Sunday, November 23, 2008

Netroots: Do they Matter?

As a marketer I have noticed some interesting trends in recent months. Namely that traditional media (print, radio, TV) has started to decline in both consumption and advertising revenue. Here in Canada, budgets are being slashed by international accounts and belts are being tightened.

What is interesting is that not 5 years ago, media outlets were 'throwing in' internet advertising as a bonus with a traditional media buy. Well those days are long over. As a medium, the internet has exploded bringing with it much good and bad - especially in the political scene.

Which naturally leads us to the effect of the Netroots, which is described as follows:

Netroots is a recent term coined to describe political activism organized through blogs and other online media, including wikis and social network services. The word is a portmanteau of Internet and grassroots, reflecting the technological innovations that set netroots techniques apart from other forms of political participation. In the United States, the term is used mainly in left-leaning circles.

Further - the origin of the term is suggested to be traced to:

In a December 2005 interview with Newsweek magazine [4], Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, founder of Daily Kos, described the netroots as "the crazy political junkies that hang out in blogs." He is also the co-author (with Jerome Armstrong) of the book Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (ISBN 1-931498-99-7).

William Safire explained the term's origin in the New York Times Magazine on November 19, 2006:
“ ... the Nation's Web site [5] cited the unabashedly liberal Jerome Armstrong's praise of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "for reading blogs and being ready to work with the netroots." From these citations and a few of the million and a half others in a Google search, the word netroots has a left-of-center connotation. The earliest use I can find is in a Jan. 15, 1993, message on an e-mail list of the Electronic Frontier Foundation from an "rmcdon[ell]" at the University of California at San Diego, apparently complaining about an internal shake-up: "Too bad there's no netroots organization that can demand more than keyboard accountability from those who claim to be acting on behalf of the 'greater good.'" ... Popularizer of the term — unaware of the obscure, earlier citation when he used it — was the aforementioned (great old word) Armstrong on his blog, MyDD, on Dec. 18, 2002, as he went to work on the presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.... headlined his entry “Netroots for Dean in 2004” and told Internet readers where to get the first inkling of a groundswell: “O.K., so Dean is still polling 1 to 4 percent nationally, so what. Look at the netroots.”[1]

Whatever its origin, the Netroots most certainly has had an effect on the media.

Clearly, bloggers aren’t a monolithic group. But it’s fair to say that liberal bloggers — and the more activist-oriented members of the Netroots within that group — have been calling out the media’s campaign coverage with far more regularity than just four years ago. And it’s not simply because there are more activists who know how Moveable Type works.

Pushback against the media has been aided by the growth of more sophisticated liberal news sites, such as Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post. In 2004, TPM founder Josh Marshall didn’t have any paid staffers; this year he has nine. And Arianna Huffington’s arsenal of nearly 2,000 bloggers didn’t exist until President Bush was already six months into his second term. Not to mention, liberal watchdog group Media Matters — which provides ammo to many bloggers — has grown in that time from about 20 staffers to near 100, according to a source familiar with the organization.

This effect can be seen in driving MSM stories. Be that as it may, a particularly inflammatory article by James Kirchick entitled Barack Obama doesn't fear the enraged, impotent Netroots contends that:

Indeed, the only people who seemed to give a fig about Lieberman were the "Netroots." Along with abandoning Iraq to Iran and Al Qaeda, punishing the "traitor" Joe Lieberman was their paramount concern (know that in the minds of Netroots, Lieberman hasn't only committed treason against the Democratic Party; a quick perusal of the more popular liberal blogs will also find the words "Zionist" and "Likudnik" attached to his name). Most Americans probably recognize Lieberman as the guy who ran with Al Gore in 2000. But to the Netroots, Lieberman is an obsession, an individual who inspires mania. He is the worst thing possible: not only someone who disagrees with them about foreign policy, but a liberal who disagrees with them on foreign policy.

"No matter what Joe Lieberman does," wrote Jane Hamsher, proprietor of the popular liberal blog Firedoglake, "the people who are protecting him hate you much more than they hate him." The Netroots are all about hate; its denizens are incapable of seeing shades of gray. (And Ms. Hamsher knows a thing or two about hate, having doctored a photo of Joe Lieberman in blackface during his primary battle against Netroots favorite Ned Lamont two years ago.)

Good for the Democrats for ignoring these people. Allowed to exercise more influence over the party than they already do, the Netroots would have the same disastrous effect that the presidential nomination of George McGovern did in 1972.

While the article reeks of disdain for 'liberal bloggers' Kirchick does raise a point worth examining...

The Netroots: Do they Matter?

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