Yesterday marked the launch of a major new progressive blog, OpenLeft, which I wrote about in this Nation article. During my research I interviewed William Beutler, a Republican consultant who has a knowledgeable and critical eye for blog analysis. As former editor of the Hotline Blogometer, Beutler regularly read more blogs across the political spectrum than just about anyone; now he writes Blop P.I. and has an inside view of the presidential race working at New Media Strategies, which is advising Fred Thompson. Like any interview, most of his points are not in the article, so the email interview is below for hardcore blog fans.
And for other OpenLeft talk, check out Ian Welsh, a goodbye post from its founding father site, MyDD, and this excellent, long essay at OpenLeft by Chris Bowers, "New Establishment Rising? The End Of the Flat Blogosphere."
AM: What do you think of the people running this site [OpenLeft] and its potential?
WB: I think it depends on what they actually do with it and what they call success. If we're defining success as eyeballs and influence in the blogosphere, they're set. Bowers and Stoller obviously come with a built-in audience of fellow progressive bloggers.
But getting MyDD's Beltway audience to follow them, and especially getting establishment Democrats to participate, that's a harder sell. The big-shots are already blogging at Huffington Post, and lower-level consultants won't be as forthcoming or eager to participate.
This is especially the case if Chris isn't writing as much about party infrastructure and the horse race, and Matt's reputation as a hothead will be an issue. He has a talent for alienating establishment types that will be tough to overcome. Chris will be of less interest to the Stu Rothenberg types, while Matt will keep pushing buttons. I don't see that as being a website the establishment will leap to get involved with.
So I see Open Left as building primarily a netroots audience that is at a disadvantage compared to HuffPo and Daily Kos in getting participation from elected and professional Democrats.
Considering Lux's background with PFAW and Bowers' work for SEIU, I think they'll find more of an audience with activist groups that are themselves set apart from campaign professionals. But they've already had that -- see Andy Stern contributing to MyDD, for example. And the really important discussions and deals won't happen on a website that's open to the general public. So Lux has his work cut out for him.
AM: This site is supposed to bridge progressive discussions between insiders and outsiders, like grassroots bloggers and the leaders of the liberal orgs. Do you think that is a realistic project that the netroots will be interested in? Or is it a tough line to walk, sort of like HotSoup failed?
WB: Whatever happens to Open Left, it won't be like HotSoup. [AP Reporter Ron] Fournier and company had no idea what to do with an online community or even how to build a website and no clear idea who their audience was. These guys don't have that problem. I think the better analogy is HuffPo -- that website is very successful, but it's not quite what Arianna originally envisioned. The netroots will come to the table, and probably so will the offline activist orgs. Campaign professionals, not so much.
AM: Do you think of grassroots bloggers like Bowers and Stoller as outsiders or insiders? And what about you, as a "bottom up" blog guy who now advises major candidates? Or is that even the right way to think about bloggers who have "broken through"?
WB: Insider-outsiderness is a matter of degrees, and I'd say they're both much more of insiders than they might think. But there's a huge difference between blogging about campaigns and actually running them. Professional operatives -- who are even further inside -- will hear them out, but they still have campaigns to win. There's a lot of resentment from Democrats who have worked cycle in, cycle out, who don't think somebody like Chris Bowers has any real concept of what it's like to run a campaign.
Especially among the left-netroots there's this recurring complaint about the "cocktail party circuit," and while it's not untrue, the parties I go to tend to be attended by other operatives, bloggers and journalists, most of them in their 20s and 30s, and it's not like they aren't rubbing shoulders with the powerful themselves.
Also: a growing issue is the Democratic netroots increasingly agitating for not just a bigger piece of the institutional pie, but also making more overt "asks" for financial support. I think they are already getting that. What will they do that Media Matters or the Center for American Progress isn't already doing? I think that's an open question. If Open Left becomes a place where they're often making that complaint, I think that only exacerbates the division.a