Covering this weekend’s YearlyKos conference was challenging for journalists and bloggers alike. Reporters are supposed to avoid becoming part of the story, but that is virtually impossible at an event that often focused on media criticism and invited journalists onstage to discuss their craft. Most bloggers believe in disclosing conflicts of interest, but the entire act of analyzing the conference presents a conflict–at least for bloggers who hope Yearly Kos will further empower Democratic activists online. (Count me in: I spoke on a panel about foreign policy and netroots activism with several writers.)
YearlyKos was complicated to cover because it boiled down to a gathering of writers who often write about one another: bloggers critiquing reporters; reporters covering the blogosphere; bloggers analyzing politicians; politicians courting (and blogging about) the netroots; and of course, bloggers writing about bloggers. It sounds chaotically incestuous. Sometimes it was, with insiders interviewing each other about each other. The New York Times picked up on this theme, observing that while bloggers may think they are rebels, the success of Yearly Kos showed they are becoming “part of the American political establishment.”
Yet many of the online activists are new insiders who got noticed more for ideas and attitude than for their political connections. The top bloggers also have an ongoing dialogue with thousands of people, providing an instant, public reality check through online comments. (Typical political insiders do not face such accountability once they enter pundit orbit.) As Salon‘s Peter Daou emphasized this weekend, bloggers can cross-pollinate with mainstream media without being co-opted, because “the blogosphere is a new power base, a stand-alone entity with its own ethos.” Most important, this open, interactive structure may be a model for profound societal changes beyond Democratic politics.
Stirling Newberry, a business consultant, writer and blogger at BOPNews, told me the conference’s blogger-reporter interactions are one example of a broader phenomenon: the blurring of the line between consumers and producers of information in our economy. He argues that as technology enables people to generate their own content–be it writing, images, music or movies–they cease to be defined solely as consumers. The recent success of user-generated sites like MySpace and YouTube show this trend beyond political blogs. (By providing profile pages created by millions of its consumers, MySpace broke into the top ten most popular sites on the Internet this year, which are mostly top-down content providers like Yahoo!, MSN and MapQuest. MySpace is also the top social networking site, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, followed by Blogger.)