What's the next step for political bloggers and voters, especially since the mega-political bloggers are men? Courtney Lowery (managing editor of NewWest.net), blogging network devoted to convering growth, change, demographic shift in the West. Here to discuss Political Blogging Growing Up.
Roxanne Cooper of Rox Populi. Works in a media affiliated job (Association of Alternative Newsweeklies). Wants to make clear that her opinions are her own and not her employer's.
Ambra Nykol - Nykola.com. Freelance columnist, writer, culture commentator. Likes to talk about a number of different things, including politics. In other life, works for Google, and wishes to make the same disclaimer that her opinions are her own and not Google's.
Courtney: Blogging has really given us the opportunity to break open on politics without the mainstream media telling us. We have the ability to break out of that structure. But as the genre has eveolved, we discover we have created a power structure of our own. T
his has led to - we are still compartmentalizing the discussion. a wide range of voices, but the ones getting the attention are teh ones parroting what the big guys are saying. Are we doing in the wrong direction in the blogosphere as a whole? How can we break out of those roles, this power structure, the blue-red echo chambers and make sure that a variety of political voices and opinions get out there?
Ambra: I represent the conservative side, which puts me in the minority in this group. I find blogs about politics to be boring, especially the ones the newspapers pay attention to. When I started out, I went out and said I thought Instapundit is boring. I think part of that is that blogs have become just like newspapers in many ways; they are reporting and not opining. What I want to hear is what you think, not just reflecting what is already being said in the other media.
Where else are you going to hear what a Seattle-bred, Christian, black, conservative, college dropout feels about what's going on? That's where the blogosphere is powerful, in my opinion.
A lot of people are compromising what they want to say in order to get mentioned by the big guys.
Roxanne: I agree with most of what you say. I think an interesting thing is going on, both on the left and the right. The people participatinbg in the "parrotsphere" get rewarded for it. This is what gets you links. When you blog about the topics that A List blogger #4 says that you need to blog about in order to be considered a political blogger, then you get linked. If you don't do that, have your own voice, you get punished. Because you don't get linked.
Courtney: Are we catering to other bloggers or readers? How can we get out of this?
Rox: You've got to look at your own goals. Are you doing this so you can get 10 cents a word for The Nation? Are you doing this because this is an outlet for you to express your opinion? Are you doing this because you are participating in the Party and this is the way to get your message out?
I don't think everyone in this room has the same goal for their political blog or any other blog.
Courtney: One of the reasons I got into this is because you can make politics sexy again. By telling people why this esoteric, boring topic means something to you in your daily life. That the personal is political. This resonates with people. We have this amazing opportunity to harness this immense power and further the political discussion.
To the audience: What do you want to read about when you get online and talk politics?
Ambra: One thing I notice about people who don't vote -- they say "I don't really see what role I play" or "The issues don't pertain to me." It needs to get down to the level of the people, and for some people, it's hard to understand so they don't participate. What blogs can do is make it personal so people can understand and care. Trying to make it tangible so people can actually FEEL it.
Audience: Voter participation was highest in this next election. What do you do at your site to break things down for your readers?
Ambra: I'm just a real person. I just say what I want to say when I want to say it. Attack politics from a philosophical angle, because behind every bill is a philosophy. I opine what I feel that is and why I think that's wrong or inherently wicked, or right. And I get a lot of emails from readers who say they can connect with that.
Audience: Kiara Fox - I agree that taking issues out of the jargon and into normalspeak will make it easier for people to understand, and if they understand then they will get involve. But how do we make sure we are getting accurate information? And get the media to write about Social Security in language people can understand?
Ambra: I don't take everything I read on blogs as fact. But they do help me break it down.
Audience (Chris Nolan): I feel that young people treat it like potato chips - they don't eat just one. And kids do a better job of sampling than old people like me do.
Rox: Isn't the blogosphere self-correcting? All the people sitting in this room together are going to have more expertise in any subject than me along. And in a two-way discussion, the expertise will happen (this is the theory anyway).
Audience: Clinton's national dialogue on race, which didn't happen. Do you have any ideas about how to voice issues on race and ethnicity?
Ambra: I think the first thing to do is not be anonymous bloggers (which irritates me sometimes). Whatever it is you have to talk about comes from something tangible and real and you can't do that by hiding who you are.
I put my picture on my blog because guess what? I have opinions that people don't expect come from someone who looks like me. The number one email I get from readers is "you should go back to college" and/or "gosh, I never met someone like you who thought like you." I'm a deviant amongst conservatives, I'm a deviant about black people, I'm a deviant about women.
Audience: People tend to link to those who agree with them. Do you have any suggestions for making the red and blue echo chambers talk to one another.
Rox: Engage them. I stray away from the liberal party line more than others. Be yourself. Go comment on the blogs of the other side. Another problem - when there's intermingling, it's like Fox News. We've become the thing we hate. People are not really engaging in conversations. They're just yelling at each other. So I try to do that a lot more than a lot of other people do. Be polite, but do express your opinion.
Courtney: Do you think many people are willing to do that?
Audience: One of my challenges as a progressive, is finding more conservative websites that don't feel like a slap in the face. And I think the conservatives must feel the same way. I don't think bloggers are doing enough to create spaces where they can exchange their views.
Rox: The places where you can find them are men's sites or women's sites?
Audience: It's hard to find everything in the blogosphere.
Ambra: One of the things I've found is that I've never met a nastier group of people than white political male bloggers. If you comment with dissent, they yell at you.
I don't want to go to a liberal site that is completely trashing people I respect. And vice versa. I think Ann Coulter is disgusting. (APPLAUSE)
I think that the mudslinging from right to left is what stops the discussion. And the readers.
Rox: I don't think it stops readers. Conflict is drama. People are looking for the scream, that's why Fox News is popular.
Audience (Matthew): I don't think the real problem is what you're discussing. We have a lot of people online and a very apolitical culture. I have a game called "Denny Hastert" and I go to parties with educated people and few know who Denny Hastert is.
This stuff doesn't matter to enough people and in the most important election we'd had in some time, only 60% of the people bothered to vote.
Audience - Liza: When I see those feeds from Parliament (Prime Minister Question Time) and they're screaming at each other, I love it. They're flaming each other. That kind of disagreement and drama is acceptable in England and we have this idea that they're very stiff upper lip. And in this country, we paint ourselves as very modern and we get emails that say shut the f up and we go nuts, like there can't be any confrontation in any debate. I think we as a culture tend to homogenize, we really don't make room for diversity. And when you embrace diversity you can accept difference of opinion and ideas. The fear of being flamed keeps people from putting ideas out there.
Audience: How to increase discourse? Favorite site is a friend who is conservative and he has links to all sorts of different people. And because I like him, I visit his links and then I get a lot of different perspectives. (I'm Canadian and there's lots of yelling in our politics too.)
Audience: What we don't get in the mainstream press is really understanding what the different viewpoints are. I am really amazed when I hear educated people say "there really is no difference" between two candidates in a race. What really makes it personal is the underlying philosophy -- you are not getting this in the mainstream press. You're getting polls. It's disconcerting hearing people say there's no difference because there damn well is.
Courtney: What's the answer? Where do we want political blogging to go? What's going to engage people?
Rox: In order to get people on your site is a marketing problem. You've got to give them some sugar. If you want them to take the medicine, if you don't think they're interested in politics but they are interested in Britney Spears, you hook them in with some Britney Spears. Some sugar.
Ambra: I think actually that people don't need sugar to make the medicine go down. I think they need the truth, and truth draws people. I don't believe everything I hear on television or read in a magazine. We need to deprogram ourselves from the habit of believing everything is truth.
I don't think I need to sugarcoat my message. Whatever it is I'm saying is what matters to me. So if I am blogging about Ann Coulter's clothes, that's not sugarcoating. It's what I want to say.
Rox: I disagree with most of what you said. I think Ann Coulter's clothes are the sugarcoating. I think the people who are on the outside of the issues, who are on the edges, who don't vote and don't care, you get to them by blogging Ann Coulter's clothes.
Courtney: I think the mainstream media is guilty of dumbing down the issues. They sometimes have to boil the issue down to get it into six inches - but then you lose a lot.
Ambra: We need to do a better job of getting people to understand things. If the black community doesn't understand 50% of the issues - especially those that are pertinent to them - then the media is doing something wrong. Somewhere there is a communication gap or break. And we need to do something better.
Audience: Marian - Regarding the black community. Part of the problem is that they understand things really well and no one is listening to them.
Audience: Regarding people from different sides of the aisle communicating. The way we are going to change things might be to create group blogs that include all viewpoints. It's not about sugar - if you can put together a unique resource on the web that no one else is providing, if you can fill a void, then people are going to show up. With a little bit of something for everyone.
Rox: You brought up a really good point that everyone needs to think about. You have an angle, a hook, that not everyone else is doing. Because the world doesn't need another blog about Social Security.