Jane Hamsher – FireDogLake

Posted on 28. Sep, 2007 by in Money, Politics

Introduction and Narrative: FireDogLake is an unabashed liberal blog that started in the wake of the 2004 election. Jane Hamsher, a movie producer, created a simple blogspot blog to collect the posts she had written on her personal Daily Kos blog. “That was all it was supposed to be,” says Hamsher. Today, however, her blog is used “as a means to organize the left.” Over time FireDogLake picked up a strong audience, specifically around its coverage of the Plame Affair, which would later involve Scooter Libby.

As the blog picked up readers Hamsher added Christy Hardin Smith, a former legal prosecutor, and the two began doing traditional reporting. This included live-blogging the Scooter Libby trial from inside the courtroom with full press credentials. Online sponsors paid for travel and rent expenses, as FireDogLake continually provided coverage of the Scooter Libby trial.

Today FireDogLake has a team of close to 20 part-time bloggers in addition to Hamsher and Smith, who continue to do on-the-scene reporting. Hamsher also published a book with Vaster Media, a company she has in partnership with Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos. The book, “The Anatomy of Defeat,” was written by Marcy Wheeler, who did the actual liveblogging of the Libby trial. Today, FireDogLake pulls in between 80,000 to 100,000 readers a day according to Hamsher.

Main Goal of FireDogLake: To combine online organizing with media criticism, activism and original reporting. “We are trying to influence the political process, promote progressive values and candidates,” says Hamsher.

Notable Achievements: FireDogLake received huge accolades for their coverage of the Libby Trial. New York Times reporter Scott Shane noted “With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake “live blog” has offered the fullest, fastest public report available.” FireDogLake also raised $550,000 last election cycle and has produced commercials that were adapted by over thirty candidates for their district. FireDogLake also has a regular “Book Salon” where the blog gets behind a specific book, often driving it to the top of Amazon in 24 hours.

A Surprising Realization: When Hamsher first got involved in blogging it was on the Daily Kos community where she regularly argued with people in the comment section. “That was fun to me,” says Hamsher.

This continued on FireDogLake, but after it received a critical mass of readers people accused Hamsher of indulging in a power imbalance. “I didn’t recognize that things had changed,” says Hamsher, but as the head of the FireDogLake community, she learned that she could not engage people in the same manner that she could when she was a regular participant in the Daily Kos community.

Biggest Practical Lesson/Mistake: “That you can’t create the news — you have to stay responsive to it,” says Hamsher.

An example Hamsher gave on the day of our interview: (August 27th): Today a small headline is that a man, Kenneth Foster, is going to be put to death in Texas. “There is no way I can get anybody to pay attention to that,” says Hamsher. So FireDogLake has to work with what is already in the news cycle, shaping it and providing alternative interpretations. “We have to ride the news.”

Blogs don’t determine the news, but stay responsive to readers, they determine what they want to focus on.

(See post script)

Money: FireDogLake has traditional advertising, but doesn’t generate enough to cover expenses. Individual donations are also used to cover travel and lodging expenses while reporting on stories like the Scooter Libby Trial. When there isn’t enough money for that, Hamsher will finance investigations herself, but “I’ve had to do that less and less.”

Future Goals: In addition to more original reporting, FireDogLake wants to create a stronger dialogue with people that it helps to elect, to remind politicians of claims and promises they make while in the election process. In the past, elected officials have explicitly said they would vote for bills, like hate crime legislation, only to blatantly disregard that promise, says Hamsher.

What do you hope to get from people attending this conference?

“I think I dwell in the liberal blogosphere, but there is a larger context that I’m not always in touch with — a greater story of Internet culture and I would like to explore that through the eyes of other people.”

p.s.: In an email from Hamsher Sept 28th: “As it turned out, people did pay attention. We asked people to call to ask that Kenneth Foster’s death sentence be commuted and in a surprise move, governor Rick Perry of Texas did so. “I didn’t think it was going to happen…I think everyone was surprised.”

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2 Responses to “Jane Hamsher – FireDogLake”

  1. rndunn

    26. Nov, 2008

    Where can I go (or can I ?), on ‘firedoglake’, in order to join other progressives in “holding the prez-elects feet” to the fire on truly progressive issues?

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