Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity’s Right Online put on a bloggers and new media panel and reception in Los Angeles on April 24, 2009, following the Heritage Foundation’s Annual Resource Bank conference for think tanks and policy groups. The lamestream media (as John Fund referred to it during the conference) didn’t bother to cover the conference, but it didn’t matter since us bloggers did.
The panel discussed where the right is at in terms in competing online with organizations on the left like The Daily Kos and moveon.org which have successfully used the web for political mobilization. There was considerable recognition that the right has finally caught up, as reflected in the April 15 Tea Parties, which, contrary to spin from the left, were organized from the grassroots up using the internet and talk radio.
Eric Telford, the new media liaison from Americans for Prosperity, moderated the panel. He asked other prominent bloggers present to speak up as well. He urged bloggers to act as reporters and cover events. He relayed how a liberal blogger in Texas who runs The Burnt Orange Report is able to exert a disproportionate amount of control over the Texas State legislature by blogging live during their proceedings.
Panelist Scott Graves from Red County wanted to know whether it is has become just as beneficial to write an op-ed for a blog as it is to submit it to a major newspaper. I think it is, because many newspapers still require exclusivity, whereas if you submit an article to a blog, you can usually submit it to multiple other sites, vastly increasing the exposure. Plus many newspapers delete their archives after a period of time, or convert them to paid archives only. Some newspaper websites are so convoluted (like the Arizona Republic’s website) it is impossible to find your op-ed within them. The only advantage left anymore to running your op-ed in a newspaper is if it is a local, large-circulation newspaper and it is a local issue.
Scott observed how bloggers and journalists are increasingly becoming one and the same, pointing out how bloggers like Mary Katherine Ham have risen through the ranks to become prominent journalists. I agree, having had some of the same success to a lesser extent myself. After writing for the school newspaper in law school, I started Intellectual Conservative in 2002 and continued writing. I eventually began writing for more significant publications including The American Spectator and Townhall.com.
Panelist Rob Neppell, an IT consultant involved in Truth Laid Bare, Porkbusters, and Tea Party Patriots (the new #dontgo), and Top Conservatives on Twitter where you’ll recognize his picture, spoke first about the social media projects he’s started. Neppell used to work exclusively in IT, so he has become a powerhouse for conservatives online now that he’s moved over to help with conservative new media ventures. One of his biggest contributions has been ReadTheStimulusBill.org, which laid out the $850 billion, 1588 page stimulus bill in an easy to read and searchable format.
Panelist Todd Thurman, the Heritage Foundation’s online marketing manager who works with their blog and Morning Bell daily blog updates, spoke about how Heritage has adapted successfully to the new media; their Morning Bell’s list of subscribers has grown exponentially.
Panelist Andrew Breitbart of Big Hollywood, the DrudgeReport, and the Washington Times, admitted he helped Arianna Huffington start the online successful Huffington Post before he came over to the good side. Breitbart wanted to know what to do about left wing commenters who demoralize conservative blogs with their incessant attacks. I think if you are going to allow all comments to go through (except for the obvious exceptions like obscene and racist comments) we should fight right back, barrage them right back in the comments. Our local Arizona blog Sonoran Alliance uses this strategy and it works quite well to discredit the attacks, many of which are personal, not substantive.
Breitbart pointed out that the reason Moveon.org was so successful wasn’t just because of its technical expertise or better bloggers, it was because popular culture promotes its values and goals. He urged conservatives to embrace the parts of Hollywood that are doing good for us, like South Park. Right now, the guys who created South Park would feel uncomfortable at a conservative online conference.
Panelist John Fleischman of FlashReport, a site that aggregates the best news for conservatives around California, asked how bloggers and think tanks can work better together. Think tanks email bloggers their policy reports, but what are bloggers to do with them? Fleischman suggested that think tanks summarize a short summary of the portion relevant to that blogger. Here in Arizona, I work well with the Goldwater Institute. They send out daily short blog posts, which I post on my local news & opinion aggregator site, IC Arizona. They give me a free pass at their events in exchange for my coverage of them later. I encourage other think tanks to reach out to bloggers and offer the same, because not only are good bloggers becoming the new equivalent to journalists, but too often these kinds of events aren’t covered at all by the mainstream media. The other way the Goldwater Institute has worked well with me is by looking into tips I give them on issues they should research. As a blogger with a full-time day job, I don’t have the time nor the resources to look into every issue I come across. But since I work in politics, I come across a lot of issues that the Goldwater Institute might not know about. I encourage other think tanks to likewise listen to tips received from bloggers.
Panelist Matthew Cunningham of the OC Blog on Red County emphasized that bloggers need to cover local issues. With newspapers going away, there is a widening void of coverage. Emily Zanotti of Sam Adams Alliance told the group that you can become famous really fast if you are the only one going in and covering county meetings, school board meetings, city council meetings etc. She explained how left wingers are mobilizing to destroy conservative blogs, through grassroots organizations funded by wealthy donors active in every state like Media Matters and moveon.org. Some of those efforts include urging their supporters to attack conservative blogs in the comments. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard wrote about these stealth groups in an article called The Colorado Model. Zanotti recommended signing up for moveon.org’s emails and registering with mybarackobama.org to find out what the left is up to.
Other prominent bloggers in the audience sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform included Sam Adams Alliance microblogger of the year Melissa Clouthier, who rose to prominence through Twitter. Melissa’s blog is an excellent model of how to successfully incorporate the new Web 2.0 into your website. Elizabeth Crum, from E!! The True Conservative Story, and winner of the Sam Adams Alliance Sammy for blogivist of the year, has incorporated hip online radio into her blogging, at RFC Radio, Radio for Conservatives. Her next venture is SorosWatch.
Other think tanks that actively participated in the forum and are at the forefront of blogging and new media included Accuracy in Media’s Don Irvine, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Washington state and the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Kentucky.
Afterwards, Americans for Tax Reform staff discussed why increasing taxes in one area, even “sin taxes” like those on cigarettes that Alexander Hamilton would have favored, don’t work, because people will just buy the product from another state. In 2007, New Jersey raised the cigarette tax by 17.5 cents, expecting an additional $30 million, but actually saw a net loss of $22 million after consumers crossed state lines. They also had harsh words for accepting stimulus funds; a study by Arduin, Laffer & Moore found that the federal stimulus bill will result in a net loss of 1.7 million jobs nationwide.
The next major conference like this will be Americans for Prosperity’s second annual Right Online conference in Pittsburgh on August 14-15, where the Daily Kos will also be having its NetRoots convention. Should be a wild weekend with no lack of coverage.