Sunday, February 8, 2009

How Feminist Organizations Should Talk To Feminist Bloggers

Coming out the Feminism 2.0 conference I had a bit of an epiphany. The bloggers/activists panel attended by Tedra Osell of Bitch Ph.d , Liza Sabater of Culture Kitchen, and Kim Gandy, former president of NOW, was probably one of the most useful conference panels I’ve attended since I’ve been attending conferences.

Feminist organizations, cannot treat the major feminist bloggers (or the major women bloggers) as if they are volunteers. You cannot send the major bloggers the same press release or action alert that you have just sent out to your 5,000 email subscribers and expect them to response with marching orders. “Sending press releases to bloggers” is not a real strategy of blogger outreach. And it’s probably not enough to just sit on panels with them at conference every few months either. While it’s useful to have the personal contact that builds the relationship with bloggers that is only the start of the relationship.

Feminist organizations should treat certain well-trafficked women bloggers the same way they would treat Amy Goodman or Rachel Maddow. As high-flying media personality you want to co-opt and a relationship that requires constant personal attention directly from the executive director or president.

I’m going to talk about NOW because Kim Gandy was on the Feminism 2.0 panel on bloggers and activist. Kim started to talk about the difficulty in discussing what was happening with the economic stimulus package and the process where the family planning provision was dropped. It’s a complicated political issue and it’s not as simple as saying “Obama screwed the women’s interests for political expediency.”

It was difficult enough for NOW to explain the issue to their members, let alone for the feminist public to digest. This is where bloggers can come in. It would have been useful for Gandy or someone from her senior staff to call (and I do mean call) some of the highest profile bloggers and explain the situation the same way Gandy did at that conference. Then the bloggers can write a post that starts with “I just got off the phone with Kim Gandy…the situation is this…” Or alternatively “A high-profile source at NOW is telling me the reason the family planning was dropped was XYZ…they have heard from Henry Waxman…”

Feminist organizations should treat major bloggers the same way Senators treat newspaper columnists. Let’s face it, a lot of the issues that non-profits want to explain are complicated. But if Jessica Valenti of Feministing or other highly-trafficked bloggers write a post their readers will trust their “vouching” on the issue. It is an effective strategy when the issue is complicated to target several “opinion leaders” and for a lot of feminist organizations that is the feminist bloggers.

This is not unlike the relationship between conservative newspaper columnists and republican politicians. George Will doesn’t work for the Senate Republicans. But his ideology and theirs are often similar. George Will can be co-opted, and wants to be co-opted, but he needs to be feted.

This was something Liza Sabater was getting at on the panel. The reason Daily Kos is the number one blogging site isn’t because of the writing, she says. It’s because the Howard Dean campaign feted Markos Moulitsas for almost two years. And the end of the Dean campaign, Markos was seen as a player and subsequentially has made a lot of money because of that reputation. That’s what Sabater wants and so do most of the biggest bloggers, to be seen as a player and insider. In exchange feminist organizations, like NOW, get access to the bloggers’ readership. For NOW, with its aging membership, being tight with feminist bloggers is a way to get a lot of potential new blood in their organization.

Sabater was essentially asking to be feted by those groups that want her to write about them. Feed her tips, give her access and in exchange you get her good will and access to her readers. And there is another aspect to treating influential bloggers with access. She, meaning bloggers, can also play “the bad cop” and say things that organizations can’t. There are going to be points in the Obama term that is going to put the major feminist organizations in the delicate balance of not wanting to push their friends in the Senate, House and White House too hard but being unhappy with the message they are getting. This is where feeding the feminist bloggers can put the message out even when you can’t get any louder on your end without pissing off your political friends.

The thing about treating blogger outreach as a high-profile as talking to any media personality is that it costs very little but it requires a realignment of thinking.

Cross-posted at NewsCat


habladora said...

Great post, this needed to be said. it is surprising that this type of 'realignment of thinking' is taking such a long time.

NewsCat said...

I want to add that many non-profits do get it. And there are smart people in some organizations that are swimming against the tide.

But the care and feeding of what could be idealogical allies in the progressive blogosphere isn't well understood unless people at the top understand blogging and blogging culture. At least how it's practiced by those that take it seriously.

Anonymous said...

Check out this great interview:

Dee said...

Especially since some of us just don't catch the foreign news and do get good information, feedback, alternative opinions and real pleasure from reading blogs.

sally said...

I think part of the problem (from my experience anyway) is that there are usually people in non-profits who want to participate more online and interact with like-minded groups, blogs, etc. but there is a lot of resistance from the people at the top. It also takes a certain amount of time and dedication to become really active and engaged online, and small organizations don't have the staff or resources to really integrate this into their existing programs.