Saturday, May 10, 2008

SHOP TALK: STILL UNDERGROUND AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Sam Smith

THERE still is an underground press and we can prove it. Every week we receive a referral report for our site that tells where people have come from to get there. Over the years, we've noticed something remarkable, given traditional assumptions about marketing and the web: hardly any of our referrals come from other news or political sites; the overwhelming number are people coming directly to the site (return users), personal referrals (which only count for one each) and through search engines such as Google or StumbleUpon. Two repeated exceptions: the Mike Malloy radio talk show and the Arts & Letters Daily, a site for literary and intellectual news.

We are one of the oldest sites on the web. When we started in 1995 there were only 20,000 web sites worldwide. Today there are more than 150 million. In our first full year, 1996, we got 27,000 article visits; last year we got almost five million and have grown each year except for one. According to Alexa, the Review ranks in the top one-tenth of one percent of all websites worldwide. Almost all of this growth has come from word of mouth or from people stumbling upon us during a search for information.

Why don't we get more links from other news and political sites? One reason is that we are considered too radical or independent, the latter these days considered a synonym for the former. Never in the past fifty years has the conventional media been so beholden to conventional. Unlike, say, the 1960s, you don't find mainstream reporters wondering what those nuts on the left up to and giving you a call. Today, they just throw in a dismissive reference and get back to business, which is to not rock the boat. When they want to sound hip, they check in with some site like Daily Kos, closely linked to the Democratic Party.

The other problem has been that the Review was a leading member of the minuscule left wing conspiracy that told the truth about the Clintons from the start. I also helped start the national Green Party. Neither was appreciated in either liberal or Washington media circles although these folks have now suddenly discovered, 16 years late, that the Clintons aren't as honest they long thought. Beginning in the mid to late 90s, my transgressions led me to be banned from talk shows or dropped from guest lists, and to be blacklisted by various liberal groups, including being tossed out as a vice president of Americans for Democratic Action.

But here's what's interesting, and perhaps instructive about the web: during a period when my talk show appearances and interviews with conventional media were dropping by almost a half, visits to the Review web site quadrupled one year and then doubled in each of the next two. In other words, as long as ten years go, we were benefiting from a new reality that would eventually drive batty the circulation departments of the major archaic media..

And, of course, it's still happening. It's one of the hardest things to comprehend in a media obsessed culture like ours, but what's on the billboard doesn't necessarily tell you what's happening on the streets.

This is extremely important for alternative media and activist groups to understand. These days, anyone trying to do anything independent, decent or novel is almost certain to find themselves in the underground.

But then there has never been a time in history when the conventional media approved of positive change. And Tom Paine, Ben Franklin and Frederic Douglass would have been the first to hit the Web, if it has been invented a little earlier.

The trick is figure how to build powerful communities when no one in power is looking. It's not easy. After all, the big guys are using the Web as well and, sad to say, since its arrival on the scene, our country has moved rapidly to the right. I don't think that's inevitable, but we do need to think of new Web ways that those seeking a better America can better find each other, help each other and celebrate the fact that they are not alone.

2 Comments:

At May 10, 2008 5:09 PM, Anonymous Walter F. Wouk said...

For what it' worth, Rabble Rouser has a link to your site.

 
At May 11, 2008 12:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sam, i first caught u in the 1990's on brian lamb's morning show. i almost subscribed to your Review that day. anyway, counterpunch guided me over here earlier this year and now you're a daily visit. i wish i wasn't on dial-up ...i can't get into your video links. anywhoo, keep the good stuff comin'

 

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