A blogger I follow on Twitter made a point a while ago, and it’s stuck with me since. It was the kind of verbalization of something that I had been thinking about somewhere in my mind, but it hadn’t quite bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness yet. I agreed with it at the time and thought I should write my own post discussing it, but to be honest, I never knew where to start. I didn’t know where to end either. To talk about such a thing really opens up a can of worms, and I’ve been waiting until I had the energy to deal with those worms. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I have the energy even now, but the point has resonated with me long enough that I’ve decided to hum.
So who was this author, and what was the point that has been so stuck on my mind? The author I speak of is @JimmieBJr, and his website is The SundriesShack.com. The point that Jimmie discussed is that when it comes to any form of “conservative” punditry, there seems to only be room for “big” or “famous” voices. In his piece, he talks about how from cable television to talk radio to blogs, newer and younger conservatives are often given very little help when it comes to moving up the “food chain”. What I’m writing here is somewhat of a response to his piece and an attempt to further the conversation that Jimmie has begun. I suggest you read all of it here, but even if you don’t, I’ll try to make this easy to follow along.
To get you started, here is a taste of what Jimmie’s talking about. (words in orange are for my emphasis)
When was the last time you saw someone who got their start as a blogger on Fox News as a regular contributor? How about at the Washington Examiner? National Review? The Weekly Standard? Save for the Washington Times, which is a notable exception, right-wing media treat the blogosphere as the junior varsity (to borrow a phrase Stephen Green used on Episode 100 of The Delivery). Bloggers don’t often get to “move up” in the right-wing message machine because…well, I don’t have a good answer for that.
Let’s digest this paragraph a little bit. I’ll start with:
When was the last time you saw someone who got their start as a blogger on Fox News as a regular contributor?
Jimmie’s right. You know what kind of personalities get a job at Fox News? How about we make a list?
1. Margaret Hoover. (who happens to be the granddaughter of a former U.S. President)
2. Mick Huckabee. (former state governor, presidential candidate <winner of the Iowa caucus>, former pastor, and musician)
3. Sarah Palin. (also a former governor and U.S. vice-presidential candidate, and best selling author)
4. Geraldo Rivera. (a multi-decade member of the media who has had various shows and specials over the years)
5. Ann Coulter. (best selling author and possible Sith Lord)
6. Dana Perino. (former U.S. Press Secretary under George W. Bush)
7. Bob Beckel. (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and they guy who came up with Walter Mondale’s slogan “Where’s the Beef?”)
8. Lou Dobbs. (Emmy-winning Harvard graduate and 20+ year veteran at CNN)
9. John Stossel. (Princeton Graduate, best selling author and winner of a staggering 19 Emmy’s throughout his career)
10. Gretchen Carlson (a two-time Emmy-winner and former Miss America!)
I’d like to make a few notes about my list. First off, those were just ten names that easily come to mind. Secondly, the order was random save for the first and tenth choices. Margaret Hoover is a favorite of mine, and in my opinion, a somewhat underrated contributor at Fox News. And Gretchen Carlson was freaking Miss America. The eight contributors in-between, were placed in an order that’s random. And finally, I would like to note that the university a personality graduates from probably should have no bearing in this particular list, but I thought sharing the information would prove interesting to some readers. One more note… I didn’t even mention that they regularly feature Karl Rove and Dick Morris who were successful advisers to the last two presidents of the United States. Shall we continue?
Fox News is the highest rated cable news channel in the United States, and I can see why they would choose to hire some pretty big guns in an effort to draw and maintain viewers. That said, Jimmie’s point is still valid. The (arguably) most conservative channel when it comes to televised news probably isn’t going to hire me when they want on-air commentary. To be honest, they probably wouldn’t hire Larry O’Connor either, and that guy seems to be pretty successful at blogging and radio.
That covers the Fox News/Cable News angle, but Jimmie also mentioned that today’s bloggers do very little to help even each other out. (this is especially the case when it comes to “smaller” bloggers.)
That’s not how things worked when I was a new blogger. When I started the Sundries Shack, I got links all the time from more popular blogs like Q and O, Captain’s Quarters (the home of Ed Morrissey before he joined Hot Air), and even Right Wing News. Now, years later, I’m lucky if I get a link every few months from the guys who used to link me three or four times a month.
He goes on to say:
More of us who have been around a while need to remember how good it felt when one of the big dogs noticed us and sent us a healthy dollop of Sitemeter-bulging hits and make sure we do that once in a while for other bloggers.
It won’t kill the bottom-line. In fact, it’s far more likely that reconnecting with the blogospheric community will be good for all of us in the long-term. Not only will we get more links from the little guys, who may well become big guys one day, but we’ll also foster a much-needed sense of community among right-wing bloggers.
Jimmie’s right. I don’t know what things were like when he started in 2004, but I can tell you what they’re like now. I am a new-ish blogger who started this site in October of 2010. In the ten months since then, to my knowledge, I have definitely been linked-to one time. It is possible that I have been linked-to as many as five or six times, but I’m really just pulling that number out of… well, I’m guessing.
Six times in eight months. And that’s by every person on all of the world-wide-web. Now maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe my blog is not so good. Or maybe my attitude on services like Twitter turns other writers off. The reason as to why I’ve been linked to only half a dozen times is beyond my ability to know. But even stranger still, is that I have sent out “cattle call tweets” asking other writers if they’ve written on a subject that I need to link to as a way to offer them some exposure on this site, and those cattle calls are rarely responded to at all. Chew on that. I go out of my way to ask people if they’d like me to link to their site, and I usually am greeted with silence. So it seems that the “blogospheric community” that Jimmie refers to is somewhat difficult to find and/or navigate.
So let’s put this all together. If I am a (conservative) blogger, then chances are I will not be invited onto Fox News. Fair enough. But I also don’t stand much of a chance of being linked to by a bigger site which could help more readers be aware that I exist. Wow. I guess I’ll have to knock on a lot of doors and try to sell my message to readers one at a time. (which basically involves spamming my time line on Twitter… a practice that’s generally frowned upon) Okay. What else? And apparently, when I offer to link to other writers’ hard work and extend a courtesy to them, they might not be willing to take it. Alright then… What are we doing here?
I think that’s a fair question. Over on the Liberal side of things, it is very common for writers to guest blog on each others’ sites and link to one another. Additionally, on channels like MSNBC, you can find bloggers and YouTube hosts pontificating on live TV. (now maybe there’s a reason that MSNBC has to air prison documentaries at night, but you have to admit that’s pretty cool) Actually, now that I think about it, during the midday broadcasting, Fox News brings on incredibly famous personalities to just nod their heads at whatever Megyn Kelly says. In all honesty, an “unknown” could handle that job. But I digress.
Earlier in the piece, Jimmie said this:
Bloggers don’t often get to “move up” in the right-wing message machine because…well, I don’t have a good answer for that.
I have an answer for that, but this is where I get cynical and might lose some of you. Jimmie tried to touch on it a little bit by saying that conservatives are “self-reliant”. And he’s right. Conservatives are often self reliant people. But… you cannot achieve success in political blogging all on your own. It’s just not going to happen. When it comes to most forms of media, few people, if any, can become successful through sheer talent alone. It usually requires some sort of break. Now the person can work for that break, and they can earn it, but the fact of the matter is that to make it in most any media, you need that break. For an actor, it can mean working with a certain director. Or for a musician, it could mean being featured on a more popular artist’s song. For a writer, it can be having their work reprinted by a larger publication. A “break” can happen in many ways, but without one, most writers/artists/entertainers can expect to languish in obscurity. And that’s where a lot of bloggers are. So why aren’t they getting those breaks? What is it that’s going on?
I have my theories, and yes, some of them are pretty cynical, so let’s start with this one: The current culture rewards being part of an echo chamber. If you notice, some new bloggers/writers are actually getting links from people that can help them. The problem is that the “little guy” is usually just repeating what the “bigger” guy is already blogging. And it makes sense in it’s own perverted, little way. Let’s look at me and Jimmie. Jimmie is a pretty conservative guy. He’s probably more conservative than I am on some things. We’ve even disagreed with each other on Twitter in the past. Now, why would Jimmie want to link to me, when he can link to Joe Shmoe who pretty much agrees with him on many, if not all, things? I mean that’s just the way it seems to work. I’m not saying that’s how Jimmie decides to share links; I’m just using this as an example.
If you look at it, maybe the blogosphere is a reflection of our national culture. This echo chamber that I talk about really exists in many facets of our lives now, and it’s really more of a modern thing. I grew up right before the tech bubble. When I was a kid, I had to catch the popular cartoons on Saturday morning, and if I missed them, I was screwed. There was no DVR. There was no Cartoon Network. There was not high speed internet. There were no DVD’s. And even VCR’s cost so much money, that there was no way my parents would buy me VHS cassettes of my cartoons, and as a matter of fact, I doubt that many were even available for purchase. And that was at the end of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. A mere four years before Clinton was elected. But that’s how different things were, even a short time ago.
As a result, I still have the attitude ingrained in me that you don’t “always get what you want”. But today…. today is quite different. When it comes to music, cartoons, movies, and even politics, you can have what you want, when you want it. Which brings me full circle to this: In a society where you only have to look at or listen to exactly the thing that you want, I think it starts to affect even the kinds of relationships you develop. So the ultimate effect is that almost all conservative websites that get enough traffic for the writers to earn a living, they all pretty much say the same things. And it’s sad. You’ve got all these thousands of voices, and they’re just repeating whatever Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin are saying. And on a lesser level, they’re repeating whatever Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, or Ann Coulter are saying. And any new blogger that comes around and doesn’t want to repeat those things can just do this for a hobby, because they’re not going to pay their bills, if they can’t get exposure. And that’s where we’re at.
As cynical as all that probably sounds, I might surprise you to tell you that I’m actually optimistic about the future of political blogging. It was my frustration with the echo chamber that led me to start this site. I was frustrated as an audience member to have so few options for “different” opinions, and I’m not alone. Other readers and viewers are frustrated with the status quo, even if they haven’t quite put their finger on what it is that’s bothering them. And just since I’ve started blogging, I have seen several people come along who also want to add a new voice to the conversation. If enough new voices come along, we won’t have to wait for “bigger fish” to let us swim. We’ll carve out our own river and swim past them.
So to revisit Jimmie’s question from earlier:
When was the last time you saw someone who got their start as a blogger on Fox News as a regular contributor?
I’m hoping it’s really soon.