DMI Blog

Elana Levin

The Year in the Blogosphere

Here by popular demand by my blogging brethren, its the The Year in the Blogosphere section!
Live from the DMI Year in Review!
Now in easily excerpted html format!
To many, 2005 was the year of the blog. Read by ordinary people, journalists, politicians and their staff, blogs are shaping the public dialogue around breaking news and providing a forum for people to air opinions on the issues they care about. Blogs can be a megaphone enabling regular people - citizen journalists - to sound off among the "experts." But blogs can also transform the one-way message machine by enabling grassroots activists to leverage their collective power to pressure the traditional media to cover developments relevant to the public interest.

The schism in the AFL-CIO was one of the landmarks of 2005. The journey up to that point was also historic because of the transparency brought to the process by the Unite To Win Blog. Created by Andrew Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union, the blog was an unprecedented opportunity for those with a stake in the union movement to discuss the future of labor with each other and the union's top officials.

Union blogs aren't just about communicating with the top brass-- they can also be a means of building union democracy. The United Federation of Teachers' blog,, is a shining example. Since its inception in August, Edwize has been a hotbed of member debate over everything from the new contracts to charter schools, enabling teachers to express their thoughts on the union's direction and know they have an audience with the union's leadership. The UFT blog works because most teachers are comfortable writing and working online. But until more union members acquire the computer skills and access to participate, blogs will be unable to achieve their full potential to advance union democracy.

What if Deep Throat had come forward but the press refused to cover it? On April 30th, Britain's London Times released what became known as The Downing Street Memo, notes leaked from a 2002 meeting of top British officials suggesting that the U.S. and Britain fixed intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

Few in the American press paid attention to the bombshell until blogs took matters into their own hands. Through liberal meta-blog, readers who had only met online began organizing to inform the public, creating a Web site called By late May, a progressive coalition was demanding an official inquiry into the memo and pre-war intelligence and planning.

Meanwhile, reader Congressman John Conyers wrote a letter signed by 89 fellow members of Congress, demanding that President Bush address the memo's "serious ramifications for the integrity of the United States government." Publicizing the letter on his own blog and others, Congressman Conyers gathered over 540,000 signatures in support.

But the story still hadn't gotten the traction it needed in the press. On June 1st, online activists launched a campaign to "awaken the mainstream media." Each day their sites listed contact information for news outlets so readers could demand better coverage of the memo. Eventually the memo got exposure from NPR to The Washington Post. Together bloggers, advocates and a maverick Congressman forced a buried story into the headlines and the halls of power. The forces that united to demand accountability are still working together, pushing for truth in a post-investigative journalism Washington.

It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion: the next congressperson from Ohio's district 2 would be a Republican. So how did Democratic political novice and Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett end up with 48 percent of the vote in a deep red district, doing 33.5 points better than John Kerry performed in the presidential election?

An activist on suggested an experiment to see if a concentrated effort from online activists could impact a campaign that the Democratic Party wasn't dedicating resources to. Tim Tagaris of and - a blog created by Congressman Sherrod Brown to foster grassroots activism in the Ohio Democratic Party - began writing about Hackett after the primary election, contrasting Hackett's war heroism to opponent Jean Schmidt's night on the town with lobbyists. Inspired by the blogs, progressive groups endorsed Hackett's race and raised $450,000 online. All this despite the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had initially rejected Hackett’s request for funds because they didn't view him as a viable candidate.

By election night, the blogosphere demonstrated its ability to turn a long-shot into a national figure by propelling Hackett's campaign for Congress all the way to CNN and front pages nationwide. While Hackett ultimately lost, the Republican Party was forced to spend resources on a race they thought was a sure bet. Now Hackett and Brown are both running for the U.S. Senate, and bloggers on Swing State Project are working towards "a blog in every congressional district."

Arianna Huffington doesn't do anything the small way. 2005 saw the launch of The Huffington Post, the 800 pound star-studdedgorilla of the liberal blogosphere. Who else could bring Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap) and Walter Cronkite (CBS Evening News) to the same blog?

Launched in May and amply financed by Ms. Huffington and a network of supporters, including former AOL Time Warner VP Kenneth Lerer, the Huffington Post combines an AP newswire service with a roster of bloggers 200+ deep, offering news, commentary and culture. With a sharp eye for strategy, Huffington developed a deal with Tribune Media Services to syndicate parts of the blog to newspapers and their Web sites.

By bringing so many prominent and highprofile names to a blog, The Huffington Post's arrival indicates a new recognition of the power of blogs and blogging's increased acceptability among people from traditional communications media. For example, when respected columnist Robert Scheer was fired by the Los Angeles Times - he claims because of his investigative work on the President's motivation for the Iraq war - The Huffington Post scooped him up. Though still new, the sheer size and brainpower of the Huffington Post team has changed the blogosphere as we know it.

Joshua Micah Marshall's blog, Talking Points Memo, may very well have prevented the privatization of Social Security. Marshall worked relentlessly, hammering away on the issue day in and day out for nearly a year, exposing the logical holes in the President's privatization plan and attacking Republican talking points.

Through the power of his investigative blogging, Marshall tracked the vacillations of House and Senate members before a vote ever took place, monitoring their every Social Security-related statement. Before an audience of 700,000 online visitors a month, Marshall named names on his constantly updated lists, calling Democratic defectors the "Fainthearted Faction" and Republicans who stood up to Bush "The Conscience Caucus." By forcing a public stand on elected officials who would have preferred to keep their positions on the controversy ambiguous until the last moment, Talking Points Memo not only highlighted the issue but provided readers with the information they needed to hold their elected officials accountable, powerfully illustrating the power of blogs to create transparency in government.


Who gets to blog? For a real view on what is happening at the frontline of social change, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy launched DMIBlog in October. With a focus on "politics, policy and the American Dream," the DMIBloggers are its Fellows, all grassroots activists and organizers whose opinions on social and economic policy are formulated by their experience of what works, and what doesn't, on the ground.

The group blog format, with activist guest voices, including the publisher of Color Lines magazine and the creator of the first Senate Web site, facilitates a virtual conversation instead of a "punditocracy." Unlike more traditional political blogs offering up-to-the-minute updates on the horseraces of politics, DMIBlog offers a policy discussion that isn’t driven by politics, but also isn't naive to it. Instead it is a laboratory for ideas and a place for reading
perspectives too often written out of policy debates. Ultimately, you change the conversation by changing who participates in it- from the boardroom to the Internet.

For the full Year in Review report and to read this section (pg. 7) with fab graphic design click here.
It is a great sources for all the public policy news you missed while the press was busy analyzing Harriet Myers' eyeliner.

Elana Levin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 8:19 PM, Dec 21, 2005 in Federal Budget | Labor | Media | Progressive Agenda | Retirement Security | Social Security | The Media | Year in Review | activists | digital divide
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