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Bloggers Strike Back

Reporting from the blogosphere has already changed the face of politics, journalism and even publishing. And the changes have only just begun.
 
 
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With the consolidation of news media in this country, many Americans are frustrated by the closed and corporatized outlets for news and opinion. The same set of pundits have spewed their opinions, the same handful of established media outlets have decided what constitutes news and citizens have long been forced to just listen.

The blogosphere is changing all of that. Blogs are now a full-fledged alternative venue where citizens can directly communicate with and inform one another without having to rely only on establishment media sources. And they can obtain news analysis from a virtually infinite set of voices. Since its inception, though, the blogosphere has been largely self-contained, with bloggers able to exert influence on the dialogue within the blogosphere but having almost no influence outside of it.

But that is now changing, too.

The growth of the blogosphere's influence -- both in terms of the sheer numbers who participate in the blogosphere and the growing appreciation of its importance -- renders inevitable the growing influence of bloggers outside of the blogsphere. The blogosphere is pursuing this opportunity by developing mechanisms to enable bloggers to demand a voice in the national political dialogue.

A little more than two weeks ago, on April 25, my forthcoming book, " How Would a Patriot Act?" jumped in just over 12 hours from No. 50,925 on Amazon's best-seller list all the way to No. 1, where it remained for the next four days. It reached the top spot despite the fact that it is not even scheduled to be released until May 15, and despite the fact that the publisher has not yet spent a single penny on advertising, beyond the cost of employee staff time to reach out via the internet.

The book's jump to No. 1 was galvanized exclusively by a discussion of the book's imminent release by a handful of liberal bloggers, including some with the largest blog readership on the web. The recommendation of these bloggers, combined with the familarity of many in the blogosphere with the work I have been doing on these issues at my blog, Unclaimed Territory, generated some much-appreciated enthusiasm, which drove the book to the top spot.

My book is purely a blogosphere book: Working Assets Publishing approached me about writing this book -- the new publisher's first book -- based solely on the contents of my blog. The book's ideas and arguments were developed almost exclusively as a result of writing for and interacting with my blog community. The research for the book was done primarily by my readers, and I discovered many of the arguments and much of the evidence in the book as a result of reading comments on my blog, as well as from reading the posts of my fellow political bloggers.

There are a few other blogger books currently on the market, including " Crashing the Gate" by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas, " Get this Party Started" by Chris Bowers and " Hostile Takeover" by David Sirota. Publishing books by bloggers, the ideas for which largely emerge from the blogosphere, is clearly a model that works and will only grow.

Beyond books, it is becoming commonplace for well-known bloggers to appear on television as new pundits, to be given prominent op-ed space in the nation's largest newspapers or to be quoted as experts on various political matters in major news stories.

And bloggers are not only talking about the news, but making it, too. John Aravosis of AmericaBlog all but single-handedly broke and drove the Jeff Gannon story with original reporting on his blog. This month, Congress enacted legislation protecting the privacy of cell phone numbers as a result of Aravosis' discovery that companies were selling cell numbers for a low fee. A recent Time magazine article reported on an online argument between blogger Matt Stoller and anonymous high-level congressional staffers regarding whether Democrats are sufficiently tough and aggressive in the political tactics they use.

In February, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and John Amato at Crooks and Liars led a blogger campaign to force the Washington Post ombudsman, Deborah Howell, to (very reluctantly) retract her factually false claim that not just Republicans, but also Democrats, received money from Jack Abramoff. When the Post hired far-right Regnery editor Ben Domenech as its new blogger, liberal bloggers quickly uncovered the news that Domenech was a serial plagarist and forced the Post to fire Domench days after it announced his hiring. And discoveries on my blog of various administration statements from 2002 regarding FISA, which directly contradict the administration's defenses in the NSA scandal, led to front-page stories in the Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times and Knight-Ridder, all of which credited the blogosphere as having broken the story.

All of this matters not simply because bloggers are new faces, but because so many of the ideas, so much of the analysis, and the underlying approach to political change which characterize the blogosphere is just different in nature than most everything else that comprises the standard national media discussions of the political issues facing our country.

That isn't to say that the blogosphere is perfect (it definitely is not) or that it doesn't have disadvantages as compared to the national media (it does). But, generally speaking, the blogosphere is a fundamentally different way of talking about, thinking about and being engaged in political matters -- and in creating a more democratic media -- and all of this means that the content it produces and the ideas it generates are substantively different than what gets produced elsewhere.

Whole books could be (and, I believe, have been) written on how and why the blogosphere is different. The collaborative nature of it is definitely one of the principal factors -- unlike some paid media pundit who talks only to a handful of like-minded and similarly situated pundits and others in the isolated elite political class, the blogosphere is nothing more than the aggregate by-product of mass, undiluted conversations taking place among thousands of highly motivated, engaged and well-informed citizens every day.

But beyond being just collaborative, the blogosphere is characterized by an independence and autonomy that is glaringly absent in the conventional national media venues. As Hamsher eloquently observed last month, there has to be some significant motivation for someone to go to their computer every day and do the work to maintain a blog, just as something has to motivate people to spend time at their computers every day reading and participating in intense, detailed political discussions.

Bloggers, their readers and commenters are mostly just citizens who are highly dissatisfied with the conventional media outlets and dominant political institutions, all of which fail in too many ways to serve our democracy well. What is most significant about the blogosphere is that it enables direct and immediate communication -- and coordination -- among huge numbers of citizens who want to force new ideas and arguments into what was previously a closed and highly controlled media and political dialogue.

And, gradually and incrementally, it is working. We seem to be at the very beginning of that process, and the impact on our country's political processes will only grow, vastly. And as it does, not just new faces and new voices -- but whole new perspectives and approaches -- will force their way into our nation's mainstream political dialogue.

Given how empty, stagnant and corrupt that dialogue has been over the past several years, disruptive new perspectives can only be a great improvement.

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney and chief blogger at Unclaimed Territory .