Online Political Writers Scorecard

Internet | Language/Structure
In the realm of online political commentary, there are blogs, and there are things which resemble or are thought to be blogs. It’s vital to know what’s what— not to castigate some as being on one side of the divide, but simply to help researchers and practitioners understand, what salient features they are referring to when they talk about “blogs.” A closer analysis is needed to understand which characteristics– including those that are inherent with the setup of the software, as well as those that are emergent— should be explored or employed for a particular situation.

I have written else about the various popular definitions of blogs; this passage from Clay Shirky (from February 8, 2003) underscores the exasperation about the conflation of terminology:

At some point (probably one we’ve already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity. The term ‘blog’ will fall into the middle distance, as ‘home page’ and ‘portal’ have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning.

I have picked 25 popular commentators on a specific subject– the American political scene. Not all are blogs, the few that aren’t are often associated with them. What links them all is that each author chooses what they write, and with few exceptions, they are able to post as quickly as they feel like. The ratings in bold are those associated with blog writing; the other ones are not, and are generally associated with more traditional journalistic writing. Explanations of the ratings categories follow. (For further details on the methodology, see notes at end). Also see the comparative studies index for analysis of this data and additional reports based this list.

The Scorecard

Inherent Emergent
Sp Name Launch Log Links Forum Struct Edit Freq Edge Folksy Sources Construct
  common blog   ++++ ++ +|| ++* +     +++ +++    
IC Powerline # 2002 ++++ ++ +|| ~* +T ++ 81 +++ ++ ++ ++
IC MyDD 2001 ++++* + +|| ++* +T ++ 51 ++ + +++ +++
IC Daily Kos # 2002 ++++* ++ +|| ++* +T   91 +++ +++* + +
IC Lit. Green Footballs# 2001 ++++* ++ +|| ++ +T + 93 +++ ++* + +
I Glenn Reynolds # 2001 ++++* ++ +|| ~ +   153 +++ ++ +  
I Atrios # 2002 ++++ ++ +|| ++* +T   87 +++ +++ + +*
I Jeff Jarvis 2001 ++++* ++ +|| ++ +T   52 ++ +++ + +
P Hugh Hewitt 2003 ++++* ++ +|| ~ +   19 +++ ++ +++ ++$
P Josh Marshall # 2000 +++ ++ +| ~ + + 59 ++ ++! +++ +++*
P Andrew Sullivan # 2000* ++++ ++ + ~ +t* + 53 +++ ++! +++ ++$
P Kevin Drum # 2002 ++++ ++ + ++* +t   45 + +++ ++ ++
P Michelle Malkin # 2004 ++++ ++ +|| * +T   39 +++ +++   $
P Mickey Kaus 1998 +++* ++ + + +t   14 +++ + ++  
M Timothy Noah / Slate 1998 +   + + +T +++ 3 ++ ++! +++ ++
M Joe Conason / Salon 1998 +   + + +T +++ 1 +   +++ ++$
M Eric Alterman / MSNBC 2002* +++ ++ +|| ++ T   5 ++ ++   +
M The Note / ABC 2002   ++ +     + 5 + + +++ +
M William Safire / Times 1996*       + +T +++ 2 ++ ++ +++ ++$
M Jim Geraghty / Nat. Rev. 2004 ++ ++ + + +T   66 +++ + +++ ++
M Tapped / Amer. Pros. 2002 ++ ++ ++   +t ++ 76 ++   ++ +
C RatherBiased 2000   ++ + ++ ++T* ++ 13 +   ++ +++
C WorldChanging 2003 ++++ + +| ++* ++T* ++ 42 + + +++ ++
C Gadflyer 2004 ++ + +   ++T ++ 33 ++ + +++ ++
C CampaignDesk 2004   ++ + + +++T +++ 18 + + +++ ++
C Media Matters 2004   + + ++ ++T* ++ 48 ++   +++ ++
  Civ Structure       + ++*^ +++T   ++ +++ +++*

Site Descriptions

The Spectrum

I have devised a “spectrum” based on the general publishing framework of each site. I is for Independent. A subset of them (IC) have established collaborative community sites. Whereas I’s are generally new to politics and hail from other jobs, P’s are generally Published Paid Professional Pundits, who not infrequently write columns in national publications. Some of these professionals we can safely call M’s, as they primary online writing is for a Mainstream Media site. At bottom, we have more collaborative/community sites, which either use blogs as an inspiration, model, or are otherwise, again, confused for blogs.

There are some category straddlers. “Tapped” is associated with The American Prospect, which I have deemed “mainstream” than Washington Monthly (which hosts Kevin Drum’s “Political Animal”) because it was founded 9 years prior, and I am guessing has a wider circulation (TAP claims 50,000). “The Daily Kos”, is a collaborative effort among Markos Moulitsas-Zuniga, and his contributors, none of whom are listed in the masthead.

Even William Safire, retiring as columnist for the website (which also publishes the newspaper with the third largest circulation in the United States), is included, as a result of critic Eric Boehlart’s assessment: “Like a pioneering blogger, Safire years ago started grabbing bits of information and wrapping them in the tightest partisan, what-if spin possible.”

The entries are bookended by some online publishing models — at top is the “common blog,” as I understand it, and at bottom is the Civ structure which I have documented.


For the sake of consistency, clarity, and compractness, I have listed only the name of the writer/blogger to distinguish from collaborative efforts (Jim Gerarghty has written “Kerry Spot” for the National Review Online, which is likely to change names). Publications are in italics.

Among the 13 independents/pundits, 9 of them are regularly in the top 15 of the TruthLaidBear “ecosystem” rankings for having the most links to their work (these are indicated with the # symbol). Of the rest, Hewitt and Jarvis are not too far behind. Kaus is there for comparison with Noah, as both write for Slate, though kausfiles is obviously closer to a blog. MyDD has a tenth the readership of Daily Kos, but Kos was inspired by MyDD to create his own blog, and regularly pays it tribute by sourcing its stories.

Launch Date

These indicate the year which the site was launched. I have added an asterisk where the author’s work is not wholly available: Alterman’s are not archived; Sullivan archives only as far back as the end of 2000, and discarded some shorter pieces from that year; Safire has been writing a column for the Times since 1973, but his online columns are available for a fee from 1996 onwards.

Also, I cam across the Gadflyer by way of Laura Rozen’s “War and Piece” blog, which launched in 2003. The Gadflyer came together in 2004 by syndicating various freelance writers, with Rozen’s blog being one of its anchors. Incidentally, the Gadflyer has its own blog called “Fly Trap.”

Inherent Properties

These are properties that can be selected/enabled through the software.


How strongly is this regarded to be a blog?
Self-pride earns a special star.

  Nowhere does it identify itself as a blog
+ Called a blog by others
++ Resembling blog within publication which includes non-blog content
+++ Identifies as blog, but doesn’t use blogging software
++++ Identifies as blog, uses blogging software
++++* Promotes the triumph of the blogosphere

Log Format

What format are the articles laid out?
The fewer the pluses, the more this approximates a class “webzine” as opposed to a log.

  Articles meant to be read on their own page
+ Some articles meant to be read on their own; others as part of the log
++ All posts meant to be read as a log


Does this provide links to other sites?
This category is forced, but the broad definition does refer to “includes large numbers of links.” The notion of having a blogroll is wholly unrelated, but it is a common feature among blogs. The common blogger is not very selective in who is linked to on the blog, but some of the writers above maintain a short list of blogs that they link to.

  No external links provided
+ Provides links to outside references
| Includes short “blogroll” to other sites/blogs
|| Includes long “blogroll”, > 20 links

Forum (Commenting)

What is the mechanism for users to comment on the published content?

  No open forum; Reader can send letters to the editor/author
~ No open forum; writer incorporates reader comments on occasion
+ Site has forum setup to discuss writer or column
++ Forum/comments dedicated to each article/post
* Trackback supported so that readers can add comments from external sites
Forum comments get in the way of the primary content
^ Rating system which allows votes in place of comments (e.g. ViewPoints


How is content structured so it can be found with related posts at a later time?
This is one of the areas lacking in the standard expectations of a blog.

  Articles generally not categorized or even archived.
+ Articles organized by date
++ In addition, articles are organized by basic categorization of knowledge topics
+++ In addition, site distinguishes different content types
t Each article/post begins with some bolded words making up a title, separated from the prose
T Eact article/post has a visually clear title (which is distinguished in the RSS feed)
* In addition, site has separate articles which synthesize information previously collected (aka a “best of”)


To what degree do articles/posts go through an editoral process?
Blogs are famously supposed to be unedited. Yet that’s not to say that certain productions don’t have some sort of editorial process for refining pieces. Rebecca Blood’s weblog ethics allow for post-hoc editing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has time to do it.

A better question is how long it takes an idea or a source to become an article– how much research/self-editing does the author do, and how much does someone else do? This is addressed somewhat by the emergent category of sources.

  No editing– anything goes
+ The writing is so clear it seems like it’s been edited
++ Team of writers, may discuss piece ahead of time; sometimes edit it post-hoc
+++ Editorial staff exists

Emergent Properties

With the exception of the first, these are all quite subjective, and it would take a much more exhaustive effort to rate these fully.


How often are new posts/articles added?
This is often a factor of how many people are contributors, whether this is their primary job, and most crucially– how quickly each spends on a post before pumping it out.

The numbers given represent the average number of posts per week, over the last quarter of the year (13 weeks). Where appropriate, I omitted the last week when certain blogs were on vacation. Most of the time this was easy to do, since many blogs number their posts incrementally. Atrios’s Eschaton and Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish do not conform to this scheme, so I picked 4 weeks from the period and averaged them. The scoop-based sites, DailyKOS and MyDD, do not use this scheme either, but they do list a consistent number of entries on each page, so I was able to count that way. Altercation has no archives, but I believe that it is a daily post.

NOTE: I had originally used a broad categories for this, and then realized it would look much better visually if I used some absolute numbers. (As it happened, the numbers did reveal 4 broad categories: 5 post at most once a day; 4 post less than thrice daily; 10 post up to ten times a day, and 6 most more than ten times a day.)


How strongly do authors state their opinions?
This is tough to measure accurately, though it is possible, over time, to document this by tracking reader feedback. The expectation is that independently-written posts will be edgier than those written as part of an organization– and also, that edgier content tends to drive away people who don’t agree with it.

+ Authors provide an opinion
++ Authors concede a political bias
+++ Authors have an edge or a bite to their writings


How folksy/familiar does the writer get with the readers?
Blogs did not invent the folksy quality, but as they derived from the diary format, many are much more personal than a traditional newspaper columnist. The usually private Maureen Dowd of the Times shocked her readers this year by writing some very personal columns about her family, but tied in into a larger narrative about a political point. This is not the same as posting pictures of one’s cat, cute as those cats may be.

  Author tells it straight
+ Author uses the first-person, and reveals their own reporting steps
++ Author mentions hobbies, family, friends, pets, as part of narrative occasionally
+++ Author devotes articles or posts to the above
! Author develops fun reader contests
* Site has its own jargon


What sources do you use for your articles/posts?
This metric gives additional points to sites for unearthing unique information, rather than giving the same hyperlinks that others do.

  Author throws up links to commonly read news media
+ Author provides links to less-known resources
++ Author cites multiple sources and compares them
+++ Additionally, author gets to sources that nobody else does


What do you do to construct your information into knowledge over the long run?
Constructive media is the process where writers build stories over the long term and seek refinement; its antithesis may be “reactive” media, which is geared to the short term, and flips from one story to another without much connection or context. Certainly, there are some sites which appear rather haphazard in their coverage, yet the author is able to weave them together into a book– alas, offline.

This is the most difficult to measure and the most affected by selection bias.

  Author flips from story to story– “Anything Goes”
+ Author focuses on a few stories for a given time
++ Author does followup stories
+++ Author constructs original content which is meant to be read autonomously
* Author provides a plan of action for readers
$ Author’s longer pieces are available separately

Further Notes

Comments and challenges are welcome, with the following considerations in mind:

This is can be a starting point for further research; my research has been by no means exhaustive. As one can see in my bloglines, I only read a quarter of these regularly. I have tried to catch up on the rest, and I will be sending emails to their respective authors to check out whether my judgments are plausible (particularly, the specifics on to what degree each site is edited). It may be useful to continue to do additional comparisons of this group of twenty-five; when I evaluated page lengths a year ago I was less scrupulous in my choice of sites to evaluate.

I do submit that these ratings should be universal to any subject, and not just politics. I think the ultimate goal should be the development of a rating system (i.e., metadata format), which publishers can use to self-describe their own sites, or readers can use to rate others. Other worthy goals would be to continue to push for more objective methods of rating architecture of content: the number of stories, separarted by type; the number of corrections issued; number of sources per story, etc. Another comparative approach could be to see how each pub handles a story differently, as I have done with tsunami catastrophe.

Some analysis of the data will follow, regarding trends and patterns. I am open to criticism that due to the highly subjective nature of my ratings, I have fit the data to meet the conclusions. (e.g., I think that “Talking Points Memo” transcends the blogging medium, so I made sure that there were some categories which it would score well in; also, seeing that Time picked “Powerline” as its “blog of the year”, I spent more time looking at it to understand its appeal.) To this point I scratched out a number of categories that turned out to be dependent on others.

Update December 30th: Matthew Sheffield of RatherBiased gave some pointers on refining the last category, and provided some answers about his own site.
Update January 2nd: I have incorporated input from Jamous Caisco of WorldChanging regarding their site. I also replaced the vague rating system used for Frequency with the more quantitative measure. Also added colors to table.
Update January 3rd: Added data on whether posts have titles, after reading this column by David Berlind: “What makes [Dave Winer’s Scripting News] and other blogs great, and what distinguishes them from news feeds that come with titles (their headlines), is that the blogs are like diaries.”
Update January 5th: read some more of The Note now that they’re off vacation.
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