Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blogging and Political Action (plus secrets of successful Web sites!)

Every month I meet magazine publishers who are resisting adding blogs to their Web sites, primarily on the grounds that blogs are just a time-consuming fad. My counter-argument (for the political magazines) is simple: if they're not part of the blogosphere, they're losing politically engaged readers.

A new survey from Blogads backs me up. ClickZ News reports:

"There are multiple blogospheres," suggested Blogads CEO Henry Copeland. "These people actually run in packs and the packs have very distinct characteristics."

Political blog browsers may be the most engaged in the blogosphere. The largest portion of the bunch read five blogs each day, and over 18 percent spend 10 hours each week reading blogs. In the last six months, 70 percent contributed to a cause or campaign online, 41 percent spending $100 or more. In that time, 60 percent bought software and clothes on the Web. Eighty-seven percent of these big blog consumers purchased books online, and 52 percent spent $100 or more. Fifty-five percent spent on publication subscriptions in that time.

Over 72 percent of these readers are male and the largest age group, nearly 27 percent, is between 41 and 50 years old. In addition, more than 77 percent have a college degree, while over 20 percent have a family income between $60K and $90K. Fifty percent are Democrats, 20 percent Republicans and nearly 20 percent independents.

Is readership of blogs coming at the expense of print magazines? There's no hard survey data that I know of offhand, but the answer is almost certainly yes. If liberal and progressive (and largely affluent) readers are turning their hard-won attention to blogs for news and interpretation, while at the same time donating more and more money online, then that's bad news for magazines that still see Web sites as simple online brochures for the print product - such a list includes progressive flagships like Harpers (which has one of the worst Web sites I've ever seen for a magazine of its category), as well as many smaller titles.

The Blogads survey does provide numbers on total media consumption which reveal that blogs dominate the field- not suprising, since this is a Blogads survey and blog-readers responded. It'll be interesting to see what the survey says next year and how the trends develop over time.

The survey also provides numbers on the magazines (print and online) read regularly by respondents. The most popular progressive print-based magazines include the American Prospect (28% read the print edition, 77% online - a suprising result, given that the Web site isn't anything great); Harpers (79% print, 25% online - not suprising), Unte Reader (75% print, 27% online - also predictable), The Nation (50% print, 58% online), and Mother Jones (whose readership is split fifty-fifty between print and a fabulous online product). Of those five, The Nation is the most popular title. My client Utne is, alas, the least popular of the progressive magazines. The Web-only Salon is by far the most popular title among those who responded to the survey.

The Blogads survey also found that 53% of bloggers blog to keep track of their own ideas, 50% to let off steam, 36% to influence public opinion. An amazing 75.5% of respondents wrote or called a politician at the state, local, or national level during the previous twelve months. Thirty eight percent had attended a political rally, speech, or organized protest of any kind. Thirty-six percent attended a public meeting on town or school affairs. Twenty percent have worked for a political party. Twelve percent had made a speech at some point during the previous year. And so on. Bottom line: those who read and write blogs are tremendously active in the real world. Blogging translates into political action.


It didn't suprise me to see that The Nation and Mother Jones are popular among blog-readers, with fifty-fifty splits between online and print readership. Both magazines successfully answered a question that many publishers never ask: what is the primary purpose of my magazine's Web site? The answer to this question shapes everything on a Web site from navigation to content, and accounts from differences among successful sites.

On one hand, the primary purpose of The Nation site is to sell subscriptions to the magazine (or so the publisher once told me). Its secondary purpose is to raise money. You can see these twin priorities – which are in some ways at odds with each other, in that one is for new readers and the other for existing – manifest throughout the site. See that “Subscribe” and “Donate” are the first two items on the top navigation bar, and that there is little Web-exclusive content besides blogs. Opportunities to donate (and forward articles to friends, a critical form of viral marketing and content distribution) appear at the top and bottom of every article.

In contrast, the Mother Jones Web site is intended to stand on its own as a publication; it is an autonomous editorial project of the parent nonprofit, with its own revenue streams. Note that the simple, clear, above-the-fold navigation menu starts with editorial items (unlike The Nation, which starts with Subscribe and Donate), with subscription and advertiser services at bottom. Opt-in email capture gets pride-of-place beside the nameplate.

I also want to highlight how the “MoJoBLOG” is positioned under the nameplate. This is the most current content the Web site can provide, and so it is prioritized. Under that, the homepage presents a feature well with the print issue sourced, as well as Web-only content. The Web site sells subscriptions to the magazine, of course, but the revenue emphasis is on fundraising, ancillary product sales, and other sources that are not tied to the print product. Note also that at the bottom of all Mother Jones Web features, there’s a note with links: “This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.” Never miss an opportunity to ask for money!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

More Local e-Democracy

From the New York Times:

When a state agency released plans for studying the environmental impact of the proposed Atlantic Yards project, a vast residential, commercial and arena development near Downtown Brooklyn, the response from critics was swift, brutal — and largely online.

"Major flaws in the final scope," pronounced Norman Oder, the proprietor of the blog Atlantic Yards Report, pointing out that the agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, had not examined the possible security risks facing the 18,000-seat arena....

Atlantic Yards may well be the first large-scale urban real estate venture in New York City where opposition has coalesced most visibly in the blogosphere.

"If Jane Jacobs had the tools and technology back when she was fighting Robert Moses' plans to bulldoze Lower Manhattan, I bet 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities' would have been a blog," said Mr. Naparstek, 35, referring to Ms. Jacobs's seminal 1963 book criticizing the urban renewal policies in vogue among city planners of that era.

About a dozen blogs follow Atlantic Yards closely. The authors are usually Brooklynites, some of them experts in fields like urban development. But even the amateurs among them have boned up on arcane zoning provisions and planning-law quirks that can induce headaches among the less devoted.

The result is an unusual ferment of community advocacy and opinion journalism, featuring everything from manipulated caricatures of Forest City Ratner executives to technical discussions of traffic flow....

Daniel Goldstein, the spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a group opposed to the Atlantic Yards, said that the blogs "have been a key part of the public education about the project."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Social Networking for Nonprofits

TechSoup is wrapping up a two-day event about social networking applications in the nonprofit community -- you can check out the online component of the meeting.

Also: check out this list of social networking tools for activists, via Netcentric Campaigns.

At some point in the next 30 days I plan to review the most popular social networking sites and resources. Many of them, I've found, are simply timewasters that embody some very problemmatic assumptions about politics and how social change happens; others can be quite powerful tools for promoting critical action and ideas.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Conservative Calls for Jailing Journalists

Want to know how scary our country is getting?

Listen to Bill Bennett call for the imprisonment of journalists who dare publish stories "against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president."

You can read solid reaction and discussion on Glenn Greenwald's blog.

Local e-Democracy, from the UK to Florida

Today's reflexive assumption: that online organizing and political publishing are both best done on a national scale, while local politics still occurs largely offline.

That may be true. Recently, however, I've discovered some interesting examples of local online organizing: The UK Local e-Democracy National Project has published "Civic Leadership Blogging: How to use blogs as an effective local leadership tool." "Britain has been a major leader in the civic blogging efforts," reports NetPulse, "with the government pilot Read My Day even offering blogspace to civic leaders." In addition, UK policy wonk Tom Steinberg has launched mySociety, a nonprofit "which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives." Meanwhile, over in Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports on grassroots efforts to make "a big political splash on local issues" through e-activism.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Malicious Censorship or Mere Incompetence?

AOL recently blocked e-mails from critics of AOL's plan to begin charging extra to route e-mail around its spam filters. AOL claims that the censorship was the result of their own incompetence; critics contend that AOL is "arbitrary and capricious in the way they deliver e-mail."

In a related story, last week the Independent Press Association (a former employer and one of my current clients) banned a publisher from its member listserve, apparently for criticizing the organization's Board of Directors in a manner the Directors deemed "unprofessional." In response, 70 IPA members have joined a new listserve called "Independent Members of IPA." Magazines can request to join the list - which is discussing ways to reform the IPA as well as to set up alternative indy support structures - by sending an email to ""

The IPA was founded in 1996 to support free speech and social justice. The new listserve is only the latest chapter in a deepening and increasingly visible conflict between the current IPA leadership and a substantial portion of the membership of the organization.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More on the Dark Side of Muni-WiFi: The Case of San Francisco

From the FierceWiFi e-newsletter:

As details of Google's plans for San Francisco emerge, privacy worries become more concrete. Privacy advocates say that Google's commercial voraciousness reveals a more sinister aspect of its project. Google said it would use its search engine to track users' locations. Google may do it so it can tailor advertisements to individual users based on their location: As users walk down the street while on the phone or are sitting in a coffee shop, Google will send to their PDAs or laptops marketing messages from businesses in the neighborhood in which the users happen to be. If a user happens to be in Union Square, he may see an advertisement for Macy's; if the user uses her laptop near Fisherman's Wharf, she may see an ad for a seafood restaurant (and if users happen to be walking anywhere near AT&T Park, they may see advertising for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs).

Google said its technology would allow it to track users' whereabouts to within a few hundred feet. The company also said it would retain the data for up to 180 days before deleting it, as part of an effort to "maintain the Google WiFi network and deliver the best possible service." Privacy advocates fear the information could be used by government officials to place users under surveillance. Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog group, said, "The greatest concern is that once you have that treasure trove of information, will people start to come looking for it?"

What privacy advocates find especially irksome is Google's requirement that users log on with a Google account before accessing the free WiFi. Signing in would make it possible for the company to track Internet use and location to specific individuals. Fears about information collected and retained by Google are not without foundation. The Justice Department recently tried to make Google divulge the search records of thousands of its users. The government wanted the information so it could give teeth to a law intended to protect children from Internet pornography. Google prevailed in the subsequent court battle, but legal experts say the company could have avoided the problem by not keeping user search records.

Monday, April 10, 2006

More Social Networking; Video on Demand; Growth of Indy Media; Your Momma

1. Following up on my entry on social networking for social change: the Los Angeles Times reports that LA teenagers made extensive use of "their communal pages on the enormously popular MySpace website" in organizing the March 24 student walkouts to protest proposed Bush Administration immigration policies. Meanwhile, it seems that South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is drawing some petty, puritanical criticism for his MySpace page.

2. Via the Center for Creative Voices in Media blog:

Another giant leak in the dam that keeps broadcast TV from being "broadcast" over the Net. Per Brooks Barnes in WSJ: "Walt Disney Co. plans to make much of its newest and most popular programming on ABC and other channels available free anytime on the Web...On April 30, ABC will unveil a revamped Web site that will include a "theater" where people with broadband connections can watch free episodes of "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and other hit shows on their computers."

The implications of this development for broadcasters, cablers, talent, etc. are significant. For this is Video on Demand, which cable keeps touting as its trump card -- and now who needs cable TV if you've got broadband? Because if you've got broadband, you've already got cable TV -- it's called Internet. Broadcast and cable networks are all becoming one -- content made up of individual pieces (shows) that the consumer can demand or avoid as he/she pleases.

Meanwhile, the city of Atlanta has launched its own Video on Demand service.

3. Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, the mainstream media continue to wake up and smell the day-old coffee:

The invasion of Iraq and the three years of war that followed it seem unlikely to go down in history as a proud era for American journalism.

Critics on the political left and right, journalism professors and even many reporters agree that the media -- print and electronic alike -- failed to provide accurate, unbiased or complete coverage of the past three years and particularly the run-up to the war...

"What the war has done is hurled kerosene onto the fire," [said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.] "It provided the passion, and when people are passionate about things, they get active about things."

So instead of creating a ripple of letters to the editor, canceled subscriptions and advertiser boycotts, those unhappy with the mainstream media were able to create vocal displeasure through their own media -- media that grew larger each day, feeding on itself and on traditional media for content.

Soon, the blogs demonstrated an ability to make, or remake, news overlooked or handled differently by the mainstream, from analyzing a Wall Street Journal reporter's downbeat letter home from Baghdad to sharing a list of accomplishments purportedly made by the U.S. military since the end of major combat, and from the questionable Bush National Guard memos to Trent Lott's poorly received birthday comments.The result: lots of energetic criticism of the mainstream media, and the budding of a new alternative media, arriving just when traditional media is under enormous financial pressures from corporate mergers and downsizing.

4. Also in the Chroncile, from an interview with UC Berkeley journalism professor and author Michael Pollan:

Culture used to be a very reliable guide. Culture's just a fancy way of saying your mom. And your mom learned from her mom. There were a whole set of cultural rules and taboos and practices and that shaped people's eating -- and those have fallen apart.

Gray is the new black-and-white; the Web is the new Mom!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

San Francisco Wi-Fi; Fake TV News; Alternate Business Models

Odds and Ends:

1. The city of San Francisco announced yesterday that Google/Earthlink won the bidding process to build a citywide wi-fi network. From many perspectives, the Google/Earthlink proposal is terrible. Media Alliance jumped into the fray:

Media Alliance joined with numerous other organizations to urge City officials to press for stronger public interest provisions in light of yesterday's announcement that Google/ Earthlink won the bidding process to build a citywide Wi-fi network. The bid by media darling Google, owned by close friends of Mayor Newsom, was rated poorly on “right to privacy" considerations and connection speed, and lacked funding for bridging the digital divide.

2. The Center for Media and Democracy is releasing a new report, "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed," which, says the release, "will offer the most detailed picture available to date of TV newsrooms' use of sponsored broadcast material." CMD will be launching a multimedia Web site showing both video news releases and their broadcast as "news" by TV stations and networks. Check it out.

3. In the current issue of The New Atlantis, Glenn Reynolds provides an overview of the blogging revolution. I found this observation and business model proposal intriguing:

Big institutions aren't the only way to have a reputation anymore. As Web-based outfits like and Slashdot are demonstrating, it's possible to have reputation without bureaucracy. Want to know whether you can rely on what someone says? Click on his profile and you can see what other people have said about him, and what he's said before, giving you a pretty good idea of his reliability and his biases. That's more than you can do for the person whose name sits atop a story in the New York Times (where, as with many Big Media outfits, archives are pay-only and feedback is limited).

An organization that put together a network of freelance journalists under a framework that allowed for that sort of reputation rating, and that paid based on the number of pageviews and the ratings that each story received, would be more like a traditional newspaper than a blog, but it would still be a major change from the newspapers of today. Interestingly, it might well be possible to knit together a network of bloggers into the beginnings of such an organization. With greater reach and lower costs than a traditional newspaper, it might bring something new and competitive to the news business.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Media reform in Mexico

Here's an interesting article about "approval of a sweeping overhaul of the nation´s media laws, which have been widely criticized as favoring existing commercial broadcasters over potential competitors."