Gimme a second. I’ll get around to the explaining that headline. (If you can’t stomach prefaces, scroll down to paragraph twelve.)

Back in March, the hound-dogs over at Technorati noted that they were tracking 7.8 million of that protean creature known in wwwLand as a web log. By August, in their State of the Blogosphere, they were tracking 14.2 million blogs, reflecting a stunning near-doubling of the blog world in five months. Equivalent, I suppose, in our accelerated times, to an Internet decade.

Four months and three weeks later, Technorati indicates a slowdown to a birth rate of one shiny new blog every 1.3 seconds, 24 million a year, give or take a few hundred thousand.  
I’m clueless as to how many of those could qualify as political. Not to mention how many of those would call themselves progressive or politically left. Nor how many frequently have something worth reading, something original, inspiring, revelatory or investigatory. Thousands, for sure.

For someone as obsessed as me, it’s maddening. Speed-reading can only get you so far. But it’s simultaneously wonderful. For an antique journalist and Op-Ed junkie like myself, what could be more liberating than this plethora?

Liberating and essential. We’ve got Guckertgate, Plamegate, Torturegate, Coingate and Spygate. We’ve got corruption and incompetence and unconstitutionality spread from sea to shining sea. We’ve got a foreign policy that makes Manifest Destiny look altruistic. With mercenaries, propagandists and lily-livered chicken-hearts dominating the megamedia, how could we have put so many pieces together without the blogs?

Not that a few good journalists haven’t alerted us to a smidgen of what’s going on. But, until recently, supine has been the usual position in which we’ve found our supposedly watchdog media. Worse still in the opinion sections. Worst of all on television. Anyone who has wanted something other than the same old talking points, something more than the same shy obeisance to an Administration out of control, something even close to a reading between the lines, has turned to blogs.

On the Op-Ed pages of the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, I used to buy maybe 50 “citizen” pieces a year and fill the rest with the same, publisher-approved, mostly sad collection of syndicated columnists that the rest of America’s newspapers published. At the Los Angeles Times, we maybe managed to get 250 citizen pieces onto the Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion pages each year, and filled the rest with syndicated writers.

For 11 years before it was absorbed by Tribune Media Services, I contributed to this narrow little world of pre-packaged opinion as editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, where a staff of salespeople worked to cram 21 political columnists – including Cal Thomas, Arianna Huffington, Robert Reno, Henry Kissinger, Jesse Jackson, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Press and Armstrong Williams – into as many of the nation’s 1,500 daily newspapers as possible. Foreign sales were big, too.

Three major syndicates and a handful of minor ones still run their own stables of political columnists. Ultimately, with 125 or so syndicated columnists available, about 10 dominate the dead-tree media. Right or left, they’re treated like commodities. Check out the TMS page. You need a liberal or a libertarian on your Op-Ed? Just click on the mini-window.

You can depend on almost every one of these columnists never to break the formula. Never too long. Never too colorful. Definitely nothing to upset the brand. They’re sold as a conservative, they’d damn sure better stay one, or they’ll wind up pissing off client editors the way Huffington did when she started making her move from right to left. Predictability is essential.

Which is why I love political blogs. Unpredictable. Fresh. Unique. The standard Op-Ed is 700 words per entry. If it suits a blogger, s/he’ll write 7,000 words. Or 70, plus a link to somebody’s else’s 7,000 words. Or a 7-word caption on a picture . Or just the picture with a comment thread so you can write your own caption. Rant, rave, rumination, reminiscence, reflection, review, rehash, research, reverie, revolt – there are simply no limits to form or style or substance. The political blogger can create a smackdown that is pure poetry, as well as exposés, dot-connections or raw speculation. S/he can write a diatribe or a dissertation. Or serve as focal point for activism. Nobody can tell the blogger what to say, what conclusions to draw. No editor is on the phone suggesting the latest effort be toned down or started over. Of course, this free-for-all means some wild-ass nonsense gets posted. And a few typos.

It also means an abundance so rich that if you’re at all like me, you can’t even keep up with the names of all the new progressive blogs, much less their substance. Happily, each year at this time, the folks over at Wampum help us all out by hosting the Koufax Awards.

Let Dwight Meredith, the guy who began the idea, tell you what he told me:

In order to understand the origin of the Koufax Awards, it is necessary to understand that the left of the blogosphere was very different in 2002 than it is today. There were very few lefty bloggers when I started reading blogs in early 2002. The entire sphere was dominated by Instapundit, Kaus, LGf, and Sullivan. The only real voices on the left were folks like  Charles Dogdson, MyDD, Avedon, Brian Linse, and a few others.

2002 was the first wave of growth of the Lefty side of the sphere. IIRC, Atrios started in the spring, Kos in early summer, Jeanne D’Arcin the summer. It seemed like every month or so, more lefty blogs started springing up. I started  PLA in August.

The lefty sphere was growing but it did not yet feel like a community. Please remember, very few people were vocally against the war in Iraq at that time and very few voices were overtly critical of the Bush administration. Any criticism of the administration or the drive to war was shouted down by a chorus of accusations of lack of patriotism and other insults. Believe it or not, LGF was considered a liberal site in 2002. A guy in Texas got beaten up at a rodeo for refusing to stand respectfully for a Lee Greenwood song, for Christ’s sake.

Because those of us on the left were espousing views that were very unpopular (they appear to be pretty popular right now) and because the relatively small size of the lefty blogosphere in general, I was looking for a way to help promote the growth of the lefty sphere as well as to knit it into a community so as to amplify the message.

I had the idea of giving out awards and viola, the Koufax Awards were born essentially on a whim.

The hardest part of hosting the awards is making sure that true stay true to the initial idea of of everyone having a good time, saying nice things to and about each other, and forging a bond between and among lefty bloggers and their readers. It was pretty easy when it was a very limited number of people but it gets harder every year. Also the amount of work has increased substantially. I expect us to get more than 10,000 nominations (counting duplicate nominations) this year. I could not do it by myself and I am very lucky to have MB and Eric to help share the load.

With Dwight’s consent, a few of us at The Next Hurrah and the Daily Kos Front Page have contributed $1,500 to attach a little fortune to the fun and fame of this year’s awards. Each winner of a 2005 Koufax will get $100. Enough to buy a few days’ worth of candy bars or bourbon or whatever other substance they consume to keep on blogging. Or 2% of a LexisNexis subscription.

Dwight continues:

We hope to call your attention to new blogs or blogs that deserve a chance to capture your attention. That is the reason for our policy of providing a link to every blog mentioned in the nomination process (despite the fact that assembling such links is an incredible amount of work). Please use those links to visit the blogs you have not previously read. You will not often regret it.

The most important purpose of the awards is to help build a sense of community between and among lefty bloggers and readers of lefty blogs. …

Are the Koufax Awards the most prestigious of blogging awards? Who cares? We do this for fun and to give back to the lefty blogging community. It is not a competition between the Koufax Awards and other awards. Spread the kudos, be nice, and everyone will be happier.

I promised after last year to read every single nominated blog at least once. And I did. Some were pretty damn great even though they didn’t win. About 90% of the nation’s paid political columnists are pale shadows by comparison.

A gigaton of pixels have been lit discussing whether blogs have an influence on political discourse or have goaded people to action, whether they’re just a blab fad certain to fade. I’m the world’s worst trend predictor, so I’ve got no opinion on this other than to say blogs continue to  influence and spur me.

If you haven’t yet nominated the lefty political bloggers who you think do it best, now’s the time and here’s the place. You may find it’s not so easy. That deluge tracked by Technorati means more good choices than ever before.

And in a couple of Koufax categories, the task is downright impossible. As Dwight wrote last year, “The truth is that trying to select the very best [single post] of the millions posted each year is a fool’s errand.”

For their time- and money-consuming hosting duties, Wampum deserves a bit of sugar at their PayPal link or Amazon payment link.

Here are links to all the past winners. Note that new categories appear each year as old ones are retired:

Best Blog:

2002 – Atrios

2003 – Atrios

2004 (Best Blog – Non-Sponsored Division)  Daily Kos

Best Pro-Blogger:

2002 – Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo

2003) – Category Dropped

2004 Best Blog – Pro Division – Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

Best Series:

2002 –  Atrios for his zillion-part series on the Trent Lott Affair

2003 – David Neiwert at Orcinus for Rush, Newspeak and Fascism

2004 – David Neiwert at Orcinus and Bill in Portland Maine for Cheers and Jeers.

Best Writing:

2002 – Jeanne D’Arc at Body and Soul

2003 – Billmon at the Whiskey Bar

2004 – Digby at Hullaballoo.

Best Post

2002 – Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review

2003 – Billmon at Whiskey Bar

2004 – Juan Cole at Informed Comment.

Best Single Issue Blog

2003 – Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft

2003 – Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft

2004 – Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast and Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft.

Best Group Blog

2003 – Daily Kos

2004 – MyDD.

Most Humorous Blog

2002 – Adam Felber at Fanatical Apathy

2003 – TBogg

2004 – Jesus’ General.

Most Humorous Post

2002 – Jesse Taylor for his parody of Peggy Noonan

2003 – Preznit Giv Me Turkee

2004 – Poker with Dick Cheney.

Best Commenter

2002 –  Digby, now at Hullaballoo)

2003 –John Emerson, now at Seeing the Forest

2004 – Meteor Blades, now at The Next Hurrah.

Best New Blog

2002 – Roger Ailes

2003 – Billmon at Whiskey Bar and Kicking Ass

2004 – Amanda Marcotte of Mouse Words, now at Pandagon.

Best Special Effects

2002 – Blah3

2003 – Quiddity at Uggabugga

Best Design

2002 – Alas (a blog)

2003 – Daily Kos

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition

2003 – South Knox Bubba

2004 – Susan Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla, which has since moved here.

Best Expert Blog

2003 – Juan Cole at Informed Comment

2004 – Juan Cole at Informed Comment.

Best Non-Liberal Blog

2003 – Tacitus.

[Cross-posted at a few other places]

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