DailyKos: The Internet Is Not Enough

Conor Clarke
January 18, 2006

"I hope you guys feel a lot of pressure." Thus spoke Markos Moulitsas, founder and editor of the mega-blog DailyKos.com, to a group of 165 college students -- myself included -- assembled in the ballroom of the National Education Association's DC headquarters.

The gathering was organized by Young People For (YP4), a project of the People For the American Way Foundation, and was part of a three-day national summit designed to instruct and inspire the next generation of progressive leaders, and give them the organizational tools they need to succeed. "Kos" was the night's keynote speaker, but his message was hardly optimistic: He made no bones about the challenges young progressives will encounter, and was forthright about the obstacles that already exist. "We face a ruthless enemy," he said, "and we've got a long way to go."

Pessimism about progressive politics is nothing new, and Moulitsas' speech, a breezy and seemingly extemporaneous 10 minutes long, was nothing groundbreaking. (He disparaged the "corrupt system" that grips both parties, and urged students to remember their roots, stay attuned to change and work pragmatically.) But during the much longer (and much more interesting) question-and-answer session that followed, Moulitsas expressed pessimism of a different stripe--a doubtfulness that, coming from the kingpin of web-based progressive politics, I found a bit surprising: He was pessimistic about the Internet.

"It saddens me that Daily Kos is the largest progressive media outlet," Moulitsas mused, in response to a question about the effects the Internet will have on progressive politics in the years to come. "We can't just put it all on the blogs and MoveOn and hope that this is future, because if it is, we're in trouble." These were strange words to hear from a man who has made his name with a blog. But odd as it seemed to me at the time, Moulitsas is almost certainly right: Unstoppable and ever-expanding though the Internet appears, web-based progressivism is not a substitute for the traditional political infrastructure, nor will it be anytime soon.

Consider the numbers: Daily Kos gets about five million page views a week. That's not chump change, but Rush Limbaugh still gets somewhere between 14 and 20 million listeners in the same period of time. The contrast with cable news is equally striking: While Moulitsas gets about 700,000 page views a day, almost four times as many people tune into cable news stations during primetime alone, and more than twice as many watch Fox. Nine of the top 10 highest rated cable news programs are on Fox.

The bottom line--and it is a bottom line Moulitsas was manifestly aware of--is that blogs aren't reaching an audience anywhere near the same size as the traditional news outlets. 

This was even borne out at the speech: Right before Moulitsas took the stage, YP4 Director Iara Peng introduced him as the man you know "as the author and editor of DailyKos.com," and then paused for applause. There were several seconds of awkward silence followed by a smattering of claps; few in the audience seemed to know what Daily Kos was. Ms. Peng herself realized this: "And if you don't know what Daily Kos is," she quickly added, "you should add it to your favorites as soon as you get home." When I spoke with fellow students afterwards, the lack of recognition was confirmed: "Honestly," one student told me, "I have no idea who he is." Those nearby nodded their heads in agreement.

Should it be troubling that a room full of smart, savvy, well-educated and well-dressed progressives could not, by and large, identify the biggest name in progressive blogging? It didn't appear to trouble Moulitsas: He repeatedly stressed the need for a more expansive, long-term infrastructure, the kind that "conservatives spent a long time building." This should no doubt include blogs, but should by no means be limited to them; after all, the broad-based conservative network -- embracing television, radio, religion and more--has paid off in spades.

In short, there are bigger things to worry about than blogs. A good place to start: of the 10 most influential think tanks in the country, six identify as either "conservative," "conservative/libertarian" or "center-right." Three identify as "centrist." And just one -- the lonely Economic Policy Institute -- identifies as "progressive."

If progressive politics are to find long-term success, that's the kind of statistic that needs to change. Onstage, Moulitsas joked that if any of the students in the audience became millionaires, they should consider forking over the hefty sums required to build a hefty infrastructure. And as the progressive leaders of tomorrow conclude a weekend of training with YP4, they would do well to heed his advice.



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