Monthly Archives: August 2003

Tech and Politics With Right Wing News Creator John Hawkins

Innovation and Consistency have firmly established Right Wing News as one of the top political blogs on the net. John Hawkins shares his blogging secrets and thoughts on the Left.

John Little: The 2004 Presidential election will be the first RWN has covered. Do you have any special features or shifts in your content planned?

John Hawkins: Other than some more blogosphere symposiums on the election, I don’t have anything special planned. But as we get closer to decision time in 2004, I’ll do more and more posts about election related topics. Let’s hope it goes as well for the GOP as the 2002 elections did.

John Little: RWN has a large following. What advice would you give to bloggers who have the content but just can’t seem to make that jump up from 30,40, or 100 visitors a day to the next level?

John Hawkins: I’ve done several articles on this subject including…

The Three Cardinal Sins Of Blogging
Another Public Service Announcement For The Blogosphere — Get A Hook
11 Quick Tips For New Bloggers

But in a nutshell:

1) Be consistent so that your readers will know what to expect. Do 1 post on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, none on Wed, 3 on Thurs, etc and you won’t be able to build an audience because they never know what’s coming.

2) You have to pump out enough material to make your page worth reading. One or two posts per day, unless they’re VERY long aren’t going to cut it.

3) Have a distinctive style or topic that you cover. You have to do something to stand out.

4) Understand that even if you’re doing good work, it takes months and possibly even years to build an audience.

5) Write about the blogosphere. Bloggers are egotistical and they love to link posts talking about what they do.

6) Don’t be stingy with the outgoing links. I can’t tell you how many blogs I discovered by seeing a link from them on my stat tracker.

7) Look at successful blogs and try to figure out what makes them popular. Then try to adapt some of their strategies for your own use. I’m not saying copy them, just learn from them.

John Little: You’ve landed some big name interviews, Phyllis Schlafly, David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter. Do you have any tips for bloggers who want to do the same?

John Hawkins: People ask me that all the time and do you want to know my secret? Ok, this is top-secret so don’t tell anybody…are you ready? Are you sure? I ask them =) Probably 7 out of 10 say no, don’t reply, or agree to do the interview and never follow through. The rest, I interview. I spend an hour to an hour and a half preparing questions and then if the interview is over the phone, it takes hours to transcribe on top of that. But to me, it’s worth it.

Honestly, I’ve never understood why there aren’t more bloggers doing interviews. Heck, even if people are intimidated by the Ann Coulters and Mark Steyns of the world, they can start off with well known bloggers and work their way up. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.

John Little: Can you tell us who you would like to interview next?

John Hawkins: Let’s see, if I could interview anyone — setting aside people in office since they’re hard to get — My top 15 would be…

Muhammad Ali, Dick Morris, Jonah Goldberg, Rush Limbaugh, Margaret Thatcher, Joe Scarborough, Matt Drudge, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, Ex-FBI Profiler John Douglas, Bill Kristol, Neal Boortz, Bill Bennett, Oliver North, & PJ O’Rourke.

John Little: How significantly did the events of September 11th and the recent war with Iraq impact the general public’s view of blogs and bloggers?

John Hawkins: Perhaps more journalists and a few more hard core news junkies discovered blogs because of 9/11 or the war in Iraq, but I don’t think 99% of the public knows we even exist yet. The blogosphere is still growing and our day will come, but we’re still small fish in a big pond right now.

John Little: Lack of editorial oversight in the blogosphere is perceived as both a benefit and potential credibility issue. What responsibility do you feel you have to your readers and do you find yourself struggling with editorial decisions often?

John Hawkins: I hear that “you bloggers don’t have editors so you’re not credible” sort of thing all the time, but I don’t buy into it. The worst thing I remember a big name blogger doing in the last couple of years was the Agonist ripping off Stratfor without giving them credit for their work. But does that compare to what Jayson Blair did at the New York Times or what Andrew Gilligan did at the BBC? It’s not even close.

Furthermore, you have to consider that bloggers as a general practice tend to link to their sources, whereas the websites of dead tree papers usually don’t do that. On top of that, the blogosphere as a whole tends to be self-correcting. If you screw up, there will be plenty of other bloggers and commenters who will be positively delighted to point it out.

In any case, I’ll take bloggers like Glenn Reynolds & Bill Quick over the BBC & New York Times when it comes to accuracy any day of the week.

John Little: Conservative bloggers have received a fair amount of media attention since 9/11 and especially so during the war with Iraq. How would you rate the Left’s attempts to gain a foothold in the blogosphere and on the web in general?

John Hawkins: I’d say they’ve achieved parity with conservatives on the web — at least. You want to know who I think has really taken advantage of the web? Libertarians. Percentage wise, Libertarians only pull a tiny percentage of votes compared to conservatives. But the libertarians actually have a stronger presence in the blogosphere than conservatives. Personally, I think that’s because many libertarians view the web the way a lot of conservatives looked at AM radio back in the eighties. They believe it may be the best way to get their message out and they’re probably right although Neil Boortz has done a great job on the radio as well.

John Little: Do you find that there is a disconnect between the general perception of the Left as the advocates of compassion and understanding and the material and comments you find on sites that cater to the Left?

John Hawkins: Definitely. You’re not going to find a lot of compassion on most left-wing websites today unless it’s faux compassion they can use to bludgeon the GOP, Bush, or America with. You want to know what the left on the web is about today? Pure, unadulterated, hatred of George Bush & the GOP. They’re absolutely eaten up with it and they can’t help but let it show.

Interview: Cox & Forkum

September 11, 2001, was a watershed moment for everybody. For us as cartoonists, it was a call to arms, a call to challenge complacency and inaction. That’s what we strive to do. – John Cox

John Little: You created your blog to promote your book Black & White World. How is the book doing and how is the blog impacting the way you work, communicate with fans, and promote yourselves?

Forkum: Sales have been slow but steady — not as good as we’d like, of course, but at this rate we’ll eventually profit from it. We self-published the book, so it was a risky venture from the start. The blog has definitely helped sales. Certainly more people know of us now than before.

caf1 Interview: Cox & Forkum

Cox: For all the satisfaction the book has offered, our work on the Web site has been a huge adrenaline rush. Speed and responsiveness is rewarded in blogging, and it has given me a chance to do the kind of work that normally doesn’t thrive in conventional outlets. For all the quick reaction time and head-long thrill of instantaneous fan response, I swear there ought to be racing stripes and sponsor decals on my drawing board.

Forkum: As an example of what John means, we were able to post our “In The Dark” cartoon within hours after the blackout happened. Having that kind of freedom is fun.

John Little: “Why aren’t these guys syndicated?” is a question I hear a lot. Is syndication necessarily an indication of success for cartoonists and is it something you’re pursuing aggressively?

Forkum: We’d love to be syndicated, and we’re striving for it. With the blog we’re reaching a couple of thousand viewers a day on average. A syndicated cartoonist has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands. Not only would that much exposure be rewarding professionally, presumably the income would be better, too.

caf2 Interview: Cox & Forkum

Cox: To me, syndication would be the limo ride of cartooning. Blogging is more like a Ferrari road trip, opened up and blasting through the country-side. So far, the bug parts on my sunglasses seem kind of cool.

John Little: In our two-party system there’s the assumption that we operate from a common pool of values. Is that attachment still there for the Democratic party or is the far-Left enveloping the mainstream Democrat?

Forkum: As far as the Democratic leadership and prominent politicians go, I think the Leftist ideology has taken over. I’m from Tennessee, and here rural Democrats are very different from urban Democrats. I think that’s why Gore couldn’t even carry his home state in 2000. He’d be president right now if he had, but he was too far left.

caf3 Interview: Cox & Forkum

Cox: Oooooooooh……President Gore. That’s a case of Bombay Gin and four days in Vegas to a cartoonist.

John Little: The Left really appeared to be gaining momentum in the months leading up to the war in Iraq. The war took a lot of steam out of their movement but they’re slowly gaining traction again. Do you think they will be able to focus the diverse coalition they assembled to oppose the war into defeating George Bush or will they remain fractured by different priorities?

Forkum: I think the Democrats are too fractured right now, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t come together and pose a threat to Bush. It may simply depend on whether or not the Green Party fields a candidate and takes votes away votes away from the Democrat nominee. I imagine that they will because they won’t be able to resist the opportunity to bash Bush.

John Little: Are there any public figures on the Left that you can respect or that you believe would serve as proper role-models for a “rational Left” or am I dealing in oxymorons here?

Forkum: I don’t know of anyone today.

Cox: I think you’d have a better chance of seeing Schwarzenegger pass a diction course than witnessing a prominent Leftist spouting a rational approach to world leadership.

caf4 Interview: Cox & Forkum

John Little: Your work is guided by the philosophy of Objectivism as opposed to a purely politically conservative viewpoint. Political differences aside, I often find myself most disturbed by the sheer lack of reason, of critical thought, that I find on the Left. Can you relate?

Forkum: Absolutely. As far as they’re concerned, their socialistic ends justify their means. Reason and critical thinking only get in their way.

John Little: What do you think drives a person to associate President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney with a monster like Hitler while simultaneously appearing to be unmoved by the atrocities of a Saddam, bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, or the like? Where does this homegrown assumption of American evil by default come from?

Forkum: From morality. Generally speaking, Leftists think it is morally wrong that America is rich and powerful while other countries are poor and weak. Their morality — altruism — dictates that the haves are morally obligated to sacrifice for the have-nots. Politically this leads to collectivism and socialism. America, on the other hand, is still basically individualistic and capitalistic. America is about being self-responsible, pursuing your own happiness and interests, making money and having the freedom to choose how you spend it — even if that means choosing not to give it away to the needy. What could be more evil by Leftist standards? To them America is propagating the “evil” of capitalism and economic freedom. By comparison, the crimes of Saddam, bin Laden and Kim Jong Il are considered lesser evils (if evil at all), crimes that are further mitigated by the socialistic/anti-American sentiments of the brutes who commit them. The Leftist moral evaluation of reality is the exact opposite of the truth because their morality is the exact opposite of the good.

caf5 Interview: Cox & Forkum

John Little: Do you ever find yourselves at odds over creative or philosophical issues? How does the collaborative process work and how do you resolve differences if they arise?

Forkum: As the writer, I have the final say on philosophical and political issues, but it’s extremely rare that John and I find ourselves at odds. Our basic approach is that once we have an idea, whether it’s mine or John’s, whatever serves that idea becomes the standard — that is, whatever helps the cartoon communicate the intended message is good, whatever interferes is bad. Most often that approach is what resolves any differences of opinion in, say, how something looks or how something is written.

Cox: And I would add that having worked with Allen for about 14 years, I can safely say we know each other’s aesthetics. The only time we seem to differ in a cartoon’s direction is when my attempts at exaggeration become “over cooked.” I like prodding and poking the outer limits of what makes a cartoon visually arresting.

John Little: What are your thoughts on your peers at the opposite end of the political spectrum? Can you look at a Ted Rall, for example, and appreciate the work but despise the message?

Cox: Not in the case of Ted Rall. But there are a lot of excellent cartoonists with left-leaning politics — far more from the left than the right. Just to name a few, Ben Sargent, Pat Oliphant, and Don Wright are all great artists and masters at communicating their ideas with powerful visuals, and that’s true whether I agree with their opinions or not. And from the right there’s the wonderful Michael Ramirez. But far-Left cartoonists tend to merely write screeds with spot illustrations. It’s as if they are so caught up in the words of ideology they can’t even think of visual ways to communicate. I don’t appreciate that type of editorial cartooning no matter what politics it espouses.

caf6 Interview: Cox & Forkum

Cox: Peers? We are the only two-headed, four-eyed, Objectivist visual commando this side of Pluto. We’re a new mutation. I think Allen’s take on the news coupled with my insatiable need for inky fingers make us unique.

John Little: How did the events of 9/11 shape or impact your work?

Forkum: We started editorial cartooning in mid-August 2001. I had written three cartoons but we hadn’t started drawing them yet. September 11 totally changed our approach. Rather than casually pursuing the work, I suddenly had burning desire to speak out. The large majority of our cartoons have since dealt directly or indirectly with what we think is the appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks.

Cox: It also triggered a dictum that Allen and I really treasure: Cartooning is pointless only if you make it pointless. September 11, 2001, was a watershed moment for everybody. For us as cartoonists, it was a call to arms, a call to challenge complacency and inaction. That’s what we strive to do.

You can find Cox and Forkum online at CoxandForkum.com and their work appears regularly in The Intellectual Activist. You can purchase their book, Black & White World here.