Proposed blogger union sparks controversy

When word started to circulate out of the blogger-heavy YearlyKos Convention that some were calling for the creation of a "blogger union," reaction was swift and widespread, both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media.

When word started to circulate out of the blogger-heavy YearlyKos Convention that some were calling for the creation of a "blogger union," reaction was swift and widespread, both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media.

Some mocked the idea as impractical. Others - a relative handful - offered varying degrees of support.

But the most interesting thing about the uproar was that it occurred at all. The idea of a truly organized group of bloggers - something that would have prompted only eye rolling a few years ago - is now enough to provoke fierce debate.

It should be noted right up front that the image of "a loose coalition of left-leaning bloggers... trying to band together to form a labor union," as the initial AP story put it, is a bit of a canard.

Susie Madrak, who runs a blog called Suburban Guerilla and who was quoted in the initial story, says her goal is not necessarily to create a union per se; rather, she is open to any type of blogger collective that could help defray healthcare costs for bloggers in untenable financial situations.

"I'm not trying to start a union," she says. "What I've been trying to form is a bloggers' association - something that will offer bloggers the opportunity to affiliate to get affordable health insurance and possibly other benefits."

Madrak says a range of possibilities have been discussed, including partnering with an existing union or simply creating a pool of emergency funds. She notes that the liberal blogosphere raised significant amounts of money for Democrats in the last elections and wonders why the party is not keener to take care of its base.

No matter what form the group would eventually take, she says membership would have to be limited to a relatively elite pool of bloggers.

"I'm not interested in starting a union for the benefit of people who blog about their kittens," Madrak says. "[Other political bloggers] who have gotten that kind of influence deserve some kind of health along the way. You don't want to lose diverse voices simply because of money problems."

The very idea that bloggers should come together as a united front irks some. Curt Hopkins, author of the blog Morpheme Tales and founder of the now-defunct Committee to Protect Bloggers, says a union would go against the very nature of the medium.

"I haven't seen many bloggers who have picked up blogging in order to belong or be part of a group with rules and structure," Hopkins says, via e-mail. "Most I know have picked up blogging as a way OUT of rules-driven structures, of which all too much of our modern life is constituted."

Further, in the politically fractious blogosphere, many on the right view the idea of a collective as an objectionable left-wing plan.

Andy Beal, who criticized the idea of a union on his blog, Marketing Pilgrim, told PRWeek via e-mail that "it's not surprising that this is the suggestion of left-wing political bloggers who would probably prefer that all bloggers are paid equally and get rid of the A-list."

"I'm actually not opposed to any group that wants to try and promote blogging as a legitimate form of media," Beal continues. "However, I'd draw the line at any kind of regulation or code of ethics as part of membership."

Just a couple of days after it broke, the story of the bloggers' union had evolved into an approximation of the entire blogosphere-media conundrum: Bloggers, divided along political lines, dissect and argue about a seed of an idea; the mainstream media, catching wind of the controversial idea, offer reporting on the situation that only partially captures the nuances of the blogosphere; the blogosphere criticizes the media's coverage and promotion of the issue. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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