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My audience is smarter than me.

There was a time when opinion writing was the province of a select fortunate few.

Any crank could write a screed, photocopy it, and pass it out on a street corner. But to be taken seriously, to build an audience, one had to work for an established publication. Respectability was endowed by institutional backing.

Those days are over. Publications still will employ their star columnists and editorial writers, sure, but they face a new and likely unexpected source of competition--the public.

Blogging tools now allow anyone to become a publisher, and millions have taken to the technology. Despite the popular misconception, "blogging" isn't a type of writing, it's merely the use of a tool (like using Microsoft Word to type your columns). Bloggers can be journalists; they can be personal diarists; they can be sports enthusiasts; or, like me, they can be activists.

But the common thread bonding all bloggers together is that we have an opinion and we're compelled to share it. We're no longer content to consume opinion from those given the media establishment's stamp of approval. We don't feel the need to "pay our dues," preferring that a true marketplace of ideas determine who will be read. A true meritocracy.

And here's where things got interesting--the public loved it. Readers loved the myriad voices that had previously been shut out of the media landscape. They loved the give-and-take that blogs with community boards provided. Readers were no longer content to be fed ideas from columnists (or radio blowhards, for that matter)--they wanted to engage in a conversation, a debate, a coffee shop discussion.

And blogs like mine, with hundreds of thousands of visitors (over a million daily in the run-up to the election), became better read than most newspapers, not to mention any individual columnist.

Speaking at a media conference a year ago, I was challenged by old-media types--bloggers were dangerous because they lacked credibility ("Jason Blair and Judith Miller," I responded); they lacked proper journalistic training ("The ten top bloggers are either J.D.s or Ph.D.s," I responded); they are partisan ("Like FOX News or The Washington Times?" I responded); and they had no editors ("I have four hundred thousand people editing my work in real time," I responded).

I challenged them back--the reason I had built my audience wasn't because I pretended to be an expert at anything. I live under the assumption that my audience is smarter than me, and they genuinely are.

It was because I had forged a partnership with them, allowing them to engage in this great conversation. And people love to talk. I asked one newspaper executive from a mid-sized Colorado daily why they didn't attach message boards to their opinion pieces online. His answer was telling, and the reason newspaper readership is falling while Internet news consumption is rising rapidly:

"We tried message boards, but had to pull them after our star columnist demanded we take them down. He said he didn't want that 'graffiti' next to his columns."

To me and other bloggers, that "graffiti" is beautiful music. We embrace it, encourage it, make it the very reason for our existence. People respond when given their due respect. It's the future of editorial writing in this country.

Forgive me if I sound pompous, but old-school opinion writers will have to embrace their audiences--critics included--or perish. People will increasingly demand no less.

Markos Moulitsas, creator of The Daily Kos, a left-of-center web blog that was named one of the best blogs for tracking issues regarding the Iraq war. He can be reached at markos@dailykos.com
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Title Annotation:Symposium: how bloggers are changing opinion framing in America
Author:Moulitsas, Markos
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Words:601
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