Monday, September 27, 2004

Billmon Speaks

Over this past weekend, on opposite coasts of the U.S., two major publications addressed the issue of blogs and their impact this year on the quadrennial election process. The New York Times Magazine ran an article on the impact of political blogs that was written (mostly) before the Killian memo fiasco. The LA Times featured a piece written by my mentor, Billmon, of Whiskey Bar.

Billmon posits that the leading blogs on the left have 'sold out' in their quest for advertising dollars to sustain viability. He also (in a backhanded way) questions the motivation of a few select bloggers who have moved into writing their blogs for 'mainstream publications' (eg. Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias) and believes that moving into the mainstream dulls the edge of the knife, so to speak.

I don't know that I completely agree on either point. But in a larger sense, I agree that the independent nature of blogs such as ASZ is what makes them a valuable resource - kind of gatekeeping (or one stop shopping) for both opinion and links to what are sometimes non-mainstream sources. The whole 'indy' concept is to make participants think outside the box. Billmon's line of thinking is that if, as a blogger, you're beholden to some corporate or advertiser interests, then you lose the independence and ability to put forth bleeding edge views.

Maybe. I'll let Atrios, Kos, and Steve Gilliard argue that point. But I think Billmon misses the bigger picture. The reason why blogs such as Kos and Eschaton are able to thrive is ad revenue that their respective owners are seeing. This certainly allows (if not motivates) both Kos and Atrios to devote a large part of their day in maintaining their blogs, 24 X 7 X 365. What's the alternative? Certainly, I don't expect the Sierra Club or the Brookings Institute to be offering either Kos or Atrios fellowships to continue their important work.

Whiskey Bar thrived because of Billmon's unique perspective and ability to "long form blog" - in other words, create his own content rather than relying on the relay method of blogging. Whiskey Bar was kind of the template for ASZ, but what we've done here is kind of merge the concepts behind Whiskey Bar and a place like Eschaton. Some long form blogging, interspersed with links to other places. That's the space that most successful blogs seem to occupy.

Billmon long resisted the urge to take Whiskey Bar "commercial". I'm sure he had many offers and opportunities to do so. At ASZ, we really didn't have such aspirations when we started this loose confederation of like-minded progressives, and no one (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) has offered either myself, Doc, or Kate a 6 figure fellowship to continue our bloviating here. That's why it's kind of sporadic. Again, a labor of love, an outlet for our individual outrages and a desire to contribute something meaningful to the overall discourse is what drives the contributors at ASZ.

Will we be here after the election? I know I will be. But one thing I certainly anticipate - ASZ will change and evolve in response to the issues in which we deal. I hope Billmon will again join the fray, and that his somewhat negative view of both the left and right "sellouts" is tempered a bit after silly season passes.