Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Doing what we do

-- by Dave

I've been putting off my annual fund-raiser this year, mainly because I've been weighing, once again, whether or not to continue with Orcinus as I've been operating it for the past four years.

In many ways, one of this blog's original purposes -- to get in print much of the research material I've compiled over the years as a journalist -- was largely fulfilled with the completion of the recent series on eliminationism. Along the way, I've attracted a steady readership of about 3,000 daily readers, which as Atrios pointed out to me awhile back would have been mind-boggling numbers back when we started this thing.

On the other hand, I can't help but notice that things have tailed off quite a bit in the past couple of years. While the general audience of blog readers has continued to rise, my share of that readership has remained largely stagnant. I don't seem to get many links these days (my Technorati ranking has been in a death spiral), I'm no longer on the DKos blogroll, and the just-finished series created only the barest of ripples. Combined with the general death-march quality of maintaining a good blog, it really came as no surprise to me when Billmon, for instance, finally shuttered the Whiskey Bar this year; it's hard work, and when the meager rewards begin to diminish, it can be very discouraging.

Part of this, I recognize, has to do with what some readers complain of as the "one note" or "depressing" quality of the blog, which is something I've struggled mightily with myself. The reality I have to confront is that, unlike many of the blogs that have risen to prominence in recent years, I'm a journalist working out in the hinterlands, largely disconnected from the Beltway and major media centers. My ability to contribute to the larger discourse of the blogosphere lies primarily with my ability to report on my "beat" -- namely, right-wing extremism as it manifests itself in the general populace and among the powerful.

I could write more on other subjects (and have), including the environment, regional politics, even bigger philosophical/life issues. These attract few readers and even fewer links, but that's OK -- I've never really pretended that Orcinus was anything other than an outlet for the Northwest-based journalism that has always been the core of what I do. I recognize that most readers come here for the monitoring work of the extremist right I perform, and I just hope that along the way they'll enjoy some of my other work.

And there are some blessings to not having a really big-name blog with a gargantuan readership: the pressure to produce can be tremendous. Even worse, you have to put up with playground nonsense from the other bloggers out there jostling for your attention and demanding you give it to them. Though it hurt, I couldn't fault Markos for leaving me off his revamped blogroll -- for God's sake, it's his blog, and if he isn't reading me, that's not his fault. The idea of other bloggers telling me who to blogroll feels patently noxious.

Now, I could always try reshaping the blog's mission as a way to attract new readers -- say, offering Digbyesque political commentary, or zeroing in on fresh subjects that involve political scandals. And while I'm capable of those things, there's also no doubt they'd dilute my ability to write about the subjects I already specialize in.

Moreover, my main reason for starting up Orcinus -- to provide people with a source of information and analysis that they can't get elsewhere, emphasizing subjects that go largely ignored or underplayed by the mainstream press -- remains a valid one. It is, as I've argued before, the real substantive role that blogs now play in our national discourse, and I'm glad to be able to contribute in a way that's meaningful, even if not particularly popular.

Now, something Glenn Greenwald wrote the other day caught my eye in regards to this:
Writing about extremist right-wing blogs can be tedious at times, but the point in writing about them is never the blogs themselves (let alone their commenters), but rather, how the national media depicts political movements and the assumptions embedded in how they referee our country's political discourse. That is always the point. It isn't news that LGF and other large right-wing blogs are the venues for sociopathic and violence-inciting rhetoric on a daily basis. Standing alone, there is limited value in writing or thinking about that topic.

The point here -- as always -- is to try to force the media to write about the stories it covers in a more critical and factual manner, to compel them to abandon the cheap and lazy cliches that otherwise frame everything they write. That is one of the most critical functions of blogs, and it is one of the goals that is realistically attainable by bloggers and their readers working together.

Greenwald is right that the role the media play in picking up and transmitting extremist ideas and coddling a far-right agenda is a critical one -- and no one does a better job, frankly, of examining this role than Greenwald, though obviously it has been a subject here for a long time. (See also The Editors' recent take on the debate between Matt Yglesias and Steve Sailer for a recent example of how this trend is being documented.)

However, there are other ways of thinking about and analyzing this trend, particularly in terms of the broader effect that eliminationist rhetoric has on its intended audience. And as the volume and frequency ratchet upward, it becomes important to observe that as well, because the net effect on the public, and on the national discourse, is going to be well worth remarking.

Moreover, there's a real reason for cataloging and documenting this rhetoric whenever it arises: It is important not just to chastise media figures for pretending they don't hear it or that it's insignificant, but also to call out the speakers themselves. It is essential, in the end, to stand up to hate speech, largely because it is very much protected speech; the only means we have of countering it is to stand up and oppose it.

There's a limited value, I suppose, in doing this -- certainly it will restrict the reach of your work, and as I've seen here, it will lend a one-note quality to the blog. But in my mind, it remains an essential function -- one of the other things that blogs are capable of doing where the mainstream media tends often to fall down.

It's important, I think, to let the haters know that the things they say and advocate will not go unnoticed and unopposed. This, of course, is what I've been doing for a long time here -- and, for the coming year at least, will continue to do.

Discussing not just the broader social ramifications of this growing extremism, as well as how to adequately deal with it and ultimately defuse it, is also something that we need to discuss more -- and, over the coming year, I'm hoping to write more on that subject. More to the point, one of the reasons I brought on Sara Robinson as a co-blogger this past year is that, unlike me, she's a person who has done a lot of thinking about the practical ramifications of the current political realities, particularly regarding how they shape our future.

Between the two of us, expect to see, in addition to the usual documentation and analysis, a lot more discussion in the coming year regarding strategies for confronting and defusing right-wing extremism.

If that's something you want to support, please plug a few nickels into the tip jar. It'll be greatly appreciated, and it'll keep Orcinus up and running for another year.

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