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Conservative Pajamas Media shuts down ad network, righty blogs hopping mad

This story is a little inside baseball about the blogosphere that sounds like another bit of fallout from the election and the economy is rocking the righty blogs right now. A few years ago (2005), in an attempt to start up an ad network alternative to the popular and lefty BlogAds (and later CommonSense Media) was formed by Roger L. Simon (who leans conservative/libertarian, and pro-LGBT rights, unlike the winger faction of the stable). It was called Pajamas Media and it has morphed over time to include online TV programming.

Late last week, Simon pulled the plug on the ad network to focus on the online TV effort.  

As the end of the first quarter approaches and we near the production phase of Pajamas TV, we will continue to build our emphasis in this area. As a result we have decided to wind down the Pajamas Media Blogger and advertising network effective March 31, 2009. The PJM portal and the XPressBlogs will continue as is.

Most recently, PJM has been in the news for sending Joe the Plumber — in the role as a reporter, not kidding — to Israel.

What has been hysterical about the shuttering of the network has been the reaction of the righty blogs who are suddenly losing their gravy train.

Protein Wisdom’s Jeff Goldstein, who reproduced the Simon communique, was bitter. “What this means is that as of April 1, I am officially out of work,” he said. “So save going to a pay model, this site will likely have to shut down. Small price to pay for helping PJM pick up an audience and credibility during its ‘formative years.'”

Atlas Shrugged:

I was one of the original pajama bloggers. I thought PJM was going to rival AP, UPI, Reuters. Finally, a news portal of citizen bloggers and journalists that would counter the Pali stringers and left wing biased journalists of the news gathering agencies. But PJM went off the rails. Simon decided to chase big names for big money, but to what end?  Who needed another NRO or WSJ Best of the Web? And unlike the left, where Soros, Hollywood libtards and Google-type asshats embarrassingly fund the leftwing sites vis a vis et al, the right has none of that. None. We live on fumes. G-d bless our small advertisers and our readers who contribute.

Ace of Spades:

Not sure if the business model isn’t working, or if the downturn has spooked advertisers, or if they really just want to focus on their own side of things.

Ads will stay up until April 1st. And then it’s back to BlogAds, I guess.

Simon brought out the tiny violin for the crybabies, telling them advertisers weren’t interested and that they had been getting most of their wingnut welfare from investors the whole time:

Actually that part of our business has been losing money from the beginning, so the people getting their quarterly checks from PJM were getting a form of stipend from us in the hopes that advertisers would start to cotton to blogs and we could possibly make a profit. Didn’t happen. No wonder those people are kicking and screaming now that they are off the dole. I might too. [What’s their beef? I thought most of them were free marketeer libertarians or something.-ed. Go figure.]

That statement sent rightblogger Dan Collins Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom over the edge. See below the fold.Catfight!:

Here’s the thing, Roger: you never once told us that the blog network you kept insisting was the next great thing “has been losing money from the beginning” – at least, not to our faces, and certainly not in any way that would suggest that you were carrying us like welfare recipients.

And really, if that was truly the case, why not let us know and offer us a chance out of contracts rather than blow sunshine up our asses? And don’t tell me you were keeping us on out of the goodness of your heart, either. Because there’s simply no way a big businessman like you would feel the tug of conscience. It’s all about the bottom line, after all.

The fact is, Roger, not everyone was given millions of dollars of venture capital to blow through. So before you go comparing people YOU SOLICITED TO JOIN YOUR ORGANIZATION to people taking welfare (you ever try paying a hooker with food stamps?), you might want to think about where it is “your” money is coming from.

Oh my, sore losers, aren’t we?

The fact of the matter is, these righty bloggers were kept financially afloat by PJM in an attempt to institutionalize the wingnut blogosphere as an alternative to the perceived liberal MSM. Given the American people’s distaste for conservatism as practiced by George W. Bush (which can be argued was a perversion of it) and desire for change, the money wasn’t there because no one cared about what these bloggers had to say or was willing to pay them to say it in this climate.

That takes us to the obvious question, of course – are there really advertisers willing to support the work of citizen journalists or bloggers on the left or the right? PJM has alienated some of the very folks needed to promote Pajamas TV, so I’m not sure how that’s all going to shake out. But on the left, I run both BlogAds and CommonSense Media advertising, and now that the election cycle is over, ad revenue has dropped quite a bit, something not unexpected when the heat and light of a presidential political campaign, party regime change, and competition for eyeballs are over. It doesn’t help that we are in a collapsing economic cycle, and traditional media outlets dependent on ad revenue are laying off and shuttering. Blogs have not yet evolved to compete dollar for dollar for actual or perceived influence in ROI than the MSM, so it’s not shocking that PJM is bailing on a losing proposition and advertisers have no interest in paying to sit aside the content. What is odd is that conservative blogs are among the most highly trafficked political blogs, so it’s not a lack of eyeballs we’re talking about. I guess it’s those old market forces are at work.

But back to progressive blogs. In 2006 I posted about the whole part-time vs. full-time blogger phenomenon and its effect on activism.

I’ve been noticing another type of divide that will have an unknown impact on bloggers and political influence — the difference between full-time and part-time bloggers and proximity to power centers.

For those of us who have full-time jobs unrelated to politics, one can only devote so much time to blogging, let alone networking and building a profile and traveling to events like this. It presents an interesting challenge for pols who wish to inform or attempt to influence bloggers. In spite of not being able to blog full time, many part-time bloggers are becoming influential in their spheres, despite not being connected to a DC/NY political thinktank or entity — and we’re not dependent on ad revenue to survive. We survive and thrive by building a base of loyal readers who stumble upon our blogs, like what they see, and return and contribute their comments, ideas and strategy. We squeeze in posts between winks of sleep, before getting up to be a wage slave in the Bush economy.

What does all of this hubbub mean in terms of inclusion in the jousting match that is American politics when practicalities of life get in the way of a blogger with a decent following? For instance, on my day job I may have to deal with subbing for staff who are out of the office or database troubleshooting; what if I receive an invitation to meet a potential candidate for office who wants my ear because of the blog? The full-time job has to win out almost every time. I turn down plenty of blog-related conferences and writing/guest posting opportunities simply because I have no time.

But unlike ad-dependent full-time bloggers, I don’t have to worry about editorial control, chasing ads, or conflicts of interest that affect keeping a roof over my head. On the flip side, should I lose my day job, clearly any blog activism would go by the wayside by default; PHB would go dark out of necessity. I’ve discussed the issue of building a sustainable progressive blogosphere on a few panels over the last couple of years; there really isn’t a good model out there for supporting online activists and influentials — and that was before the economy tanked. As you’ve seen LGBT orgs and traditional media are cutting back, laying off and reassessing their models of operation in tough times; it goes without saying that the even less-stable or institutionalized activist blogosphere would need to go through some changes as well.  PJM’s gyrations may be just the beginning of some overall upheaval.

The fragility (and pathology) of the blog ecosystem and its status as part of new media came up again last year in a post about an article in the NYT about “Death by Blogging,” that focused on the 24/7 obsession of some bloggers, in this case ones who were paid to blog full-time and were dropping dead.

I’m definitely not well-compensated for blogging; no one is paying me a salary or offering me benefits to allow me to even consider leaving my day job. In other ways my situation differs greatly from the bloggers mentioned in this article, perhaps not for the better. I have achieved a small measure of success in political blogworld, and with that, a pattern of new “job requirements” seems to have emerged —

* pressure for timeliness – need to comment or post on topics that are breaking;

* keep fresh content coming on the Blend – frequency of posts is a key to bring readers back;

* fulfilling requests to write original content and/or guest post at other blogs;

* travel to serve on panels or liveblog (I’m comped for travel arrangements on only a few events, so my ad revenues go to cover the rest);

* travel to conferences to network, do research and have access to interview subjects since I don’t live in DC or NY. Again, on my dime — and time, since I have to find time to take off of the day job.

Of course there is much personal satisfaction gained from the above, as I feel that I’m making a small contribution toward moving discussions about LGBT rights and race relations forward. But that’s paired with ongoing large-scale projects at work, managing staff, and keeping up with my day job deadlines, so I can definitely identify with the burnout, reduced resistance to catching colds and persistent insomnia.

Only a very few top-tier, mega-traffic blogs (think DKos, HuffPost) can afford to survive on ads alone. The vast majority of popular political blogs are run by folks, like myself, who need unrelated day jobs to support our work, and run ads to help out on blog-related expenses. And even more common are talented bloggers who make little or nothing on ads and do it as a labor of love. There’s also a slice of popular bloggers who are absorbed into or come from traditional media (think Andrew Sullivan). All will likely be affected by the natural ad contraction post-election and even more so by the economic downturn.

That the conservative blogosphere is now on the lookout for wingnut welfare to prop them up to make it to the next election cycle isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is that I haven’t noticed the lefty blogs discussing the issue of sustainability now that we have regime change and a different mission — holding a more friendly administration accountable. Maybe that’s the price you pay for political “success” — as things shake out, there will naturally be fewer voices contributing to the discussion. Maybe that’s ok, or maybe it’s not, but I think we’ll find out how the economy will affect the political discourse — and the players in it — quite soon, and it we won’t just be discussing the fate of the wingnutosphere.


UPDATE: Dan Collins wrote to correct me that it was stablemate Jeff who responded to Roger, so I’ve corrected the attribution in that last line above the fold. He did say, aside from the obvious need to be accurate that “I don’t want you not to miss out on your enjoyment of the schadenfreude, obviously.” Actually, I thought the brief foray into that was more than offset by the reality of the situation for bloggers overall.

A If you read the entirety of my post, there’s not a lot of schadenfreude going around; I think the other shoe is going to drop on the left as well; it’s the entire economy, as well as the election windfall profits (as expected) going south that will deal the blogosphere a blow in general. I’ve been saying that for a long while prior to the crash. There’s not a good sustainable model that will compete with the establishment MSM or thinktanks/lobbying organizations. That’s why those entities hope we’ll all go away to some extent, because we aren’t controlled — but we also have no infrastructure, so they know they can wait us all out. I guess the pitiful schadenfreude we can  hold to  in the blogosphere is that the MSM is sucking wind when it comes to advertising as well.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding