Monday, November 28, 2005

When They Don't Call

Today the Tracy Press ran an article called “Political Notes: The power of the blog” that included a little bit about yours truly.  The article itself ought not to seem too revolutionary for any of my readers, whom I assume understand the potential political efficacy of the blogosphere.  But I mention it here because we have a number of campaigns all vying to beat Richard Pombo, but only a few of them seem to have any interest in reaching out to the blogosphere.  In the Democratic primary we have supposedly serious contenders whom I’ve introduced myself to and who on some level either know or ought to know who I am and what I’m up to.  And yet they’ve studiously avoided doing any sort of outreach to me or my fellow bloggers.  I think we ought to examine this a bit more.

Now before we get into this, let me just say that I’m not overly impressed with my own importance.  I know that the blogosphere’s influence on this race is rather more potential than actual at this point.  Furthermore, when I talk about doing outreach to me I don’t mean the same thing as kissing up to me.  I don’t need affirmation from the candidates, and this isn’t an entry about how their actions make me feel.  So to be clear, I think that the blogosphere has an important, albeit not all-important, strategic role in political campaigns.  Although it is just one tool, it is a tool that ought not to be overlooked.  And this is especially true for races in and near the Bay Area, where there are plenty of potential donors and volunteers, and lots and lots of tech savvy Democrats.  So the failure to do appropriate outreach to the blogosphere is a substantive strategic failure.  I’m sure there are worse sins in political campaigning, but this one is the most immediate to me.

I figure that this site has had something like 800-1,000 unique visitors (the Tracy Press article puts the number at 350, but that resulted from a miscommunication between me and the author).  I have also raised over $500 already, and if the donors who’ve scheduled monthly donations through ActBlue actually make those payments, this site will raise nearly $1,400 even if nobody else makes a donation.  Needless to say, I both hope for and expect more donations.  Furthermore, this site shows up on the first page when you Google many of the candidates’ names. Lastly, this site has allowed me to get in contact with a huge number of anti-Pombo activists, both in California and across the country.

I think many of these stats show why this site ought to merit some sort of outreach effort on the part of the candidates.  And yet, despite a personal invitation to all of the candidates, the only one who has made any sort of concerted effort is Jerry McNerney.  It is no coincidence that he is the only candidate with a blog, although to be fair I expect Margee Ensign will have a blog too whenever she gets her website up and running.  

Regardless of what people might think about my own biases in this race, a weblog lives or dies based on content.  I cannot say anything new about a candidate unless I know something new. One article a week in the Tracy Press is not sufficient to get at the meat and bones of this race.  I need information to produce content.  Even if people think I’m unfair, which I studiously try not to be, they at least have the opportunity to correct the record on anything I say through comments or through e-mail.  How different would it be if in response to my comment that I know maybe one person who supports Filson, three readers posted comments about why they supported him?  I see he has gotten some endorsements, why wouldn’t he shoot me an e-mail pointing it out to me?  Ensign could have written a guest post for this blog and introduced herself.  But she didn’t.  I just can’t understand why not.

There are a lot of people who don’t, at least in my estimation, “get” blogs.  This includes many people who read them.  I’m not sure I am as articulate as I need to be about the potential of the political blogosphere.  In some ways this blog is itself my argument for the importance of blogs—it is the concrete instantiation of my theoretical understanding of blogs.   But you do not need to fully get blogs to understand that they can be effective politically.  (Heck, even the DCCC has a blog, as much good as it does them.)  And you do not have to understand my blog theory, or even my political leanings, to know that it might benefit a candidate to keep me in the loop.  Without being egotistical I can say that when it comes to information online about the Democratic primary in the race to unseat Richard Pombo, this blog is where it’s at.  You would think the campaigns would try harder to be part of the conversation that is forming here.        


Blogger Matt said...

Here's another reason for the campaigns to take note of blogs. I just realized that Chris Gilbert, a reader of this blog, took me up on my call to action and wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in the Tracy Press.

If you want to join my Take Action mailing list, send me an e-mail with your first name, last initial, and zip code. Also, if you have an idea for an Action Alert, drop me a note.

10:49 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Progressive Action Center said...

here here.

10:18 PM, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt -

One of the potential reasons the candidates don't want to engage you or this blog directly is that they may not want to give their imprimatur to your reportage --- to, in effect, legitimize your voice.

One thing you've done consistently is critique the candidates on their weaknesses. That's why people read your blog --- you're not a stenographer to the candidates. It shouldn't be surprising then that these candidates, stung with that Google-able commentary, might not want to "reward" you by gracing this blog with their presence.

With saynotopombo, one of the select blogs I read religiously (kudos), you are now a one-man (well, three-contributor) gatekeeper of netroots opinion on the CD11 race. And, in the small media market that is CD11, the weight you push around in one direction or the other has meaning. Increasingly so.

If I were you, I'd ignore whether or not the candidates are paying attention and let them come to you... because, as long as you do a good job being a truth-teller, they will eventually engage your blog, whether *they* like it or not.


p.s. I checked out Ensign's site. Looks like she's got a blog and a podcast, courtesy of Scott Chacon.

5:01 PM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW --- want to increase this community's impact via ActBlue, etc?

Then actually make it a community. Add some diary functionality scoop-style or some other way to get people interacting with each other instead of just with you. Once they feel a part of something, they're more likely to participate in the grander vision.

5:03 PM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another suggestion:

Include links to all of the candidates in the right sidebar.

Seems only fair, eh?

5:48 PM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK - I actually see that you've got McNerney and Filson's sites listed.

But it would be better to break them out into a new category called "Candidates" (alpha-listed):


If you do that, those sites will inevitably get a few more hits. And the hits will come from this blog... something the candidates will surely notice.

5:58 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...


Here are three different comments to the long string you left.

1) I appreciate the spirit of you first comment, but I do not agree one hundred percent. In order to tell the truth, or proffer a knowledgeable opinion for that matter, I need to have some reasonable access to the underlying facts. I feel a responsibility to seek out these facts, but it's a lot fairer to my readers, and frankly easier on me, if the candidates or their supporters keep me in the loop somewhat.

I really want this blog to be more than just my voice and my perspective. I'd like to think that I have a good perspective, but I hardly think I'm qualified to be the definitive or even dominant voice on these issues. And so I welcome different (albeit non-trollish) perspectives to this blog. I'm less afraid of contentious issues than I am of silence. Unanimity might be great for the digestion, but it's not the type of thing that keeps a keen mind well-honed.

2) You make some very good suggestions in the other comments you left. I'm certainly going to link to Ensign's and Thomas' sites, and had been thinking about creating a special section just as you suggested.

With regard to ActBlue, I'm really not able to affect the changes you suggest. ActBlue will host a static fundraising page on their server, which does not allow for the type of community interactions that would be ideal. You are right that I could switch to a Scoop-type of blog, but I don't think I'm technically proficient enough to do that. As it is, I'm having a hard time coding in two columns that do not push the main content area to the bottom of the page. I want:

Column1 content content Column 2
Columb1 content content Column 2

I get:

Column 1 space Column 2
Column 1 space Column 2
content content
content content

Incidentally, if any of my readers want to help me with this, it'd be appreciated.

3) On a non-technical level, I do hope to foster something of a community on this site. It hasn't happened as well on the blog as I would have liked, but I am beginning to correspond with a number of readers through e-mail. There is something of an anti-Pombo movement brewing, and a whole lot of people are starting to join. I hope that this site becomes more a community gathering place and less an information depository, but for now I'll take what I can get.

7:44 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Vicki said...

Hey Matt,

I can't reach you by email. I'd like to get something to you pronto. We have some questions about the DCCC that I think you can answer. Please email me when you get a chance so I can send you the info.


Oh yeah...I also have a scoop for you

11:56 PM, November 29, 2005  

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