummate television-watcher Howard Kurtz.
Smith is not bothered that Pat Buchanan might think she’s too much of an internationalist to warrant calling herself a conservative. Or that William F. Buckley Jr. objects to her criticism of Pope Pius XII. Or that Martin Peretz and William Safire are irritated by her favorable remarks about Israeli Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna.
Smith doesn’t care that the Heritage Foundation will never come calling. Or that as a judge in southern Vermont she effected a dozen lawful gay unions last year, acts that forever have rendered her persona non grata to the self-appointed high priests and Pharisees of First Things and National Review.
The quintessential political blogger is gainfully employed, well informed, and insulated from the insider culture in which most mainstream journalists dwell. That, as Jim notes, is what made bloggers unique.
It may well be that this has changed, however. While most of the top bloggers have day jobs and would scoff at the low pay of a magazine writing or think tank job, a large number see success as going pro. Darren Rowse has made a career of providing advice to bloggers trying to monetize their sites and many others are following that path. It takes some luck and a lot of work, but many of us are doing it.
Still, as I wrote a few months ago in response to a similar lament,
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 [the] $10,000 a week [DailyKos reportedly generates].
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 small number of readable ones. Where, exactly, is the blogging crisis?
Further, aside from the question of whether bloggers who are loyal soldiers for the cause somehow deserve to have someone provide health insurance and free laptops, it’s far from clear where the line should be drawn. Surely, not every blogger should get that? And, if traffic levels or linkage are going to be the criteria, then it’s just a matter of creating an A-list, a B-list, and so on. Which is where we are now.
So, yes, let’s figure out a way to make sure that 45-year-olds who have fallen on hard times can get medical treatment. But let’s not turn bloggers into paid drones for the political party machines. That’s the last thing we need.