Thursday, June 26, 2008

The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part Four

Political blogs in Maryland really began to roll in 2006, an election year. Back then, a lot of blogs sprang up to cover state and local campaigns, especially in Montgomery County. Remember MoCo Progressive, MoCo Politics, Outside the Beltway, On Background, Sprawling Towards Montgomery, Quid Pro MoCo and the notorious MoCorruption? Most were run anonymously (with Michael Raia's Outside the Beltway the exception) and all offered frequent posts with mostly liberal viewpoints. And now all of them are gone.

Then came the era of Free State Politics. Isaac Smith’s grand experiment set up a common forum in which liberal bloggers from around the state, some open and others anonymous, could post on any state or local issue they wanted. The bloggers fed off each other, shared their experiences in online diaries and elevated the quality of left-wing discourse across the state. Red Maryland, now possibly the state’s most-read political blog, was founded in July 2007 as a counterbalance to Free State Politics.

At its peak last fall, Free State Politics boasted an all-star line-up including Smith, Eric Luedtke, Andrew Kujan, Paul Foer and others, often posting multiple times per day. Free State’s coverage of the special session rivaled the mainstream media, led by Luedtke’s near-daily reporting from Annapolis. Red Maryland bloggers sometimes began their posts by denouncing one of Free State’s contributors (usually Smith or Foer) and much smack-talk was exchanged.

But Red Maryland surpassed Free State in visit count starting in October 2007 and soon had twice as many visits. Luedtke, Kujan and Foer stopped posting and left Smith to battle on alone. Free State has been resurrected in the past and may be revived again, but Red Maryland has won the lead for now.

Like the conservative blogs, the liberal blogs peaked because of the special session and the last general session. MPW, Free State, Bruce Godfrey’s venerable Crablaw and the now-dead MoCo Politics together recorded 8,000-11,000 monthly visits between July and November 2007. Combined visit counts spiked to 21,894 in February before falling to 12,124 last month. That fall is mostly due to Free State’s 66% decline in visits – from 8,892 in February to 3,013 in May. MPW, with 7,320 visits last month, is now the biggest liberal political blog in our dataset.

One blog for which we do not have data is Jim Kennedy’s Vigilance blog. Kennedy is President of Montgomery County’s Teach the Facts group, which advocates for a liberal, open curriculum on gender identity issues in the county’s schools. Kennedy acts as a patient ringmaster in the Chuck Barris mold while dozens of mostly anonymous liberals and conservatives battle it out on everything from nature vs. nurture to the origins of religion. MPW friend Dana Beyer even made news there by announcing her 2010 candidacy for District 18 delegate against a crowded forum of hostile anons. Vigilance must get tons of visits judging from its comment counts but Kennedy seldom strays into non-gender issues.

The decline of the liberal blogs is an important event in the state’s blogosphere. We will discuss the consequences of the left’s fall in Part Five.