Liberal Bloggers to Dems: Advertise With Us. Or Else

They Drop Journalism Guise, Start Acting Like Media Owners

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Hoooo Boy! It doesn't get much more brazen than this. According to Greg Sargent:
Some of the leading liberal bloggers are privately furious with the major progressive groups -- and in some cases, the Democratic Party committees -- for failing to spend money advertising on their sites, even as these groups constantly ask the bloggers for free assistance in driving their message.
Or, as Gawker put it, Left-Wing Blogs Try on Extortion as Business Model.

I suppose if I were busting my hump, fighting the good fight, writing post after post about a particular party and its candidates, I might be a little miffed that I don't see anything but lip-service in return -- especially, with regard to the group in question, when the candidate is 98% likely to track to the center, shelving quite a few of the issues I care about most. And it's not like these groups couldn't support almost all of these blogs with just a fraction of a percent of what they spend on traditional advertising and PR.

Of course, this will strike many -- those poor souls who dwell too much on theory -- as borderline stupid on a number of levels.

1. Basic advertising. Earth to left-wing bloggers: If I'm a Democratic group, why am I going to pay to advertise on your sites? It's the epitome of preaching to the converted. Besides -- and I know this will strike many as the self-centered sort of "brand" management that gets big companies into trouble -- what are you going to do come election season? Switch parties? Go independent? (I can just hear Kang laughing now.) Remember how that worked out with Lamont vs. Lieberman? This is politics, not soda. You don't have a lot of choices.

2. Your own brand. Remember all your protestations that you're not a mere water-carrier for the party? Remember that you're supposed to be better than the mainstream media, which is supposedly in thrall to its Republican corporate interests? This doesn't exactly hold you up as a paragon of journalistic or civic virtue.

3. You're now a hostage. Even if these groups do come around and decide to toss a little bit more of their TV or newspaper money your way, they'll come to believe they own you. That's not politics. That's just business. Ask any MSM outlet what happens when they run a story bashing a top advertiser. Many political blogs have already wandered over into the territory inhabited by celebrity and sports journalism, in which punches are pulled in return for access. Now they'll expect you to play nice just to keep those ad dollars flowing. And let's face facts: Once those ad dollars start flowing, they'll probably make up the bulk of what money you're bringing in. Further, unlike those old-school MSM outlets -- which used to have something bordering on local monopolies -- you're in a border-free territory, and you're easily replaced. Also, see No. 1.

All that said, realistically speaking, no one believes that political blogs on either side of the aisle are anything more than water-carriers for their favorite parties or candidates. They're not journalists -- and don't pretend to be. And they do provide a useful service: They keep the grass-roots watered and fertilized. Especially on the left, the big-name bloggers have grown and cultivated communities that, jokes about Lamont aside, can have a multiplier effect and provide buzz -- and cash.

Democratic groups and politicians, when they play the game right, have a huge mobilization machine at their disposal. "Most want the easy way -- having a big blogger promote their agenda," Markos Moulitsas told Sargent. "Then they turn around and spend $50K for a one-page ad in The New York Times or whatever."

Call it hush money, or call it smart marketing. In some cases, there isn't much of a difference. These groups shouldn't view advertising on these blogs in the traditional sense of advertising. Besides, we all know banner ads don't work at all anyway. They should consider advertising on these blogs as an investment in customer-relationship management. And a cheap one at that.

For its part, Americans United for Change, one of the groups targeted by the bloggers, has already made up its mind to start advertising.

But there's one realistic reason making this sort of commotion might not be so smart for the bloggers in question. It might attract the attention of the Federal Elections Commission, which might revisit previous rulings pertaining to political blogs.

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