Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers

Thanks to Jane at Firedoglake for asking bloggers and their readers to go help Digby. Just do it. Jane tells you why she thinks it's important to give bloggers a financial assist. Digby has more. Here are my thoughts on it.

In addition to December being the nominations month for the Koufax Awards for liberal blogging excellence, it is also the month that many bloggers must balance the ledger sheet. How many hours were spent blogging, how much money did it cost in lost income from the day job and how much did the blog make from blogads and/or donations?

College students, wealthy retirees and the independently wealthy can blog for love of their topic. Very few others can, and not suprisingly, a lot of the best bloggers fall within this group. The first year, they don't expect to make money through blogging. The second year, some donations and a few ads come their way and they are thrilled. But when the end of the third year rolls around, and still only peanuts are coming in, bloggers have to do an accounting and re-assess.

Digby writes today:

...my traffic is within the top 20 of all liberal blogs, which isn't bad for a solo blogger like myself. I've won awards, even. But one week shy of my third anniversary and I'm back to doing this for free. I may be a raving leftist, but I have to live in this capitalist world.

There is an element of the Bataan death march to daily blogging when you do it for three years running. I write slowly and do a lot of research and reading, so it takes more time than is readily evident. Every minute of it is fun, of course, but it's still ridiculous. In fact it's so much fun that I would never expect to make serious money doing it. Life could not possibly be that sweet. But I can't justify doing this without any compensation at all either.

There are fewer and fewer solo bloggers these days. Some have joined blogging communities like Daily Kos or TPM Cafe. Others have hooked up with MSM or progressive organizations. And still others have brought contributing bloggers on board, with the result that though they now blog minimally, their blogs keeps going.

A few stragglers remain: Atrios, Digby, John of Crooks and Liars, Jane and Reddhedd of Firedoglake, Avedon Carol of Sideshow. I'll include myself in this group, which I liken to sole practitioners in a world of corporate law firms.

It's tough at the end of the year to realize how many hours were spent blogging instead of at gainful employment. When blogging is but a guilty pleasure, at some point it has to stop.

The solution, as I see it, is for MSM to pay bloggers. They can either hire bloggers rather than their already overworked reporters and staff writers to contribute articles, columns or blogs on their mega sites (without restricting the blogger's individual blog) or they can pay bloggers for the right to cross-post select blogposts on their sites. As to the bloggers who repeatedly appear on the cable news networks, and I'm one of them, it's time to stop doing it for free. If each of us insisted on being paid, particularly in this upcoming election year, the networks would have to do it.

Only lawyers do tv night after night for free, and it's because they let the networks get away with it. From 1997 through 1999, they paid scores of us legal analysts. Our mistake was continuing to go on for free when the contracts expired, because by then they figured out that most lawyers would go on for only the exposure. Big, big mistake. It's one that's too late for legal analysts to rectify, but it's not too late for bloggers, for whom air time is just in its infancy.

When I guest-post for Eric Alterman, he and MSNBC make money, I don't. If I cross-post at Huffington Post, and Yahoo News reprints it, Yahoo makes money by selling ads next to my article while I don't get a dime. When CNN fills airtime with its reporters talking about what I'm writing and displaying TalkLeft, or even airing segments with me discussing blogging, I don't get a nickel. That's not fair. The same goes for radio. At the other and much more enlightened end of the MSM spectrum is 5280, Denver's award-winning, glossy, monthly magazine, that pays me to blog daily about Colorado issues on its website, which benefits us both.

Until I read Digby's post today, I never thought much about how MSM and blogs need to establish a financial synergy. But they do. MSM needs to smell the coffee and realize that real bloggers, not in-house columnists, will bring fresher, more spirited material and more pairs of eyes to their ad-studded websites and airwaves. MSM should follow the footsteps of 5280 and hire respected and credible bloggers as free-lancers. Or they should pay bloggers to syndicate some of their existing blog posts on their sites. And if they want to repeatedly use a particular blogger on radio or tv, they should pay them for their services.

Until that happens, bloggers are going to periodically reassess their time commitment to blogging because of the financial drain. When they do, the blogosphere runs the risk of losing them.

Don't take a chance that Digby will decide at year's end that the balance sheet has become too lop-sided. Show some * heart * now. Digby's voice is too unique and too important to lose. In fact, now that I think about it, as you're putting a little something in the pocket of your paperperson, housekeeper, doorman, shoe shiner, hairstylist, secretary, whomever.....think about the bloggers whose sites you read day after day either for enjoyment or enrichment, and make a note to add them to your gift list. If ever there was a week to do it, this is it.

Now, go visit Digby.

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    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 04:25:43 PM EST
    Just curious, when Yahoo runs your work for profit or CNN reviews your site why aren't you getting some sort of residual? While CNN might be able to claim "fair use" (which it may or may not be, I'm not a IP guy) I would think Yahoo is stuck with not having a valid excuse. I don't mean to butt into your work, but I think everyone in the community you have built wants to see this site make it.

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 04:32:21 PM EST
    They don't have to pay me or even ask me for permission because they are reprinting the Huffington Post version of what I write, not the TalkLeft version. It's my choice to post at HuffPo for free, it's good exposure. Still, there's only so much good exposure does when a blogger develops financial woes from the time spent blogging.

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 05:26:46 PM EST
    If each of us insisted on being paid, particularly in this upcoming election year, the networks would have to do it. I'm sure that will go over about as well as Duff Zero. As for the MSM paying bloggers, two things to consider: a) that will make bloggers even more dependent than they are already, and b) there's a nearly infinite supply of people who can vent and type. I also wonder whether Arianna is not paying some of her contributors, such as, for instance, Harry Shearer.

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#4)
    by yudel on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 05:39:01 PM EST
    No, the solution is not for the MSM to pay bloggers. It's for blog-readers to start paying bloggers, instead of paying for MSM. I used to justify paying $39/month for home delivery of the NYTimes, even though it was available for free online, as part of a moral obligation to pay for the journalism I consume. A couple of months back I realized that I was paying for Judith Miller, Pinch Sulzberger, and an entire package summed up aptly by BillMon as "Pravda on the Hudson." So I cancelled the NYTimes, subscribed to magazines that bring me real news and analysis (The Nation, The Economist, The Atlantic, New Scientist, New Yorker) and made it practice to spend the cost of at least one magazine -- $5 -- on a worthy blog each month. Personally, I found Digby's request -- as well as earlier ones from Joshua Marshall and AmericaBlog -- far more dignified than public broadcasting pledge drives....

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 05:51:27 PM EST
    I don't get nearly the traffic you get Jeralyn and I don't produce as many posts. I don't get linked to as much and I write mostly about a subject that most people don't care about unless there's a crisis there: Latin America. My site has been linked to in Slate, mentioned on CNN and I have participated in a pilot radio show on the BBC. I got an e-mail from Ezra Klein on his very first blog complementing me on my blog, and commenting that he was glad to see someone write about Brazil and the rest of Latin America. I think that the total in donations, ad sales and affiliate fees over the course of three years is about $250. I hope to someday to break even in terms of the cost. Why do I do this? Because I enjoy it, think I've got some good things to say and want to be heard. Would I like a gig like Kevin Drum's? Of course, but I'm not going to feel sorry for himself. It's a hobby.

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#6)
    by Patriot Daily on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 07:12:45 PM EST
    A couple thoughts: (1) The progressive blogosphere needs to become organized, union and all. No blogger should not be paid for TV and radio appearances, or for reprinting of their written material. While it may be awkward for one blogger to request money for such works, the unease is removed when the blogger can just say, “sorry, union rules forbid me to appear on your show without the money.” Blame it on the good old union. And, if the top bloggers belong to the union, it reduces the pool of back-ups that may do the work for free. Of course, a union would reap so many other benefits for the blogosphere as well. For example, why wait for the MSM to smell the coffee? A union could negotiate a blogger-MSM transaction, should that be desired. (2) A bloggership or blogoship, whatever, should be available for new bloggers as seed money and existing blogs when necessary. No blogger should have to request money to keep afloat, not when you consider how nicely the right takes care of its own. Given how much work the bloggers do for Democrats, there needs to be some reciprocation. Progressive bloggers, in combination with the union and Democrat Party, can hold fundraisers to obtain “scholarship” funds. For every $1 million dollars raised, 20 bloggers can obtain $50,000 a year as seed money to enable them to work full time on the blog toward turning it into a money-making venture sufficient to not need the blogoship. And, full-time bloggers who hit a rough patch, for whatever reason, could similarly obtain a bloggership. For a measly (given the millions floating around in campaigns and DC) $5 million, 100 bloggers would have seed money.

    Re: Bloggers Compose Their Yearly Ledgers (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Dec 20, 2005 at 08:57:08 PM EST
    Ahh, finances. It is worth noting that most bloggers have zero or near zero overhead. For example, I blog at Blogger which provides servers and bandwith for free. I provide only a web connection and personal computer to use it that I would have had anyway. The vast majority of the blogs at a place like Blogger are money losers. The cost of providing the service, while low, almost certainly exceeds the revenue from an individaul blog. But, the overall community and the more popular blogs provide the content that drives the traffic that supports advertising that presumably supports the enterprise and pays for the servers and bandwidth. Certainly, it does take a lot of time. If you blog, you need to be more motivated to get the word out, than you are to make money. Blogging is something like in kind political contributions. It is also an opportunity to convince other people (like MSM outlets) that you have something worth listening to. One can think of the blogosphere as sort of a minor league for op-ed columnists, some of whom hit the big time and get MSM op-ed gigs or manage to publish.