It’s a mistake imo to talk about “the netroots” as if it’s a something instead of many things, because it gets thinking about what can be done off on the wrong foot right from the start. It’s like saying “the American citizenry is at a crossroads.” Um, OK, but not particularly useful.
The leftosphere blogs perform five main functions that I can see:
- Consciousness raising. Learning that other people are thinking and writing about certain topics when you’re not hearing about them in your real-life community or in the media brings certain ideas into individual and eventually public consciousness when they otherwise would simply be left unshared and isolated to unconnected individuals powerless to get them before an audience. The community aspect of blogs is often undervalued, and can get quite silly, but underlying it is this important function.
- Education. The ins and outs of specific laws and legal judgments, congressional procedures, foreign policy, the implications of specific pieces of legislation… Where would we be with just lazy nonspecialist or biased journalists and Beltway pundits to rely on for information on all of those as they relate to the issues of the day?
- Agitation. Moving particular issues or approaches from out of the background noise into the forefront of people’s consciousness and/or motivating them to climb on board and make them their issues as well. Usually takes a simple, emotional, inflammatory approach that serves to launch people into educating themselves on the topic and taking action. Buhdy and OPOL are good examples.
- Investigative journalism. Digging into stories the mainstream media deems unimportant or “old news” (usually because it’s inconvenient to Republicans). Josh Marshall and Emptywheel are great examples.
- Platform for organized activism. Blogswarms, email phone and letter campaigns, google bombing, pushback against odious media personalities, GOTV, publicizing and recruiting for events, fundraising, commercial product boycotting campaigns, parsing or assembling large volumes of information on short notice, etc.
I think the first step toward accomplishing something is to clarify what it is you want to accomplish. State it clearly and keep measuring your progress toward it by referring back to the goal.
You can criticize dailykos for a lot of things, but in fact it’s been very good at what it’s chosen to be. The goal there is to “elect Democrats,” and the emphasis on the horserace, the campaigns, and the personalities actually is appropriate to meeting that goal. It’s the goal itself that’s the problem, given the disproportionate weight dk has in the blogosphere, and the reason so many have departed to establish other communities with other goals.
Differentiation is the key, imo, to how “the netroots” should develop and in fact is developing. For example, if you’re a blogger interested in healthcare, write about healthcare, but not just about healthcare generally – focus on what you want to achieve with your blogging. Wonky analysis of the ins and outs of policy as a standing reference when topics come up? To raise consciousness on an emotional level of the importance of the issue over other burning issues? To be a watchdog on the failures of the mainstream media to cover certain aspects of the topic adequately or to correct widespread ideological bias in mainstream articles? To provide a compendium of useful articles and references? Whichever tack you want to take, or combination of tacks, you’ll need to take a different approach.
Because in the end all “the netroots” is is people each with something to say, and now the technology that puts their soapbox on every streetcorner in the nation. As such there’s no power except in what you can educate on and thus motivate people to do on a mass basis.