This started in Virginia, where Jon Henke was signed as George Allen’s netroots coordinator and Lowell Feld was hired by Jim Webb. The result was an interesting campaign, with dozens of Republican bloggers repeating Henke’s talking points and sporting "Bloggers for Allen" logos on their blogs. Webb won.
Even before that race was set Peter Daou (above) was hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign. John Edwards has now hired Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. This has led to airheads asking Is Obama losing the Web war? It has also caused some to bemoan the professionalization of the netroots.
As someone who is in fact paid to blog (by ZDNet) I have some expertise I can bring to bear.
- There is a difference between hiring a great blogger and a netroots coordinator. The former can spin events your way (or try to) and may, in fact, become the unofficial voice of your campaign. The latter is a staff position, someone who is recruiting bloggers to fly your flag, making choices, staying on top of the spin and trying to master things.
- This isn’t likely to work. The best way for a blogger to support the campaign is to be let in on the process. The best blog items during the Dean campaign were written by staffers about various aspects of their actual jobs, they were written by players, and bloggers aren’t players by nature. They’re reporters and analysts.
- You’re not buying the blogosphere. There are lots of great bloggers out, far more than have yet been discovered. The idea that hiring a few means you’re running low is a bit like the Isaac Asimov classic "Nightfall," in which everyone is taught to believe there are only a few dozen stars and the world goes crazy once every 1,000 years when the reality is revealed by astronomical chance.
- The full blogosphere is barely covered. You can’t really cover the blogosphere, even a segment of the blogosphere, from a single collection of feeds. You have to be open to other voices, to new voices, and you’re going to see a lot of turnover. One of the big trends in our time is not MySpace per-se, but the appearance of MySpace blogs. No one is even looking at the talent there, and it does in fact exist.
Since I first started covering the nexus of politics and the online world, back in 1996, I have seen many, many changes. The blogosphere itself was a product of the 2004 cycle, and there is no reason to believe it will have the online dominance in this cycle that it did then. Even in the 2006 cycle, the important work was done not with blogs but with video.
I personally agree with Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos, who believes that the important work in this coming cycle will be done on mobile. But one thing I can guarantee is, the trend will be something we don’t expect. And another thing I can guarantee is, this new trend will wind up under the radar of nearly every "netroots coordinator" in the business.
The online world is marked by constant change, and any picture you catch is just a moment in time. You can’t really ride a trend online, you can only follow and try to innovate. I have yet to see any real innovation in the 2008 cycle, but one thing I can predict with absolute accuracy is it will be completely different from what came before.