Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Blogs Cannot Be Both Sustainable and Independent

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 16, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bloggers, financial instability, independence, sustainable

nomoney_nohoney.jpgIs that true?

A session at the Netroots Nation LGBT Connect session yesterday afternoon discussed this important topic. At a time when Bilerico is finding that it cannot be financially sustained simply by putting a few ads online, and is looking for donations from its audience, this is a conversation that is more relevant than ever.

Part of the the reason that The Bilerico Project cannot sustain itself so easily is because its independent voice, which sometimes attacks LGBT organizations (when they deserve it, of course), is not perhaps the most go-to spot on the internet for organizational ads.

Eden James of Change.org made the point that it would be a useful thing to have an exchange of some type, in which organizations would give money to a fund that would be decided by a board of some kind that would distribute organizational money to blogs. Since blogs help organizations by spreading the word about important issues and campaigns, this would be something useful to organizations, but it would preserve the independence of blogs by leaving the decision to some independent body.

I spoke up, sporting my my devil's advocate hat, and said that was impossible and would never happen, because organizations are too desirous of being in control of their messaging. Whenever I have shown a willingness to step outside of their messaging, I have had pushback from them, and they don't want to know me anymore. Why would they give money to some board that is going to fund their harshest critics?

Mike Rogers, of Raw Story and PageOneQ, who put this whole LGBT Connect program together, said that organizations could be willing to do it, and that, more importantly, they should be willing. He noted that they've funded this LGBT Connect pre-conference, which brings together organizations and blogs, some of whom are critical of the orgs, so why wouldn't they be willing to fund blogs generally? He analogized this to the New York Times, in which no one is going to stop advertising because there's an op-ed critical of an advertiser. There's a difference between the advertising department and the editorial department that is well recognized by advertisers (who are basically funders of the newspaper). Mike spoke about his experience with Raw Story and BP. Raw Story was very critical of BP, and exposed some of BP's negative actions in the Gulf. BP didn't stop advertising, and Raw Story didn't back off.

A blogger who works for a well known LGBT organization spoke up, and noted that he has a personal blog, on which he criticized GLAAD and HRC. His boss received a call, reporting this, and demanding that the blogger stop making those criticisms. His boss told him that he had to curb his blogging, and he was effectively censored. "This has got to stop," he said, with a quaver in his voice. There was applause in the room at his words, underscoring the difficult relationship between the organizations and the blogs.

Others spoke about the idea that LGBT blogs should move beyond merely messaging the LGBT movement, and move into discussing the relationship between more mainstream stories and the LGBT side of things. Jos Truitt of Feministing noted that her blog became followed by MSNBC and CNN because they critiqued those media outlets around their coverage of gender, and then those organizations came to follow Feministing to see how they were doing on gender issues.

I suggested that looking to non-profit organizations with very specific media desires is not that fruitful, as advertising budgets simply are too small to sustain blogs. Rather, foundation money is necessary, meaning money from foundations that provide grants for various socially useful projects. Those organizations usually have significant money to donate. While they usually give to organizations that engage in specific activities, such as reproductive health or disease prevention, some do look more broadly to create social environment changes and could be willing to fund blogs. However, foundations generally won't look at you unless you're incorporated as a non-profit 501(c)(3), which creates a lot of restrictions on an organization's ability to discuss governmental issues, and whether that is a good idea remains to be seen. One could create a non-profit arm that funds specific blog activities, leaving the other arm of the organization to engage in political discussions.

So what's the solution? We didn't come to a solution, but I did come away with some ideas. What's your solution?

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I think the idea of non-profit support is intriguing, but I agree that the blogger will always be assumed to be an arm of that organization and not independent. For LGBT bloggers who are messaging the movement, there is already a concern about them being coopted by the movement. While bloggers are happy to criticize HRC and GLAAD, for instance, there is much less examination of other organizations who have been successful at building relationships with bloggers and, thus, avoiding much criticism.

Ultimately, it may be true that this is a market reality where only a few blogs will be able to be sustainable. We see that already with the traditional media. But if the LGBT media is a guide, it isn't necessarily those with the biggest pocketbooks (just ask people who have worked for Regent/Here Media or Window Media) but those who were able to build a reputation and the trust of readers and advertisers.

I think this is the not-for-profit I keep talking to you about forming. We'd better step on it before someone else scoops us on it!