I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blog plans

I began this blog roughly five months ago without having a particularly clear idea of what its purpose would be. My primary motivation in starting the blog was vague and narrow -- just to create some vehicle for participating in the blogosphere discussion because I thought there were important things worth saying that were not really being said, at least not in a way that they were being heard. In the relatively short time since the blog began, its functions have expanded far beyond that and it has grown into something that I never remotely anticipated or planned when I started it.

Beyond just the blogging itself, this blog, without any real intent or planning on my part, has come to include a whole array of other extensive activities -- including substantial amounts of researching, reporting, political organizing, efforts to create working relationships with politicians and political organizations, and ongoing attempts to create some meaningful coordination among blogs and their readers. And I know that only the very tip of that iceberg has been tapped. I would like this blog to continue to grow -- in size, impact, function, and purpose.

Between the blogging itself and all of the other related activities, all of this has gradually become a full-time job and then more. That's not a complaint. To the contrary, it's extremely gratifying and fulfilling to be able to do work on matters about which I have a real passion and which I think have had an impact and can have much, much more of a real impact. But for me to be able to continue to maintain this level of commitment, at the expense of income-producing activities, and to be able expand the scope of what is done here, it's necessary to find a way to make doing all of that economically feasible.

To try to use the blogosphere in order to have some meaningful impact amidst the swirling warfare of politicians, political parties, consultants, and media outlets is a difficult challenge. To really succeed at that, it needs to be more than a side hobby or an activity which imposes financial hardship. On one important level, the measure of a project's strength and value is whether it is financially self-sustainable. Political organizations and alternative media outlets always have to find ways to become financially self-sufficient because, for better or worse, that is the oil that enables a machine to operate powerfully and without constraints.

The profound importance of the blogosphere is grounded in the fact that the other institutions and safeguards which are supposed to exist as a check on abuses and excesses by the government are rotted and broken. Congress is co-opted, corrupt, and under the control of the Bush Administration; the national Democratic Party is paralyzed by fear, indecision, and a suffocated, or missing, soul; and the role which the media plays is so far removed from what it is intended to be -- and from what it has to be in order for us to maintain a healthy and functioning democracy -- that one can literally spend every day documenting its gross failures and abuses.

To me, the blogosphere is, at its core, an instrument that is being used by citizens to congregate and figure out ways to create new weapons and competing systems to rectify those failures. For that reason, most people who read and participate in blogs believe that blogs now play an irreplaceably important role in trying to force some measure of change. I certainly believe that.

But a real problem in sustaining and increasing the influence of blogs is that there is no real economic model for blogs to be self-sufficient. On the whole, advertising produces negligible amounts. This blog now has between 15,000 and 20,000 daily readers, which places it in the top 50 or 60 for blog traffic, and yet ads have produced about $100 total in the last three months. From what I can tell, the advertising model is nowhere near developed enough to enable blogs to be financially feasible.

Ultimately, even if other economic models are developed -- whether it be increased advertising or blogging for large media entities -- the most potent and, in my view, the ideal model will be for a blog to be sustained by the blog readers and participants who believe in its value and support its objectives. That model is the one used by political advocacy groups and even public radio and television outlets, which rely on contributions from those who support their activities. It ensures independence, and with that model, the blog can sustain itself only if it continues to perform an important function which generates meaningful support.

I want to create ways to make this blog and its related political activities financially sustainable so that I can devote my full time and attention to them, and so that they can continue to grow. Readers e-mail me all the time with suggestions for the blog that I think would be extremely fruitful -- a new website with added functionality, someone to work with me on research so that the quality and amount of original reporting can be increased, a more concrete structure for coordinating political activism. The reality is that to pursue any growth with this blog and its related projects is going to require that the blog be financially sustainable, and that can happen only if the readers and supporters of this blog make it sustainable.

I'd like to create a system for some sort of more organized and structured way to achieve these goals, but don't yet know what that is. I'm open to suggestions. I've received some periodic contributions over the last few months, as well as lots of ongoing encouragement and support, and that has really motivated me to continue and to want to commit myself much more to all of this.

For now, if you're inclined to support the work that is being done here and want to help enable it to grow, there is a donation button on the sidebar of the blog that can be used to contribute through paypal. Anyone who wants to use an alternative means can contact me by e-mail.

I don't see this as a request for some sort of assistance or anything that is even remotely obligatory for anyone. I see it as a way of expanding the purpose of the blog and the scope of what it can achieve. I don't think that bloggers have an automatic entitlement to contributions just for blogging. I think a blog should be sustainable in this way only if it is performing a function that is valuable enough to a sufficiently large group of people that it can be sustained by the people who want to support it and who want to see it grow. I want to continue building the blog and increase the functions it performs, but that will work only if there is sufficient support for those efforts.

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