Saturday, January 31, 2009

Yet another obligatory PJM post

Allahpundit weighs in hilariously:
You'll know we're in dire straits financially when you notice that every last post is comment bait about Palin and atheism, instead of every other post the way it is now.
And Roger Simon takes a mild shot at "people [who] are kicking and screaming now that they are off the dole." Is that too harsh? I dunno. If a commercial enterprise doesn't turn a profit, it goes under. Live by the market, die by the market.

This all goes back to the long-running effort to "monetize" Web content. If everything on the Web is free, how do you create a revenue stream big enough to support a staff of content providers? Tigerhawk makes an excellent point:
I am told that web site banner advertising suffers, in a sense, from too much transparency. Media buyers know what they pay "per click through" and per dollar of directly attributable revenue, and therefore tend to value banner advertising according to these concrete metrics. Ironically, that puts internet banner advertising at a great disadvantage to print and broadcast advertising, the value of both of which are much more difficult to measure.
Indeed. You look at all those glossy ads in Vanity Fair -- clothing ads in which the models aren't wearing any clothes -- and ask yourself about the cost-benefit value, but advertisers are apparently still willing to pay for the (imagined?) prestige of advertising in such venues. Whereas the page-impressions and click-throughs on Web ads can be monitored with ruthless efficiency and no one begins to imagine deriving any "prestige" from having their product featured on a blog. You will never walk into a store and see a product with the label: "As seen on The Other McCain."

The various gloating of liberal bloggers is ignorant and mistaken, but that's why they're liberals, right? That the GOP/conservative axis has been unable to develop an online machinery as politically effective as the Progressive Netroots Community is not exactly news. My feeling is that this is chiefly a function of (a) conceptual failure, and (b) personnel-is-policy.

What do I mean by these terms?

CONCEPTUAL FAILURE -- The problem with conservative online machinery is that no one can seem to get a clear vision of an online product that would be both commercially viable and politically influential. You have a lot of people coming out of a political activism background who want to create a vehicle for that, but who can't figure out how to integrate that into a larger mass-market content package.

The recent failure of Culture11 is one example of this problem. By contrast, Andrew Breitbart's idiosyncratic "Big Hollywood" appears to have quickly found a niche. Whether that niche will be lucrative enough to fund a permanent content stream is yet to be determined, but the point is that Breitbart began by envisioning a market -- an audience, a readership -- and then set about creating a mix of stuff, everything from Steve Mason's box-office scoops to Iowahawk, to serve that market. The general political attitude at Big Hollywood is clear, but you don't have to be a card-carrying Republican to enjoy the film reviews or humor bits.

A big part of the Rightroots problem is that (a) the conservative blogosphere arose in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, (b) media criticism was a major focus of the content, and (c) the early-adopters tended to represent a certain type of attitude/personality. One cannot help notice the geeky affinity for Star Trek/BSG/Star Wars, for example.

PERSONNEL IS POLICY -- The knock that "conservative bloggers don't do reporting" is, I have argued, grossly unfair. Yet it is a fact that (a) most reporters are liberal, (b) conservative bloggers generally have an anti-news-media attitude, (c) very few conservatives online have much experience or interest in straight-news reporting, and (d) the conservative movement in general tends to esteem punditry over reporting.

It is the easiest thing in the world to find conservative writers who want to do a 750-word op-ed about policy, politics or liberal bias in the media/academia/Hollywood. It is a damned difficult thing to find a Republican who's willing to take a job doing just-the-facts-ma'am reporting and who has any genuine aptitude for it.

American Spectator managing editor J.P. Freire keeps saying that the conservative movement needs more Bob Novaks and fewer Bill Buckleys. That's not a rap on Buckley; it's a sober analysis of a basic market problem in conservative media. We've got no shortage of pundits (and wannabe pundits) willing to proclaim The One True Way on TV or on the op-ed pages. What we've got is a shortage of reporters willing to do the less glamorous but vital business of reporting news on a day-to-day basis.

The shortage of conservative reporters results in a shortage of conservative editors, and so you have situations like (a) the absurdity of David Kuo being hired to run Culture11, despite a dearth of relevant experience; and (b) the remorseless turnover of staff at the Washington Examiner, where there is clearly a deficiency in the news editorship. Mark Tapscott does a great job with the editorial page, but whoever is in charge of running the news side of the Examiner obviously doesn't have a clue about staff development; Politico eats their lunch five days a week, and the Examiner just sits there, inert and helpless. As I've joked, once a reporter joins the Examiner staff, the next time you see their name is on a milk-carton (Missing: Susan Ferrechio).

The relative paucity of news experience among conservatives is something I've bumped into head-on several times since I started freelancing last spring. There was one day in May or June when I had a hot story about Bob Barr's Libertarian candidacy -- back when a lot of media were interested in Barr -- and there was a conservative online publication (which shall remain nameless) that had been asking me to write for them. So I'd suggested this story where I saw a chance to get a Drudge-worthy scoop.

I got the story, and rushed to file 450 words, but there was a time-sensitive factor involved where it wouldn't be exclusive for long. So I waited. Thirty minutes. An hour. It's still not online at 4:30 p.m., after I moved heaven and earth to get it filed by 3 p.m., and I'm looking at my watch and thinking to myself, "Fuck them. They don't have a clue." I sent them an e-mail retracting the offer, packed up my laptop and went home. I've never had another word to say to those losers.

Welcome to the Internet Age. If you don't understand the need for speed in this news environment, if you don't grasp the value of timing in attracting readership, you need to find another line of work. If I can file 450 words of exclusive reporting by 3 p.m. and you can't manage to get it online by 4:30 p.m., don't waste my time.

Personnel is policy. And a big part of the failure of conservative online communications is that, in many cases, the operations are gummed up by political people with no judgment and no vision.

UPDATE: Dan Riehl as the Michael Corleone of the blogosphere: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."


  1. The problem is probably also that the conservative demographic is less urban, that is rural, and older. They're not on the web like the younger, more sophisticated (you might refer to this as 'elitist') liberals. Which is why conservative blogs are less able to make money via ads.

  2. One more thing: I think many conservatives believe that the actual profession of reporting, which doesn't just involve in writing up something observed but also poking your nose into places and asking questions that people might not want to answer, is not the sort of career honest, upright citizens should have anything to do with.

    A related sentiment is displayed by a commenter to your previous post who said something like Sarah Palin is a bad example of "Biblical womenhood" -- which I can only interpret as since she hasn't led a simon-pure, totally blameless life, and is in a leadership position that some Christians interpret as being meant only for men, that she is someone conservatives should not support. (I will say, though, that I think this reaction to Sarah Palin is a minority reaction among conservatives -- the more common reaction is from status-seeking conservatives who are appalled at their perception of her "commonness" and their problems with the non-elitist background of many of her supporters.)

    Liberals basically invented and then ran with the idea of the reporter who is a crusader for justice and a force for good. Conservatives have always had a less rosy vision of the news trade. But it's the more optimistic vision that sells.

  3. This notion of conservatives not being viable online is hogwash. Liberals aren't any more successful online, and they have a huge built in audience of advertising.

    The smaller web operations of liberals are heavily subsidized, both by left wing angels and liberal jobs programs that give them time to write. They still lose money, but it's money they're happy to spend.

    In terms of big media, it's clear bias from Madison Avenue. Look at the commercials on Rush, Hannity and Fox News. For years, they have been low quality, as opposed to signature brands on MSNBC and CNN. That's not traffic, that's the bias of those with purse strings.

    You're dead right about the problem with conservative political types - they don't turn to marketers for help - they try to run businesses themselves. And with hundreds of them out there, the success rate is very small.

    Rebuild the Party addresses some of that, but the merging of modern marketing and political work is very slow. Think of how Rove was considered a genius for microtargeting. That's impressive? Really? That stretches the barriers?

    Citizen journalism is a failed business model because journalism is a failed business model. The newspapers are not publishers - they are advertising networks who use the news, and comics, and editorials as bait for advertisers. You cannot create a network based on news. You create one based on advertisers, and then develop content of interest to an audience that will buy the products you are advertising.