The local daily newspapers haven’t paid much attention to it, but there’s a ferocious fuss going on in the blog world over political power and journalistic ethics, and it’s all swirling around a 34-year-old who runs the world’s most popular political blog out of his home in Berkeley.
It’s a fascinating story because of what it says about the revolution that’s taking place in media and politics today.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga runs the blog DailyKos, which started off as just another liberal political blog by a liberal political activist (who used to be a political consultant and worked at one point for Howard Dean). But in the past three years it’s become phenomenally successful: DailyKos.com gets about a half million page views a day, which puts it in the league not with most of the other blogs but with major mainstream news operations. Moulitsas has no staff — no reporters, no editors, no reviewers, no nothing. His readers — or, more accurately, the members of the huge and growing DailyKos community of 92,000 registered users — provide almost all of the content. They write their own personal blogs called diaries, they comment on each other’s stuff, they promote (and dis) candidates, and they have formed the best known place in the country for the Dean wing of the Democratic Party to meet and confer.
The politicians have noticed, big time: Leading Democrats (like Rep. Nancy Pelosi) post on the site. A couple of months ago, a former president (Jimmy Carter) stopped by to blog. When the Kossacks organized an annual convention this summer, Sen. Harry Reid and presidential hopeful Mark Warner showed up.
So now DailyKos is in the big leagues — and not surprisingly, critics are starting to snipe.
The latest: Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong, who runs MyDD.com, have written a book together, and are longtime pals. (Moulitsas calls Armstrong his “blogfather.”) Armstrong is an active political consultant, and the candidates he works for sometimes get nice mentions on DailyKos. There’s been a lot of mumbling about how there might be some kind of sordid conspiracy here (hire Armstrong, get plugged on DailyKos), and it all became louder when the New Republic got word that Armstrong had been accused of illegally hyping stocks on the Web several years ago — and that Moulitsas had sent an e-mail around to a private mailing list urging other bloggers to keep it quiet.
The right-wingers (including David Brooks of the New York Times) have had a field day with this, acting as if they’ve finally unmasked the Great Left-Wing Conspiracy. Actually, the fact that it all came out in the open pretty quickly shows what a lousy secret cabal the bloggers make. Mostly, Moulitsas’s e-mail was just pretty stupid. But the whole episode raises the question: At what point do bloggers have a responsibility to be accountable, to have ethics and disclosure standards the way “mainstream” journalists are supposed to?
I e-mailed Moulitsas about it, and he’s pretty clear: “People like you keep trying to pound a round peg into a square hole,” he said. “This is citizen media. It is what it is … Old media might want the media landscape to resemble their old world, but it doesn’t, not anymore.”
Which is absolutely true. And I love DailyKos. And the blog explosion is perhaps the most democratic thing that’s happened to media in the history of civilization.
But at some point, citizen journalism isn’t enough — you need reporters and editors and a real staff to give the public real information about the world. And when that happens in the blog world (and it will soon) a lot of the rules are going to change. SFBG