The New Barbarians

| 2/13/2008 8:36:55 AM

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Local bloggers are shaking up the media and politics as usual

by Brendan Mackie

BloggersIn a dimly lit bar an overwhelmingly male crowd jabbers in various degrees of tipsiness, dreaming about battalions of camcorder-armed citizen journalists who record every politicians’ every move, edit it, and put it online. Conversation tonight, however blurry with beer, is more likely to steer toward polling data and endorsements than the new episode of Lost. This is the Minneapolis chapter of Drinking Liberally, a web of progressive groups that congregate in 46 states and the nation’s capital “promoting democracy one pint at a time.”

Political junkies have been gathering in smoky backrooms from Athens to Philadelphia for the full course of democracy. But there’s something markedly different about these political junkies. They are mostly local political bloggers, and as such are relative newcomers to the game. The doings of these bloggers might not seem any sexier than a shut-in adding the latest article about Ron Paul to his Digg profile, but political blogging—especially the local variety—could drastically reshape the face of political reporting and politics.

At the turn of the millennium, political blogging seemed sentenced to the lonely backwoods of nerddom, along with Star Trek and the polka. But all that changed in the primaries for the 2004 presidential election, when Howard Dean—buoyed by the support of large antiwar websites like and Daily Kos—pulled in buckets of cash from the new internet grassroots (quickly christened the “netroots”). The money allowed Dean to assume a formidable perch at the head of the pack as the primaries got rolling and branded the netroots as a powerful force in liberal politics. Over the next few years, blogging edged its way into the mainstream, and the once free-flowing discourse became dominated by a handful of big-name bloggers.

Then came the 2006 midterm elections. National blogs pushed the senatorial candidacy of the antiwar Ned Lamont in Connecticut, who mounted a primary challenge against the deeply entrenched (and deeply conservative) Joe Lieberman. Even though Lamont lost the general election to a newly Independent Lieberman (after besting him in the primary) the scuffle sent a message to Democrats that the netroots had enough power to dismount a political bastion. Republican presidential hopeful George Allen spat a racial slur a few months later, and when the video hit YouTube it routed Allen’s ambitions like a bad bout of the whooping cough can derail a first date.

Bill Krause
2/14/2008 12:39:20 PM

Something you failed to mention about some of the new breed of local blogs such as Minnesota Monitor and the far superior MinnPost is that they are organized as 501(c)(3) public charities. This means that they can accept tax free donations and do so from large progressive foundations and private individuals. 501(c)(3) is the same tax status as religious organizations, so unlike normal blogs, these 501(c)(3) blogs have the same prohibition from political activity that churches have. This doesn't just mean that they can't endorse candidates, but they are prohibited from making statements against or in favor of any candidates for office during an election. How they manage to bring anything new to the blog world while following these guidelines is a mystery (Hint: They don't follow the rules).

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