The Road to Joy
As anyone who reads this blog probably knows by now, bloggers and those who read them are about as far removed from the description of D.C.'s pundits as P-Town is from San Diego. The closest connection between the set of two is the fact that Route Six links both places - and I am the rare exception of a video-game playing, twenty-something blogger living with his mother. The reality is I'm about ten years younger than the next youngest Bay State blogger that I know of - though you'd never know that by looking at her pretty complexion, completely devoid of the typical signs of aging that comes with one's 30s.
In fact, Lynne is the inspiring force of this particular blog about blogging. Despite her foray into the world of blogging, where she spends so much time, and the fact that the incentives for bloggers are paltry at best (an audience of some, civic pride?), she's in the process of putting on the finishing touches to a house she just bought with Mr. Lynne. The important point is the funds that went into buying that house certainly didn't come from LeftinLowell, despite its success as a local blog and the time Lynne puts into it daily, which is very indicative of the precarious nature of being a regular person in the blogosphere: it's accessible only to some and doesn't lend itself well to people who'd like to be committed to its success as a newly developing institution in America, imperative to our society today - yet have other, even more important, time constraints.
One of the reasons why most pundits are wrong and bloggers (and those who read them) tend to be in their 30s to 50s is the fact that it takes so much time and energy to participate that younger people - living on raman and college loans - can't join in the fun. Heck, as Jane Hamsher notes, that's one reason why less women engage in the blogosphere than men - after they get home from work, women often end up doing a majority of the house work and tending to the tykes. It's no different for twenty somethings: they're either poor-as-all-hell college students, trying to finish their papers, or they're even poorer, trying to pay off their college loans, credit card debts they were undoubtedly preyed into spending while desperately broke in college - and the thousands a year it costs to rent on a pay check that looks more like a stipend than respectable salary for a hard day's work. The things this society asks certain groups of people to do makes it almost impossible for them to be fully engaged citizens - participating in the netroots or otherwise.
For the netroots to ever become a sustainable institution, where people can work on issues long enough to develop the respect necessary to make an impact, blogs have to become a place where everyone is truly welcome. It has to become a place where people are beckoned by more than their own pride and desire to be active Americans, because if the blogs don't become that place eventually the economic realities of society will take over for almost every person - meaning we'll lose our most talented writers and thinkers and the trust they've accumulated. That could come in the form of a local Lowell blogger who may eventually find an expensive need for one of those empty rooms in her new house, or a 20 something blogger who just got a new job and doesn't have the same kind of time to invest on the important issues facing his home state. Both, for all we know, could happen sooner rather than later.
There are a lot of forms such beckoning could take. In fact, we've already seen a few either in blogging or similar areas: think tanks, more mainstream journalism, funds from advertisements or employment in the same sector of the actual blog (creating additional incentive to write daily). Time Magazine's hiring of Ms. Wonkette was an early signal of how a popular blogger could enter into the realm where she could actually continue to blog as a profession. Illustrative of how important her continued voice is, she was one of the key people to spread Mitt's dog story beyond the pages of the Boston Globe. Campaigns can become another source for bloggers to branch out; many have already hired bloggers in various roles - from consultants to organizers to actual campaign bloggers. There's employment opportunities to allow the blogosphere's best to stay in the community, but not nearly enough.
The hiring of Ms.-Wonkette-calibre bloggers is only going to become more common, but what about bloggers who, instead of writing about the inanity that goes on, are more focused on actual issues (and probably less frequently read)? To get more serious analysis and less Daily-Show-esque blogs, the netroots needs to develop institutions that are like think tanks. We're going to have to create nonprofits that raise funds through private contributors interested in developing important thought in those particular areas. There could be think tank blogs that focus on media criticism, or important state blogs focusing on issues that not even local papers tend to work on. The think tanks could extend beyond blogging, too, becoming a place to link what's written online with active community engagement - sort of like Moveon.org, but local.
This kind of effort would be crucial to society all over, but wouldn't be profitable enough for newspapers and magazines to take a leap of faith. Yet, the fact that certain issues aren't profitable doesn't mean they're any less imperative for society than the money-sucking public infrastructure we all gladly use every day (wait a minute, we're neglecting that, too). What bloggers unearth reverberates throughout society, changing the discourse on everything from the Bush administration's shenanigans to conventional wisdom. Subsequently, without institutions to provide funding for serious research and journalistic integrity that rarely exists at the New York Times today, the blogosphere will never reach its crescendo.
Sadly, knowing how to maintain the netroots hasn't brought us any closer to actually doing it. It's a matter of organizing and developing the will, something we're not experts at yet. It's also a matter of depending on activists that don't write every day; writing sucks away the time that's necessary to fundraise and creatively create. Yet, it's no small order to organize and still participate in some form, making that a full time job in and of itself. Certainly, the answer isn't in online advertising: despite the fact that tens of thousands of people have viewed Ryan's Take, Google Ads has generated $99.80 since I joined up late in 2006. It may just pay for all the gas I've spent covering events across the state, but not much else. Online ads fostered the biggest blogs, fully establishing our community, but it will never bring issue-oriented and local blogs to a place of sustainability (unless there's significant change that's unlikely to come from the likes of Google). Private institutions and campaigns help, but aren't the answer either. They filter out what makes the blogosphere unique: the abrasiveness that's engaged a nation and unearthed untold numbers of important stories isn't welcome in Conventional Wisdom Land.
Clearly, developing netroot think tanks is the only way to sustain research on specific topics, especially at state levels, and to push our goals from sea to shining sea. It's the only way to allow activists and bloggers alike to reach for the top and truly make the most of our potential, creating a better America from the ground up. All of these tools, especially additional organizations, can allow the netroots to grow and truly change the country. Otherwise, the constraints of real life will eventually force people to give up on the netroots - stunting a budding movement in its tracks.