Terrance Heath

Whither the Amateur Blogosphere?

Filed By Terrance Heath | June 13, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: liberal blogging, paid bloggers, professional bloggers, progressive bloggers

I’ve never considered myself a “professional blogger.” That’s mainly because I’ve never come close to making my living off my humble blog. So, I’m light years away from being in the same set as those who have, like Markos and Aravosis, just to name a couple of political bloggers who come to mind. Nor can I claim to have built a personal media empire à la Josh Marshall. Nor have I ever counted myself among the “Haves” of the blogosphere, as defined by the New York Magazine article a few years back.

Nor can I count myself among the bloggers who have hitched their blogging stars to various media outlets -- Sullivan (The Atlantic), Klein, and Yglesias (ThinkProgress) come to mind, now joined by Nate Sliver who’s taking FiveThirtyEight to the New York Times.

I’m not even sure what professional bloggerdom feels like, but I’ve always been pretty sure wherever I’m at ain’t it.

Then I read Chris Bowers’ eulogy for the amateur blogosphere.

Only five years ago, the progressive political blogosphere was still predominately a gathering place for amateur (that is, unpaid or barely paid) journalists and activists unattached to existing media companies and advocacy organizations. Those days are almost completely over. Now, the progressive blogosphere is almost entirely professionalized, and inextricably linked to existing media companies and advocacy organizations.

Now, Chris is a blogger I actually both respect and admire. (I suspect it’s because we have similar thought processes, though focused in different directions. A few years back, he posted on the end of the flat blogosphere, and I was surprised to find he covered much of what I’d been thinking and writing for a while.) So, when Chris writes something like the above, I’m inclined to at least check out what he has to say.

I’ve been at this for more than six years. (The seventh anniversary of my first post will be in October, provided I’m still blogging by then. Which, most likely, I will.) So, I was there for the period Chris talks about.

But I thought I was still in the amateur league until I read this.

This transformation has been brought about by three developments (fellow bloggers, please forgive me in advance if I fail to mention your or your blog as an example):

  1. Established media companies and advocacy organizations hiring bloggers to blog, full-time: The Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, Center for American Progress, Salon, CQ, Atlantic, Washington Monthly, the American Independent News Network, and more have all hired hired bloggers to blog, full-time. Many of these bloggers, such as fivethirtyeight, Unclaimed Territory, or the Carpetbagger Report, operated their blogs independently of any established organization, and were key hubs in the “amateur” or “independent” progressive blogosphere. Now, those bloggers do pretty much the same thing they did before, they just (quite understandably) do it for a much better salary from an established organization.
  2. Previously “amateur” progressive blogs became professional operations: Another trend, less common than the first, has been for blogs like Daily Kos, Fire Dog Lake and Talking Points Memo to transform themselves from hobbies into professional media outlets and / or activist organizations. These blogs have increased their revenue stream to the point where they can hire multiple full-time staff.
  3. Bloggers translate blogging into consulting and advocacy work: Many bloggers have also found a way to make a living by combining their blogging with blog-friendly advocacy and consulting work. This is actually the path I am currently following, as are, I believe, Oliver Willis, Atrios, Jerome Armstrong, and more. This involves finding part-time or full time work in politics that is conducive to still maintaining a full-time blog (which also generates a part-time income).

Add up all three of these paths, not even to mention the emergence of the utterly dominant Huffington Post, and the progressive political blogosphere is now both thoroughly professionalized and integrated into the progressive media an political ecosystem.

Well, gee. According to no. 3, I went and joined the professional blogosphere a while back.

I’ve never made a living from my blog, but blogging has definitely led to work opportunities that have been either blog-centric or blog friendly. About six years ago, less than a year into my blogging “career” I was offered a job at EchoDitto and I’m reasonably sure I became one of the first people to ever have “Blogmaster” as a job title. It was a new enough trend that even FastCompany took notice.

A few examples of bloggers who took significant career steps forward because of their blogging:

  • Matthew Yglesias’ blog proved to be the crucial factor in getting him a journalism job out of college.
  • Similarly, Rick Klau was hired as the VP of business development for SocialText after the company’s CEO, Ross Mayfield, visited Rick’s weblog.
  • Terrance Heath was not even searching for a job when he received an employment opening from a company who had read his blog.

As a result of this rise in blog-facilitated job opportunities, there are now entire blog networks dedicated to job searching and recruiting.

Funny, that. I didn’t think I was a member of that club, because I defined it too narrowly. Under the third criteria above, I definitely fall into one whose blogging has led to consulting and advocacy work, from my time at EchoDitto, to my brief summer sojourn as a consultant, and my current perch at OurFuture.Org, where part of my job is regular blogging.

Really, that’s about the only route I could have taken into professional blogging. I long ago accepted that because of what I write about and how I write about it, this blog would probably never attract a huge audience. But it’s let to other opportunities as far as work goes. Also, it seems to have earned enough respect from other bloggers for some to invite me to post to their blogs and share their platforms. So, in a way, I’ve expanded to reach a wider audience.

Still, I wonder if Chris might not be eulogizing the amateur blogosphere too soon. (Chris later posted a follow-up, clarifying and reiterating his earlier premise.) I think there’s still a huge need and space for what Chris called “Avant garde, ‘outsider’, developments.” Those of us who have transitioned into the professional realm will have constraints that are reflected in our blogging -- whether its related to certain issues or positions, or merely time constraints. (In my case, much of what I post here is stuff written and posted at the day-job. Between work and family, I find my blogging is far less focused on LGBT issues than it was, for that reason.)

In any event, I hope Chris is wrong about the chances for new voices to rise from the amateur blogosphere being far less than they were in 2003. He’s right that the entire field has changed, and that it’s probably more difficult for new voices to command attention. But I hope that the bar of entry doesn’t become impossibly high.

We will always need strong independent voices, and perhaps the way to insure that is for those of us who have “gone pro” to make efforts (as we can) to find and amplify those voices.

Or does that perpetuate what Chris was getting at in the first place?


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I've always thought you were a pro, Terrance. :)

It's still around and bigger than ever. Just because there are a few stars in the blogosphere doesn't meant that the rest of us aren't getting attention. If anything, MSM participation in blogging has gotten more people to take blog seriously.