Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Color (and gender) of Blogging

Is the blogosphere too white and too male?

The question is not mine. It is what Newsweek technology columnist Steve Levy wants to know. He jumps into the issue from a conference on blogging and the media conducted at Harvard.

Does the blogosphere have a diversity problem?

Viewed one way, the issue seems a bit absurd. These self-generated personal Web sites are supposed to be the ultimate grass-roots phenomenon. The perks of alpha bloggers—voluminous traffic, links from other bigfeet, conference invitations, White House press passes—are, in theory, bequeathed by a market-driven merit system. The idea is that the smartest, the wittiest and the most industrious in finding good stuff will simply rise to the top, by virtue of a self-organizing selection process.

So why, when millions of blogs are written by all sorts of people, does the top rung look so homogeneous? It appears that some clubbiness is involved. [Conference attendee and blogger Haley Suitt] puts it more bluntly: "It's white people linking to other white people!" (A link from a popular blog is this medium's equivalent to a Super Bowl ad.) Suitt attributes her own high status in the blogging world to her conscious decision to "promote myself among those on the A list."
All due respect to Mr. Levy and the aggrieved women and minorties he quotes, the question of diversity in the blogosphere is a contrived issue at best. It should surprise no one that a Harvard conference on blogging would be dominated by white guys. Frankly, it seems that most of the "top" bloggers went to school there.

As to why most of them tend to link only to each other, it is probably because most of them know each other personally as well as professionally. When I worked in broadcasting, most of the people I associated with also worked in broadcasting. Professional rivalry is accompanied, in many cases, by a genuine camaraderie. It should not surprise anyone that the elite crew of first-wave political bloggers have developed a sense of community that tends to be self-reinforcing and self-referential. Next-wave political bloggers such as myself would love to gain access to that echo chamber if only to increase the chances of our stuff being read as widely as theirs. Of course, if we keep doing it for the love of doing it, that might happen in time. Even if it never happens, we will build audiences of our own.

The joy of blogging is in the doing of it. You have to like writing for the sake of writing, not for the sake of being read. Popularity and influence are becoming the chief currency of political blogging, but if you are doing it for that reason, you are doing it for the wrong reason. You will run very quickly into a wall of frustration and disappointment.

With that in mind, what is a "top blogger" anyway, and what does it matter that he is white? Even if it did matter, whom would one sue? What is even at stake? If you want to blog, then blog. I posted my first entry on UncommonSense literally 20 minutes after I made the decision to become a blogger. Certainly, I wish more people were reading this site. It would be insane, however, to suggest that Daily Kos is keeping people from reading UncommonSense because he only links to Atrios and Josh Marshall.

The homogeneous aspect of blogging right now does not carry any signficance beyond the mere fact of it. It is what it is.

Finally, with an estimated 8 million blogs in the United States alone, how can a visual survey of Harvard conference attendees yield the conclusion that most bloggers are white men?

There are plenty of legitimate concerns to raise about diversity, or the lack thereof, in American media. This is not one of them.