On a semi-regular basis, I get asked by Republican “new media” staffers how the GOP can better work with the Rightroots. As a general rule, I find that these new media staffers are well meaning, get the blogosphere, and have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. Unfortunately, these very same new media staffers almost universally have almost no real power whatsoever.
That’s because, in my experience, a lot of the Republican establishment in D.C. are scared of the bloggers on their own side (yes, really), have a top down messaging style, and they’re very hidebound. In other words, they have trouble understanding the new media; so at best, they treat it just like the old media or at worst, they ignore it entirely.
Now, a few caveats — First off, I don’t want to give you the idea that nothing ever changes. At one point, you couldn’t even get a teleconference with a Republican member of Congress and now we’re deluged with them (more on that later). Also, they have gotten more sophisticated in handling bloggers. For example, the first time I remember the Bush White House reaching out to the blogosphere was when their comprehensive immigration push blew up in their faces. As I remember, they responded by inviting a handful of bloggers who agreed with them to a teleconference while leaving everyone else out. That worked out about as well as you’d expect. It’s also worth noting that there are some individual members of Congress who are very good at handling bloggers. Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn deserve special mentions although, to be fair, the House generally does a better job than the Senate.
So, all that being said, here are some suggestions for how the GOP can better work with bloggers.
1) Funding help: There’s a weird dichotomy between the way the Left and Right view the new media. The Right views it as a capitalistic enterprise where individuals succeed and fail on their own merits. The Left views it more as a collaborative effort where they’re working as a group to advance their goals. This plays into everything from the way both sides approach stories, to fundraising, to raising capital for new media ventures.
That last item is one in particular that deserves some more attention. Most of the people on the Right side of the blogosphere are starved for funding. They can’t afford to improve their websites, advertise, expand, etc. because they simply don’t have the money to do it with. People ask why there’s not more journalism on the right side of the blogosphere. The biggest answer is that they simply can’t afford to do it. Even a lot of the more successful bloggers still need to have day jobs and the ones that don’t can’t even afford to rent a car, drive a few states over, and stay in a fleabag hotel for a couple of nights. The money needed to do those things is out there, but it’s being spent to fund losing campaigns, to help defray the cost of print copies of magazines, and to help think tanks fund blogs nobody reads and give fellowships to people without audiences.
Granted, the Republican Party can’t get away with directly funding blogs, but, they could put us in touch with big donors. They could also buy some ads, not only to reach out to their base, but to help fund the people on their side.
2) Some sort of centralized teleconference scheduling: There was a time when the GOP didn’t do any teleconferences. That was bad. Now, there are so many potential teleconferences that they sometimes overlap and it’s nearly impossible to go to them all. While it’s a positive that there’s a lot more access, it would be nice if it were more organized. If bloggers could actually look in one place and see what is coming up in the coming week, it would make it a lot easier to plan ahead to be there.
3) Feeding stories to bloggers: One of the worst kept secrets in the media is that many of their stories originate from their political contacts. The staffers do the opposition research, hand all of it to a journalist, the reporter writes it up, adds a little garnish, and then the story runs. The GOP needs to be doing much, much more of this instead of doing so many press releases.
Let me explain: On an average, I get 150+ emails per day. At least 75 are press releases from campaigns. The overwhelming majority of them are deleted without being read. That’s because you can tell from the title that they’re not interesting. A small percentage of these releases are read. Maybe 1 in 2500 actually leads to a blog post.
Here’s an alternative way of doing things: Do the research, shop it around to blogs, give it to one that’s interested, and let that blog release it as a news story. That way, it definitely gets out on at least one blog and let’s face it: blogger journalism has a lot better chance of drawing eyeballs and links than a GOP press release.
4) Promote Bloggers: Does the GOP do anything to promote bloggers? Do they send out an email to their mailing lists suggesting some blogs people might want to take a look at? Do they hand out flyers with a list of prominent blogs on them at the Republican national convention? Do they do anything to try to get more Republicans to read blogs? The answer to all those questions is “no” and that’s a mistake. The more people the GOP has hooked into blogs like Right Wing News, Redstate, and Hot Air, etc, the better off the party is going to be in the long run.
5) Access to aides: It’s surprisingly difficult to get access to congressional aides — and I say that as someone who has access to quite a few of them. Congressional aides can be immeasurably useful in providing behind-the-scenes info, the answers to unusual questions, and in giving insight into the thinking of their bosses. They’re also useful at building bridges with bloggers. Every member of Congress should have staffers with blogger contacts.
6) Listen to bloggers: Those teleconferences? Know what would be a good idea? If some of the members of Congress actually brought in bloggers just to get their advice. Granted, members of Congress know their own constituents better than right-of-center bloggers do. But, conservative bloggers have a much, much better understanding of the conservative base than members of Congress do. That doesn’t mean bloggers are always right. In my experience, bloggers tend to be overly wonkish and overestimate the impact of obscure issues on the public-at-large. However, I’d also note that bloggers regularly identify political trends that end up blindsiding Republicans in Congress. This happens over and over. I’d even suggest bringing in bloggers to work on fleshing out message points and brainstorming new websites. If you’ve got people who know the base, who’re willing to help, why not?
So, yes, members of Congress could learn something from actually working off-the-record with bloggers. It also would help with the next item.
7) Build a relationship with the bloggers: Currently, the Republican Party does very little to help bloggers, has no way to hurt them, and hasn’t bothered to build relationships with them. When you have bloggers who are generally well disposed towards you, buy ads on their sites, listen to them, give them access, and try to work with them. It creates the impression that you’re on their side, gives them a reason to give you the benefit of the doubt, and it means they’re much more likely to readily listen to your point of view.