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The Role of Blogs in the Political Media

Matthew Stempeck May 2006

GVPT Honors Program University of Maryland

Table of Contents

The Traditional is Changing Chapter 1. The Mainstream Media Chapter 2. The Rise of Blogs

Blogs & the Media Chapter 3. Blogs as Complementary to Traditional Journalism Chapter 4. The Mainstream Media’s Reaction to Changing Times Chapter 5. Blogs as an Autonomous Media Entity

Blogs & Politics Chapter 6. Blogs & Politics Conclusion Appendices


I. The Traditional is Changing
On April 11, 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney emerged from the Washington Nationals’ dugout wearing a Nationals jacket to throw out the first pitch of the team’s second season. But “from the moment he stepped on the field until he jogged off” the Vice President “drew boisterous boos” in a “derisive greeting was surprisingly loud and long” (Argetsinger et al. 2006). The crowd’s reaction was likely a reflection of the city’s political leanings1 or Cheney’s months of consistently low approval ratings (“Poll: Bush Low, Congress Lower” 2006).2 Yet in the Washington Post’s online coverage, columnist David Nakamura attributed the boos to Cheney’s pitch:
The first pitch of the Washington Nationals’ second season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was low and away, bouncing in the dirt before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider. For that, Vice President Cheney received a round of boos from the home crowd this afternoon. But the catcalls didn't last long before the fans cheered for the Nationals…[emphasis added]

(Nakamura 2006, “Cheney’s Pitch…”) Armed with multiple versions of digital video clips uploaded from televised broadcasts clearly proving Cheney was booed well before he threw the pitch, liberal bloggers sprung into scandal mode. Only hours after the story was uploaded to the Post’s website, John Aravosis posted the headline “Washington Post whitewashes story critical of Cheney” on his popular AMERICABlog. Aravosis cited his argument with a link to what he thought was a reporter’s “pool report”, or the raw notes reporters share with others who could not be in attendance. The report was in actuality a joke on the
1 2

Bush and Cheney received only 9% of Washington, D.C.’s vote in 2004. According to Harris Interactive Polls published in the Wall Street Journal, Cheney had a 30% approval rating from November 2005 through January 2006 (“Poll: Bush Low, Congress Lower” 2006). A CBS poll conducted in November, 2005 found Cheney’s approval rating to be even lower, at 19% (“Bush's Job Approval Hits New Low” 2005).


Wonkette blog (“Cheney Booed” 2006). Aravosis then accused the Post of attempting to “continually rewrite history in the Bush administration's favor” (Aravosis, 2006). The scandal was picked up by Jane Hamsher on her blog Firedoglake, who provided links to the video clip as well as the Post’s ombudsman’s email address and the Post’s blog, telling her readers, “You know the drill” (Hamsher 2006). Hamsher’s readers jumped into the debate, as did other bloggers. Audience members shared links to other media companies’ coverage of the incident, improved video and audio clips, conducted a Lexis Nexis search on Nakamura’s other pieces (finding no incriminating evidence), expressed their disappointment with the Post and the rest of the mainstream media, expressed their optimism regarding their watchdog activities, and generally mocked Cheney (Hamsher 2006). The Think Progress blog also argued that Fox News had intentionally muted the crowd’s reaction in its broadcast (“VIDEO” 2006). In the following day’s print edition of the Post, the incident had been moved from the lede to the 17th paragraph. Nakamura had rewritten the controversial account to read:
Vice President Cheney threw out the ceremonial first pitch, a right-handed toss that bounced in the dirt to the outside of the plate before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider. Cheney, booed by some as he walked to the mound, got even more catcalls after his throw -- a far cry from President Bush's fastball at last year's home opener.

(Nakamura 2006, “Fans’ Rally Cry”) Nakamura explained to Howard Kurtz, the Post’s Media Notes columnist:
I did not mean to imply that's the only time he was booed. For my quick online story, I mistakenly left out the broader context, assuming people knew Cheney was a controversial figure. After hearing from online readers, I then added more context for my story in [Tuesday's] actual newspaper.

(Dara 2006) In comparison to the major news events that have introduced the word ‘blog’ to millions of Americans – Trent Lott’s resignation as Senate Majority Leader, Howard Dean’s meteoric rise from dark-horse to favored candidate in the Democratic primaries,


Dan Rather’s early retirement as anchor of CBS Evening News - this event is relatively meaningless. But this incident resonates because it shows how political blogs have fundamentally altered the accountability of the mainstream media, how journalists and politicians operate and how society determines which version of an event is reported as reality. Whether Nakamura’s oversight was sloppy reporting or an example of bias, blogs immediately noted the error and pressured the Post for its redress. The remainder of the mainstream media, including the Associated Press, Washington Times, Agence FrancePresse, United Press International and Fox Sports, had reported the incident more accurately and the bloggers and their audiences took concrete actions against the one source misleading the audience. The mass availability of primary sources online – from video clips of Cheney’s pitch to eyewitness accounts on blogs – ensured that those who were not in attendance at the game were no longer limited to accepting the mainstream media’s account of an event as truth. In his acclaimed book, The Image, historian Daniel J. Boorstin notes that the American news media have transitioned from gathering and reporting the news to creating it (1961, 7). The mass media holds the enormous power of recording history through their coverage, and deciding which stories are ignored, and thus never happened as far as the vast majority of the populace is concerned. But for the first time, some in the audience are using blogs to usurp the mainstream media’s gatekeeper status. Former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham once referred to journalism as “the first rough draft of history” (Simpson 1988) and the audience now has the tools to help revise the final edition.


Incidents such as Cheney’s ballpark appearance also herald a decline in the amount of control a politician can exert over his or her public image. Boorstin argues that politicians quickly mastered the skills necessary to capitalize on the media’s constant need for fresh information. For example, Senator Joseph McCarthy used the media to stay in the headlines by holding and delaying several press conferences each day, providing reporters with a constant stream of news. Politicians feed the news media’s need for content with bait, such as confidential leaks, in return for coverage and increased control over their public image. Political blogs can foil the symbiotic relationship between the media and politicians. If, hypothetically, Cheney’s office had used political pressure to coerce the Post into slanting its coverage, blogs could serve as a public watchdog, because they are not as dependent on Cheney’s office for access to news. Political blogs rely on a multitude of independent sources to monitor the media and politicians to ensure that what actually happens is reported. The rapid reaction from a small section of the liberal blogosphere is evidence of an active citizen media that serves as both a check on the mainstream media and an additional layer of oversight for those in power. The liberal bloggers’ reaction to this incident also highlights some causes for concern regarding the influence of political blogs. The speed with which the bloggers and their audiences posted their ideological rhetoric suggests they were only waiting for such an occasion. Aravosis’s mistake in considering Wonkette’s joke as a legitimate primary source was also most likely the result of a rush to post and illustrates the potential for danger in the blogosphere’s unedited discourse. In the meantime, the uncivil extremity of some of the comments contradicts praise of the blogosphere as an ideal


public sphere of democratic deliberation. Those bloggers and commenters who immediately accused the Post of broad conspiracies did so before they could see that the print edition featured another column (ironically called “Reliable Source”) which reported the story correctly.3 Columbia School of Journalism professor James Carey wrote in 1988 that the introduction of new technologies “prompts both utopian and dystopian projections” (Carey 1988; qtd. in Park 2003). The introduction of blogs has been no exception to this pattern. In the past few years there has been a great deal of hype as well as a backlash over the potential of blogs to change society:
Some assert that blogging will create nothing less than a new public sphere and a radical, democratic reordering of the flow of information. Others look at the new politically-oriented blogging and fear that blogs represent the end of journalistic traditions (objectivity, social responsibility) that they believe have protected U.S. democracy in the past.

(Park 2003) But moving beyond all of the hype, and acting in spite of a backlash, blogs are altering the public’s relationship with the media and political leaders. The ease with which an individual can create a blog has led to an explosion of the medium into a plethora of different formats. In less than a decade, the number of blogs has risen astronomically, skyrocketing from under fifty in 1998 (Blood 2000) to an estimated 36.4 million sites in April, 2006 (“About Technorati,” 2006). More than 75,000 new blogs are created each day and the entire blogosphere has doubled every six months since 2003 (Burns 2006).4 One caveat is that not all of these are active sites; one study has found that as many as 2/3 of blogs at popular hosting sites have been abandoned by their authors (Lampa 2004).
3 4

(see Argetsinger, et al., quoted in second sentence) For charts illustrating the growth of the blogosphere, see Appendices A and B.


The personal diary format of early blogs has evolved into a personal tone in covering other topics, including business, technology, travel, war and a wide variety of other subjects. Exactly what constitutes a weblog, or blog, has been discussed extensively. Ultimately, however, blogs are a new type of expressive mode that may resist simple, one-size-fits-all definitions. Similar to list-servs, message boards, and other previous forms of online communication, blogs take many shapes and sizes.” Daniel Drezner, political science professor at the University of Chicago, provides one sufficiently broad description, however: “A weblog is defined…as a web page with minimal to no external editing, providing on-line commentary, periodically updated and
presented in reverse chronological order, with hyperlinks to other online sources” (Drezner et al. 2004, 5).

Millions of citizens have started blogs and found communities of other people with similar interests to participate in their discussions. The conversational features blogs provide include links to other websites or sources, as well as a number of ways for readers to comment. This communal architecture is crucial to the concept of the blogosphere, “a “media ecosystem”, an emergent “biosphere” of bloggers, journalists, and citizens co-creating a “living, breathing” environment where each blogger exists in a symbiotic relationship with other bloggers” (Vieta 2003). The term ‘blogosphere’ refers to the entire interconnected network of blogs or subsets of this network, with the political blogosphere referring to only political blogs, for example. Debate over the essential definition of blogs in their many mutations has overshadowed a more significant development: political blogs have become an integrated part of the national discourse and are positioned at a critical juncture in the future of political communications. They represent the intersection between cutting edge 8

technology and America’s oldest institutions. Many newspaper companies and politicians have been slow to adapt to rapid changes brought on by the Internet, but the political blogosphere has become an evolutionary agent forcing traditional political and media elites to adapt to an era where the audience has gained considerably more control. This thesis will analyze the degree of influence political blogs have exerted over traditional political elites and mainstream media coverage of political issues. Chapter 2 explains the origin of current frustrations with the mainstream media. Specifically, it describes three trends in the mainstream media’s evolution – gatekeeper mentality, corporate culture, and ownership concentration – that have hindered the media’s successful adaptation to a new communications environment and indirectly led to the rise of blogs. Chapter 3 provides the context for the rise of political blogs by framing it as part of a broader communications revolution, a revolution fueled by digital tools that empower amateurs to create professional quality media content and the Internet that allows them to freely distribute this information. The chapter also gives a short history of the rise of blogging. Chapter 4 examines that interaction between blogs and the mainstream media from a variety of angles, such as how blogs complement existing media operations, and also how blogs occasionally become autonomous media entities. The section also considers the inherent limits of blogs’ media influence, including the mainstream media’s reaction to blogs. Finally, Chapter 5 considers the role of political blogs and the Internet in changing the state of U.S. politics, including the implications of blogs’ media influence as well as their influence on political campaigns. The chapter also describes a number of


limitations on blogs’ political influence, such as attempts to politically co-opt them and the lingering possibility of regulation by the Federal Election Commission.


1. The Traditional News Media
Introduction In the 1960’s, television news was in fine form. America’s rapid adoption of television throughout the 1950’s reached a tipping point when the medium became a power-granting force in the 1960 televised Presidential debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. The major news networks lead anchors’ were among the most trusted sources in America, and the investigative reporting of newspapers such as the Washington Post took down a corrupt President. Forty-six years later there is widespread distrust and frustration with the mainstream media (“Media Credibility Declines” 2004). Newspaper circulation is down, newsroom staffs have been ravaged, and massive consolidation has occurred, rendering the mainstream media ripe for attack by all sorts of online outfits. This chapter will explain the origin of frustrations with traditional media companies, most notably three trends in the evolution of the traditional news media – gatekeeper mentality, corporate culture, and ownership concentration – that have hindered successful adaptation in an era of fundamental change and rapid technological development. One does not have to search long online to find criticism of the mainstream media, be it attacks on individual columnists or the entire cultural institution. Such criticism may be the one topic that surpasses the glorification of blogging. The politically-based critiques of the media are predictable. The political right attacks what they see as liberal bias in purportedly objective news outlets and the political left argues that the corporate culture leads to internal censorship. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall


describes these pressures as “powerful countervailing decoding patterns – left and right – that battle with the encoding provided by the media system” (Hall et al. 1978). But these complaints have been supplemented by frustrations that transcend party lines. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents find themselves in agreement that blogs and other publication tools born of new communication technologies are excellent supplements to shortcomings in traditional media sources. The old mantra is that the mass media both reflects and affects politics, society, and culture (Biagi 2005, 11). New media advocates argue that today the mass media does too much affecting and not enough reflecting. The word ‘media’ is the plural of ‘medium’, the channel a sender uses to send a message to a receiver. The phrase ‘mass media’ implies that the message is being sent to a large audience. The term can include books, films, recordings, magazines, the Internet, newspapers, radio, and television. This chapter will focus primarily on those traditional mass media essential to political news: newspapers, radio, and television. The mainstream news media is made up of the major media companies that produce and deliver the news. It consists of the major national television networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC), their local affiliate stations, cable news stations (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News), and major newspapers (the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today), and to a lesser extent, major news periodicals (Time, Newsweek). The term ‘mainstream media’ refers to the most popular news outlets as well as an objective, neutral approach to reporting the news. The Evolution of the Mainstream News Media


The modern history of the traditional news media can be told through three major trends: historical control of production, concentration of ownership across markets and industries, and a corporate culture. These developments represent the majority of the complaints about the mainstream media’s current state and are blamed for obstructing its continued evolution in the Internet age. Historical Control of Production Many of the grievances with today’s mainstream news media stem from the elitist attitude and condescending tone of many news broadcasts and articles. Michael Cornfield at the Pew Internet & American Life Project report writes, “For decades the dominance of mass media have inculcated a sense of spectatorship among the citizenry” (Cornfield “Presidential Campaign” 2004, 10). The ‘sense of spectatorship’ can be partially explained by the limits of existing mass mediums. Radio, television and newspapers are primarily one-way communication channels in that the receiver cannot send feedback on the same medium. Messages are simply broadcasted into homes. Today the Internet allows instantaneous messages to be sent as well as simultaneous feedback return, making it an interactive medium. Hundreds of years of control of production have created an ingrained gatekeeper mentality where those in control of the mass media construct reality by determining what is important enough to be shared and how it is framed for the audience. The mainstream media sets the agenda, telling the audience not necessarily what to think, but what and who to think about (Biagi 2005, 257). Dorris Graber writes that “On an average evening somewhat more than half of the stories on each major television network represent unique choices. The figures are slightly lower for print media” (Graber, 100). Hall found


that the mainstream media reproduces dominant ideologies. As Bryan Murley interprets, “Even as various news outlets produce somewhat different outlooks on the news, all of these outlooks exist within ‘certain distinct ideological limits’” (Murley 2005). This power of production has existed for centuries. For most of history, literacy itself was a privilege of the upper classes who could afford private tutors. Even after literacy spread, one had to literally own a press or have access to one to publish anything on a large scale. The idea of the press as a powerful “fourth estate” elevated above the public dates to Thomas Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution, published in 1837 (Carlyle 1837). In the U.S., President Lincoln originated the practice of accreditation, where the government certifies members of the press to cover government news events, such as military news (Biagi 2005, 245). This enhanced the professionalism of journalism. Accredited reporters were required to carry press passes distinguishing them from ordinary citizens. The lofty tone and role of the press was inherited by radio broadcasting in the early 20th Century. Consumers bought a radio and gathered around it to listen to what the broadcasters had to say. The concept of a call-in show was not created until years later and even then offered a select few the chance to speak. Television broadcasting further enhanced the mainstream media’s control of production. The three original radio stations – ABC, CBS, and NBC – became the first three national television networks. Thomas Lifson, in a commentary posted on the influential Real Clear Politics blog, suggests that television significantly contributed to the concept of a “mainstream media”, because the original limitations of a three-channel


medium forced each network to align itself where the most viewers were – the ideological center (Lifson 2006). More extreme political viewpoints on either side were not given much attention. An alternative press emerged in the 1960’s in an attempt to voice these views, but its circulation came nowhere close to the mass audience television had quickly accrued. The Presidential election of 1960 is widely considered the Television Election, in that it was the first election where television played a pivotal role in deciding the election, as viewers nationwide saw a fresh-looking, made-up John F. Kennedy square off in televised debate against a grisly Richard Nixon, 5 o’clock shadow and all. The golden age of televised news broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s saw television’s political power grow even stronger. Investigative reporting questioned a war sustained by lies and broadcast video of its human costs to Americans watching at home. Millions of viewers lost faith in their government and placed it instead in their nightly news anchor Walter Cronkite ("Poll: Trust in corporations waning" 2002).5 The power of the mass media was at a zenith. But today new tools have allowed citizens to become more selective about their news and how they consume it. In such a climate entrenched attitudes become obstacles to the industries’ survival. A 2004 Pew Research Center report found a decline in credibility ratings for a wide variety of news sources in recent years. Mainstream media outlets such as CNN, major network broadcasts, the Wall Street Journal, and local newspapers have all dropped significantly in credibility ratings (“News Audiences…” 2004).


An Oliver Quayle and Co. survey 1972 gave Cronkite a "trust index" of 73%, higher than the average member of Congress and President Nixon. In the second Phillip-Sindlinger survey in 1974, he was found to be the most-trusted television newsman.


It is increasingly not a question of the capacity of mainstream journalism to adapt to the new media environment, but rather the willingness. A report by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University warns: “Traditional news media are not yet willing to adapt to the principals of the environment in which they find themselves…Bureaucratic inertia, hierarchical organizational structure and a legacy mentality have paralyzed many news organizations from developing a meaningful strategy in this dynamic information age” (Bowman et al. 2005). Thomas Edsall, a political reporter for the Washington Post, admits “there is an orthodoxy to our thinking” (Rosen, “There is an Orthodoxy…”, 2004). Journalism Professor and Media Commentator Jay Rosen describes this established mode of thought among journalists as PressThink, “a strange energy…holding smart people to dumb practices” (Rosen, “PressThink…”, 2003). The gatekeeper mentality of traditional journalism manifests itself in a variety of ways. The mainstream media flock to the same stories its competitors publish in what is known as ‘herd mentality’ or ‘pack journalism’ (Crouse 1973). An example of this is what some journalists considered the over-emphasis on the two candidates’ military records in 2004 Presidential campaign coverage (“Journalists Not Satisfied…”, 2004). This phenomenon can work in reverse as well: A Harvard case study demonstrated how a lack of attention paid to Trent Lott’s racist comments led other journalists to similarly view it as a non-story (Scott 2004). The result is a spotlight on a limited few stories while others are left untouched. Those who were once the whistleblowers have increasingly become part of the establishment. Embedded journalists receive unprecedented access to the war in Iraq


only by accepting very strict limits on what they can report ("CFLCC Ground Rules" 2006). Reporters become insiders to gain access to sources and scoops, and end up withholding important information from not only their readers, but even their editors (VandeHei et al. 2005). All of this professional arrogance comes at the expense of the participation and interaction of the audience. The news industry became comfortable in control of content creation and knowledge dissemination and did not seriously respond to feedback from its customers – a taboo in any business. Corrections are printed deep in the next day’s newspaper, far from the original culprit. Criticism of a publication’s work is selectively chosen before it is printed, and even then in limited doses. Television and radio programs rarely offer any feedback opportunity other than writing a letter. The power of the press and complete control of the radio and television airwaves has led to a media that dictates the news to the nation. Corporate Culture in the Newsroom Every newspaper company is comprised of two halves. One half is the editorial side, which writes all of the news stories and publishes the paper. The other half is the business side, which consists of accounting, advertising, and sales. Many feel that the business side of operations has gained too much control over the direction of mainstream media companies at the expense of their futures. The goal of news media companies has always been financial success. Newspapers, radio, and television are supported primarily by advertising revenues. Newspaper and broadcasting companies report profits of about 10% a year, double that of the average manufacturing company (Biagi 2005, 13).


The corporate side of the mainstream news industry is blamed for a number of problems, but the financial-minded approach to news companies does have advantages. Profits in other areas can support money-losing but vital investigative research. The division of labor between departments in large companies allows specialization of writing, ad sales, legal protection, and other areas. Investments can bring new features and readers. The critiques of corporate culture in the newsroom are based on both financial and ideological issues. Financially, news companies face unrealistic expectations form investors. Media outlets usually yield high profits, making them good investments, but the need to constantly maintain and expand profit margins in capitalism has outpaced the market. An article by American Journalism Review finds that even financially successful newspapers are facing uncertain futures:
“The perverse irony of [the Beacon Journal’s] current troubles is that it remains financially healthy. By some measures, in fact, it’s booming. In an analysis…Morgan Stanley & Co. estimated that the Beacon Journal would make $21.6 million in 2005 on revenue of $103 million…a spectacular margin by the standards of other industries, but apparently not enough for investors who’ve come to expect even higher profit returns from newspapers.” (Farhi 2006, 29)

This intense financial pressure has led to what Rosen calls the strain of Absolute Commercialization, “a dark force in journalism, a hollower out” (Rosen, “PressThink…”, 2003). Newsroom employment has trended down in three of the last 4 years, the second worst period in the 28 years such statistics have been tracked. The worst period was during a period of general economic recession in 1991-1993, but today the recession is only in the news industry (Farhi 2006, 28).


Financial support, the biggest advantage of commercialization, has dried up. Parent companies have reacted to poor performance in the newspaper industry by taking a more conservative financial approach. They have cut workforces and capital funding of their newspapers in response to slumping profits. Newsroom cuts are further decreasing the quality of print journalism. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s once prestigious foreign news coverage has been whittled down to one foreign correspondent and a reduced library staff. Cost-cutting has also brought the resignations of several major editors, the end of Tribune, Co.’s famous City News wire service, and what Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times calls “a sapping of our collective wisdom and experience” (Farhi 2006, 28). Responding to lost revenues with layoffs and cuts in resources can become selfperpetuating as more readers are driven away. The Hartford Courant’s reader representative columnist Karen Hunter pointed out that rather than increasing efficiency, “job cuts are getting close to the bone” (Farhi 2006, 29). Conrad Fink, a former Associated Press executive adds “We’re close to the point, if not beyond it, of diminishing returns. Readers are saying the paper is not worth the time to devote to it” (Farhi 2006, 28). A strategy of financial cutbacks rather than reinvestment is seen by many as shortsighted and potentially devastating in the long term. The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s State of the News Media 2005 warned that older media sectors focused on profits and stock prices do so “at the expense of building the new technologies that are vital to the future” (“The State of the News Media 2005”, 2005). Gillmor credits the unique ownership structures of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street


Journal for withstanding pressure from investors in considering the long-term ramifications of their decisions (Gillmor “We The Media” 2004, 6). The output of the newspaper industry is important because much of televised and online news content is based on the original reporting done by print journalists. A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism has found that despite an ever-increasing number of news sources, the number of actual reporters in the field has sharply declined (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). Even television news is increasingly relayed by anchors rather than correspondents at the scene (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). Television has always been a pervasively commercial medium. It was quickly determined that the medium would be used to deliver an audience to advertisers, thus the dominant role of ratings in programming decisions. Television took over radio as America’s top medium as early as 1949 (Biagi 2005, 155). In 1961 Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, declared television “a vast wasteland” of meaningless programs and warned the industry that because they operated on public airwaves, “the public is your beneficiary”, and as a result they must deliver a valuable return not only to their stockholders, but to the public as well (Thonssen 1962). Minow understood the power of television, and implored the industry “to make that voice ring with intelligence and leadership”, to enrich rather than debase. This call to responsibility stirred public debate but went largely unheeded by the television industry.6 The debasing nature of television programming soon spread to the news. The short-lived golden age of television news in the 1960s was followed by a noticeable shift from serious news coverage to ‘infotainment’. The continued impact of high profit


Gilligan’s Island producer Sherwood Schwartz reportedly named the “S.S. Minnow” after Minow as a reaction to his criticism of the industry.


expectations are blamed for infotainment, the scourge of serious journalism, where detailed, contextual content is replaced with ratings-focused content, typically rife with violence and entertainment news. An abundance of studies exist on the proliferation of infotainment, or ‘soft journalism’, such as Thomas Patterson’s 2001 study that found:
News stories lacking public policy content jumped from less than 35% of all stories in 1980 to roughly 50% of stories appearing today. Stories with a moderate to high level of sensationalism rose from about 25% of news stories in the early 1980s to a current tally of 40%. Stories that include a human interest element also figure heavily in contemporary reporting, accounting for less than 11% of news stories in the early 1980s, but more than 26% of reports today. The same holds true for stories with crime or disaster as a main subject, rising from 8% of stories in 1980 to close to 15% of stories today.

(Patterson 2001; qtd. by Nisbet 2001) Local news stations, never known for high journalism standards, led the charge with sensationalist stories that produced high ratings and high profits (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, 5). A 2006 Project for Excellence in Journalism study found that once traffic, weather and sports were excluded, 60 percent of local TV newscasts consisted of crime and accident stories (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). National network news, once unprofitable but prestigious crown jewels, have followed suit (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, 5). When the media neglects its duty to inform the public in favor of high profits on unimportant filler, Minow’s argues, Americans lose. The public interest is not merely what momentarily interests the public (Thonssen 1962). Gillmor also blames Wall Street’s demands for “dumbing down the product itself” (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, xiii). The written press as well as television has been pressured to dilute its content. As evening news programs decimated evening newspaper editions, newspapers adapted to survive with advancements in graphics and color (Biagi 2005, 60). A prime example of this trend is USA Today, introduced in 1982. It offered colorful graphics and short stories in an attempt to adapt newspaper to 21

the age of television. Its rapid success led to a trend of shorter average story lengths across the industry (Biagi 2005, 62).

Ownership Concentration Consolidation is a natural occurrence in maturing markets. The newspaper industry consolidated at the beginning of the 20th Century as the strongest newspapers bought or beat their many competitors. The introduction of radio and television further concentrated the newspaper market, diverting consumers’ attention so that most cities could eventually support only one major daily newspaper. Enterprising individuals, improved production technologies, and stiff family business inheritance taxes allowed the formation of major newspaper chains in the decades following World War II (Neiva 1996). The impact of televised news and wide scale industry deregulation fueled further consolidation. This consolidation was a blessing to some local papers because the increased capital and resources of the chain improved local operations. Concentration can allow a large chain to offer its staff training and better wages (Biagi 2005, 14). Gannett executive John C. Quinn argues that a paper’s merit is not related to the size of the company that owns it, although obviously the influence of a good or bad paper can be much greater in a large chain (Biagi 2005, 14). A downside of ownership concentration is that it has exacerbated the gate-keeping effect by reducing ‘message pluralism’ (Biagi 2005, 14). News companies are pressured to cover the same basic stories being reported elsewhere. Increasingly limited resources mean that such coverage comes at the expense of exclusive and original stories (Kurtz


2006, “The Big News…”). Not only is it the same old voices reporting the news, but now there are fewer of them reporting a narrower range of stories. For many one-paper towns, the newspaper represents the outside world, and some feel there should be significant concern when so much power is consolidated in a company like Gannett papers that operates 91 daily papers and almost 1,000 non-daily publications (“Company Profile” 2006). There are also significant political ramifications of ownership concentration. Studies have found that chain newspapers endorse the same presidential candidate 85% of the time, and are more likely than average to endorse the same candidate for other races (Biagi 2005, 15). With the relatively minor exceptions of PBS and NPR, media companies are privately owned. But deregulation of the media industries over the past twenty-six years has caused a rapid concentration in ownership across companies and industries. The Federal Communications Commission began deregulating the broadcast media in 1980 with elimination of minimum ownership periods and an increase in the number of broadcast holdings allowed per owner. The Fairness Doctrine, a set of FCC rules regulating political advocacy on radio stations, was struck down in 1987. Further deregulation followed, culminating with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“Telecommunications Act of 1996” 2005). The Act and subsequent legislation in 1999 and 2003 increased the number of stations one company could own and the percent of the market these stations could represent. The net effect of broadcast deregulation has been rapid selling and buying of media companies, which has put news companies under intense financial pressure to compete (Biagi 2005, 14).


Public trading of media companies’ stock allowed anyone with enough money to compete while deregulation removed many ownership restrictions. As a result, today fewer companies own more types of media businesses and control more aspects of the media industries. Vertical integration occurs when one conglomerate attempts to control related aspects of the media business (Biagi 2005, 12). For example, Time Warner can produce a movie in Warner Studios, promote it on CNN and AOL, and later exclusively broadcast it on its cable stations. All three original television networks are now smaller parts of larger media corporations (Biagi 2005, 13). Conglomerates like General Electric own media companies as well as other unrelated companies, so a publication or production is just another business investment.

Conclusion Decades of control of production, corporate culture, and consolidation of ownership has led to the most recent incarnation of the mainstream news industry, the ‘traditional media’ that new media advocates vehemently attack and old school types stubbornly defend. Today’s television programs feature shallow, sensationalist filler and today’s newspapers are based on outdated technology and obsolete business plans. The majority of the media continue to proclaim objectivity as their highest virtue, despite growing cries of bias and the success of the clearly partisan Fox News. In a politically polarized country, infotainment is a disservice to citizens who seek to learn more and become more involved than traditional news sources can offer. The newspaper industry is reeling from major losses in advertising revenues, subscribers, and corporate investment. Given this media environment it is clear why the traditional news


industry is under siege by passionate users of interactive content technologies. The mainstream media is very powerful, but stuck in its ways.7 It has reached the point where pressure to reform can (and must) be driven by outside sources. The traditional mainstream media is in need of reform but the very things that need to be changed – gatekeeper mentality, corporate culture, and consolidation of ownership – have prevented its evolution with rapidly changing technology. In the past, when mainstream outlets had complete de facto control of production, there was no dire need to do so, as long as they kept pace with their mainstream competitors. But today there are many more competitors fulfilling the oft-neglected duty to inform the public and siphoning away advertising revenue. Even with a concerted effort to adapt, there is the simple fact that television, radio, and newspapers, though still useful and popular, are in many ways outdated mediums. Lifson goes so far as to call them antique. Once cutting-edge mediums, the lag times in their respective news cycles and the expense of publication and distribution may be irreconcilable weaknesses. The rapid adoption of simple self-publishing tools and other technologies that vastly improve upon the existing system’s limits have burst the floodgates open. Pent-up frustration has quickly become action. The Internet was just the place.


Most mainstream media outlets have made at least some attempt to adapt to the new world of online journalism, with widely varying degrees of success. See Chapter 5 for further discussion.


2. The Rise of Blogs
Blogs’ Broader Societal Context Radio, television and newspapers are all examples of mass media that have transformed society. There have also been numerous short-lived modes of communication that soon became obsolete, from homing pigeons to eight-track tape players. With increasingly rapid advances in technology, it is easy for some to dismiss blogs as only the latest over-hyped fad with no long-term ramifications. But there is significant reason to believe that blogs represent a disruptive new form of technology that is forcing a sea change in the way citizens interact with their media and leaders. An explanation of the broader cultural changes ushered in by computers and the Internet provides the perspective necessary to understand the significant impact blogs are having on traditional journalism and politics. Journalism professor Shirley Biagi identifies three major communication revolutions that mark the evolution of the mass media as we know it today. The first such revolution was the shift from pictographs to phonetic characters, circa 1000 B.C., and the subsequent development of parchment and paper. These developments allowed oral knowledge to be written and stored as information and read by those with no immediate connection to the author. The second communications revolution occurred when Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press, which had moveable type blocks and allowed for cheap copies of books. This allowed written information to spread beyond the libraries of wealthy elites. Finally, the third communications revolution is the age of computers and the Internet, which has brought rapid changes to every existing


media industry by allowing vast amounts of information to be created and transmitted worldwide at lightning-fast speeds (Biagi 2005, 17-19).8 On their own, blogs certainly do not represent as profound a shift as the invention of the printing press, or the widespread adoption of the Internet. But blogs are a derivative of a key development in the digital communications revolution, or what blogger Tom Coates defines as the ‘mass amateurisation’ of content production.9 Digital technology has dramatically reduced the cost and level of skill required to create media. Today, professional-quality content can be created with powerful yet simple, inexpensive hardware and software. This transformation has taken place at a relatively rapid speed: In just under forty years since the introduction of the personal computer, users have been given the tools to create, produce and distribute media content they could previously only receive. The “deprofessionalization” of media creation tools has turned many hobbyists into ‘prosumers.’ The word, a hybrid of ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’, was coined by futurist and author Alvin Toffler in his 1979 prediction that consumers of the future would take part in customizing their purchases (Kirsner 2005). The term has since come to encompass the individuals taking advantage of the unprecedented capabilities digital tools grant them in order to create, edit and share music, video, photography, graphics, and writing. Prosumers typically create for personal reasons rather than money (although it is common for personal creations to lead to professional opportunities). They usually


The rise of broadcasting ushered in by radio and broadcasting could be considered a fourth communications revolution. 9 ‘Generation C’ has also been discussed by The Media Center at The American Press Institute at


purchase their own tools and use them in their free time. They are amateurs by nature, but as they master their tools and learn their craft they can acquire professional-level skills and create professional or near-professional quality content. Trend-spotting company has dubbed the prosumer movement “Generation C,” with the ‘C’ standing for ‘Content’ (“Generation C” 2006). A Pew Internet Project poll conducted in 2003 verified the accuracy of this concept. The study found that 53 million Americans, or 44% of online users, create content online in one way or another (Lenhart et al. 2004 “Content Creation Online”). A more recent Pew Internet Project poll conducted in 2004 found that the rate is even higher for teenagers, 57% of whom reported creating content for the internet:
Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.

(Lenhart et al. 2005 “Teen Content Creators…”) The great promise of the Internet – that anyone can create and publish their own media – is finally being fulfilled. The result is what The Economist calls a “‘Cambrian explosion’ of creativity: a flowering of expressive diversity on the scale of the eponymous proliferation of biological species 530m years ago” (“Among the audience,” 2006). Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, argues that “Peer production is the most powerful industrial force of our time” (“Among the audience,” 2006). The high rates at which online teenagers are creating suggests that as technology continues to democratize the tools of content production, society draws nearer to the day when consumers are not only literate in consuming media, but also in creating it.


This explosion in creativity has been overshadowed at times by the less positive side of accessible communications. The low cost of email has led to an explosion of spam and scams while some have used websites to distribute pornography and other unsavory content. This unseemly side of the Internet at times threatens to choke its more productive uses. Email is less convenient when inboxes are flooded with unsolicited advertising and some blogs have had to institute various measures to keep ‘comment spam’ at bay. A History of Blogs The revolution of amateur content creation has been most significantly realized in one of the oldest forms of expression: the written word. Coates and author Dan Gillmor view blogging in the context of a wider shift in the way we react to our culture and our technology. Bloggers are a subspecies of prosumer. They use simple, cost-free content management systems to publish their thoughts to the world and interact with others in a way that was simply impossible until very recently. Blogs are not the first computer-based tools promised to start a publishing revolution. The desktop publishing revolution hyped in the 1980’s was never truly fulfilled because personal computers provided users with the tools to create but no content distribution system. The missing ingredient, connectivity, was soon provided by the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism explains, “The Internet is a unique phenomenon that has delivered not just technological innovations but become a conduit for change, accelerating the rate, diversity and circulation of ideas… [It] enables limitless distribution of content for little or no cost” (Bowman et al. 2005).


Thousands, and soon millions of webpages, were created and shared, but authoring and maintaining a frequently-updated webpage required advanced technical knowledge of HTML code and FTP programs. But mass amateurisation soon came to publishing, and by extension, journalism. Blogger Tom Coates writes, “Ten years from the earliest homepages, and we now find ourselves with weblogs…Almost all of them powered by simple content management systems with names like LiveJournal, Blogger, and Movable Type. Weblogging software constitutes a radical simplification of previously complex tools.” Bryan Murley compares the Internet to Biagi’s second communications revolution: “Like Gutenberg’s movable type printing press, the Internet is speeding the reproduction and dissemination of knowledge...Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than weblogs” (Murley 2005, 5).10 Blogs are only one subset of an almost limitless array of possibilities available online, but they have come to embody the spirit of the Internet, representative of its strengths and weaknesses. The blogosphere is, relative to other mediums, democratic, collective and interactive. But it also contains offensive content, and inaccurate information. Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s campaign manager, writes that democratic forces are always shaped by the antithesis that preceded them; the fight for civil liberties in the 1960’s was a reaction to abuses in the 1950’s (Trippi 2004, 218). Trippi argues that the Internet is the democratic antithesis of television (Trippi 2004, 226). A comparison between the Internet and its predecessor supports Trippi’s point and underscores the essential values of the blogosphere.

This is widely agreed upon. With increases in the average user’s bandwidth and computing power, however, video and other advanced media become easier and cheaper to distribute and could eventually surpass text-only blogs.


Television is a fundamentally reactive medium, where the viewer receives broadcasted content but has no adequate means to respond. The Internet is a fundamentally interactive medium where users can respond to information they receive and transmit their own information in response. Television isolates viewers in their homes as they watch and listen to people on screen with no awareness of their presence. The internet allows users to escape the confines of geography with an arsenal of powerful yet simple communication tools including email, instant messaging, chatrooms and forums. While the power to create and distribute televised content is held by major companies with the financial capital to produce and distribute it, creation and distribution of online content can be very inexpensive. It has been these three core values – interactivity, community, and accessibility – that fueled the rise of blogging. All three values can be found in Rebecca Blood’s history of the early weblog community, or what later came to be known as the blogosphere. Blood dates the origin of the term ‘weblog’ to 1997. It was later shortened to ‘blog’ in 1999. The original blogs served as personal journals and filters to the already massive World Wide Web. Bloggers acted as editors and provided commentary on links to current news events as well as other obscure and compelling items. Just as editors at the New York Times compressed an entire day’s worth of world events into a daily issue for its readers, bloggers highlighted what they considered the most compelling sites from the overwhelming amount of information online. “The web has been, in effect, pre-surfed for them” (Blood 2000). Only a handful of these sites existed in 1998. The community was small enough that short lists of weblogs could be maintained and read daily. Steady growth continued


until July 1999 with the launch of the first free and simple blog creation tool, Pitas. Two other blog creation tools debuted the following month and shortly thereafter the number of weblogs skyrocketed exponentially (Blood 2000).11 By the end of 2000, the estimated number of blogs was in the thousands, up from under 50 in 1998 (Mead 2000). Blood argues that in 1999 the introduction of the popular Blogger software led to a shift from blogs that filtered content to blogs composed in a short-form journal format, because the Blogger software did not specifically ask for a link URL with each post, as previous software did. This shift was instrumental in the evolution of the blogosphere’s increasingly conversational approach:
Links took the reader to the site of another blogger with whom the first was having a public conversation or had met the previous evening, or to the site of a band he had seen the night before. Full-blown conversations were carried on between three or five blogs, each referencing the other in their agreement or rebuttal of the other's positions.

(Blood 2000) New bloggers mimicked the original blogs, including the lists of links commonly found on the sidebars of the sites. This permanent (though updateable) list became known as a ‘blogroll’, an important part of a blog’s identity: “New bloggers position themselves in this community, referencing and reacting to those blogs they read most, their sidebar an affirmation of the tribe to which they wish to belong” (Blood 2000). Interaction between blogs has been supplemented with comment boxes that brought the conversation to the level of the individual site. Readers could post their reactions to a post and link to related sites, significantly increasing the interaction between bloggers and their readers. Bloggers also responded to emails and instant


Blood suggests that the “tsunami of new weblogs” may have “crushed the movement before it could reach critical mass”, as “the sudden exponential growth of the community rendered it unnavigable; Weblogs, once filters of the web, suddenly became so numerous they were as confusing as the web itself.”


messages from readers, updating their original post with corrections and further developments. As blogging matures, new tools are constantly being developed that capitalize on the interactive nature of the medium. The widespread adoption of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) allows blogs to automatically notify (or ‘ping’) new content to a server, which is then automatically syndicated to a variety of sources. Another popular development is “track-back” software that allowed bloggers to show what others were saying when they linked to a post, facilitating interlinking between related sites (Baoill).

Blogs Get More Political, Popular Political discussions online long predate the blog format: Bill Clinton was first mentioned on the Usenet forums as early as 1984 ("20 Year Usenet Timeline," 2003). Blogs included current events amongst other content from the start. Two of the first political blogs, The Drudge Report (although some consider it a proto-blog because it has no original content) and The Daily Howler began in 1998 (Bloom et al. 2003, 13). The community of exclusively political blogs grew slowly until September 11th, 2001, the tipping point for political blogs’ entry into mainstream awareness (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, x). Dan Gillmor, in his book We the Media, writes that September 11th joined other tragic moments frozen in time; moments all Americans remember for the rest of their lives (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, ix). America’s elders can recall gathering around the radio to hear the news that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. America’s baby


boomers vividly remember watching the television as Walter Cronkite fought back tears to announce that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, ix). And on September 11th, 2001, America’s younger generations again watched the television coverage of a national tragedy. But this time, Gillmor writes, something occurred that went beyond the extensive mainstream news coverage of the event: Regular people, the former audience, began producing their own news (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, x). The uncertainty of the following days “fuelled the public's appetite for information, analysis and news, if only to make sense of the tragedy” (Raynford). They found deeper context in emails, blogs, and other nonstandard news sources, written and published online by ordinary citizens with something worthwhile to report (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, x). Though may not have been recognized at the time, journalism had evolved (Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, x). A Pew Internet Project study shows that major news events created spikes in online news traffic: “In the week following 9/11, 27% of internet users got news online (5 percentage points higher than late summer 2001 readings) and 37% of internet users were getting news online in the days following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 11 percentage points higher than figures from the prior month” (Horrigan 2006). A similar pattern exists with blogs. In a paper for Australian think tank, legal academic and blogger Ken Parish writes that the hit counts on Australian blogs soared in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombing (Parish 2003). In a paper prepared for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Joel David Bloom found that “Visitors at the blogs involved in the Lott situation saw a huge increase in readership as a direct result of the publicity generated by that story.” A few months later the war in Iraq


caused an even steeper spike in traffic at two major blogs covering the buildup (Bloom 2003). A combination of online buzz and frequent references in the offline mainstream media has sent hordes of readers to political blogs over the past few years (see Appendices A and B). Only eleven articles in the Lexis Nexis database mention the term “weblog” between 1995 and 1999, compared to 56 in 2000, 128 in 2001, 272 in 2002, and 647 in 2003 (Drezner et al. 2004, 5). A string of high-profile news events catapulted political blogs into mainstream awareness by demonstrating the influential role they could play in the mainstream media and politics. Bloggers were a crucial factor in forcing Mississippi Senator Trent Lott’s resignation as the Republican’s Senate Majority Leader in 2002, bringing the “previously obscure and eccentric world of blogging” to the attention of the nation’s political and media elites for the first time and marking the blogosphere’s passage “as a real player in American political media” (Bloom 2003, 11). The fundraising prowess and central role of the blogs behind Howard Dean’s insurgent 2003 Democratic primary campaign brought extensive traditional media coverage to the blogosphere. Conservative bloggers and their readers raised significant doubts over the authenticity of documents used on CBS’ 60 Minutes II on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, leading to scandal and Dan Rather’s partial retirement. The role of blogs in of each of these major political media events will be discussed in greater detail in the remaining chapters, but collectively they thrust a virtually unknown technological innovation into the mainstream worlds of politics and journalism. Media and political elites, masters of the traditional system, were forced to recognize and react to the presence of political bloggers. The Internet gave new


individuals and groups the tools needed to take on more meaningful roles in both politics and journalism. There was no going back.


II. Blogs & the Media
3. Blogs Complement Traditional Journalism
There is a tension between some journalists and bloggers, partially because of the incessant flow of media criticism springing forth from blogs and the ongoing debate over the changing definition of the title ‘journalist’. But for all the vitriol, the two are locked in a symbiotic relationship and the future of journalism could very well be a hybrid of the two opposing sides. More forward-thinking bloggers and journalists predict that blogs “will follow the pattern of prior communication technologies and initially disrupt entrenched journalistic practices yet, over time, become integrated components of the mainstream media landscape” (Gallo 2004). In the past few years blogs have had a significant impact on traditional journalism by supplementing and occasionally surpassing it. The result is two prevalent constructions of the role blogs serve in the production of news. The first, held by most traditional journalists, is that blogs serve as an evolutionary complement to the existing mainstream media for limited purposes such as feedback and extended commentary. The alternative purpose of blogs, to be discussed in Chapter 5, is that they are an essential part of a growing citizen media movement that could revolutionize if not outright replace the current corporate news media. This stance considers the blogosphere an increasingly autonomous media entity that will further usurp the role of gatekeeper -- and the audience and advertising that come with it -- from the corporate news media. The true position of


political blogs in the media lies between these two extremes. Elements of each approach can be found in the blogosphere. The blogosphere’s influence is restricted by the traditional media’s increasingly cogent reaction to the presence of blogs, as well as limits native to the blogosphere.

Blogs’ Impact on Traditional Journalism
Blogs have already had a significant impact on traditional journalism. They directly serve journalists in a supplementary role by providing feedback (both before and after publication), sources, and ideas. Blogs have also contributed to the evolution of mainstream journalism. As a competing source of information outside of the corporate news media structure, they have forced the mainstream media to accelerate its adaptation to new forms of technology and provided new tools with which to interact with the audience. For all of the critiques that depict the mainstream news media as an industry that is behind the times, many journalists are well aware of the existence of blogs. Political Science professors Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell completed an informal survey of 140 including editors, publishers, reporters, and columnists at media companies ranging
from the New York Times to rural publications with less than 10,000 readers (Drezner et al. 2004, 18). The journalists were asked if they read blogs, blog themselves, and how much

influence blogs have in their company. All of the 33 journalists at elite media companies
surveyed read blogs (see Appendix F for complete data). All but one of the 140 total

journalists surveyed could list at least one favorite blog. A number of journalists have also stated in their work and interviews that blogs have become one component in their


information-gathering processes (Drezner et al. 2004, 14). Most journalists read the top political blogs; the top ten blogs in Drezner’s survey accounted for 54% of the journalists’ citations (Drezner et al. 2004, 18, see also Appendix E). Because of the skewed distribution of the blogosphere, they can read a few of the top political blogs and get a summary of what is going on in the political blogosphere (Drezner et al. 2004, 14). Journalists were able to overcome some of their initial credibility concerns regarding blogs because of “pre-existing social and professional ties between early bloggers
and journalists…The first wave of political commentators to enter the blogosphere were journalists with close ties to mainstream media outlets” (Drezner et al. 2004, 15). These connections were crucial because they established a level of trust in a new medium many were wary of (Drezner et al. 2004, 15). Drezner cites research on trust in markets: “Markets

with imperfect information about producer quality often fail to emerge, due to consumer wariness. Social ties of kin or friendship can function to overcome fears of opportunism (Drezner et al. 2004, 15).

Blogs provide valuable feedback to an industry that has been reluctant to accept it in the past. Media critic Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler, an early political site, notes, “The Internet is especially well-suited to press criticism, because the press tends to keep press criticism out of the mainstream press” (Bloom 2003). But the mainstream media no longer holds a monopoly on the tools of production and everyone can be an ombudsman. The rapid growth of the blogosphere and the high rates of participation within it, indicate that a significant portion of the news audience was waiting for such an opportunity to participate. Although incessant criticism from readers can be draining, and partisan


pressure must be withstood, there are valid reasons for the mainstream media to heed the gigabytes of feedback blogs produce. Compared to mainstream audiences, political bloggers and their readers are a disproportionately influential demographic. The Institute For Politics Democracy & The Internet (“Political Influentials…” 2004) studied Online Political Citizens and found that 70% qualified as “influentials,” those active individuals who “wield a huge amount of influence within their communities as leaders and opinion makers” (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 13). In contrast, only 10% of the general public is considered to be in this group (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 13-15). IPDI’s Online Political Citizens are much more likely to view or post comments on political blogs (27%) than the general public (less than 4%) (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 6). Influentials are at the cutting edge of popular opinion; They tend to be “two to five years ahead of the rest of society” and “predictive of changing political winds” (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 14). Influentials are also well-connected. They have ties to more groups and organizations than the average American and they usually broadcast their recommendations to a large network of friends, relatives and acquaintances (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 13). Blogs were created to facilitate the specific functions of sharing personal news, political recommendations and whatever else one wants to share. And influentials give good advice. “Because they know many people and soak up a large amount of information, influentials stand out as smart, informed sources of advice and insight” (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 13). It is wise for any industry to interact with some of its biggest customers. Blogger Tim Blair suggests that the mainstream media “should regard bloggers as the audience –


and not as some freakish sub-group. We’re reading their papers, watching their news, listening to their radio shows” (qtd. by Glaser, “To Their Surprise…”). Bloggers are also Internet veterans -- 82% have been online for six years or more (Rainie 2005, 2) -- so their advice to the mainstream media on how to adapt to the Internet is also grounded in experience. Bloggers may be the mainstream media’s biggest critics, but they are also some of its most passionate customers. Finally, the Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics requires journalists to welcome criticism from amateurs. It specifically includes the phrases “invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct” and “encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media” (qtd. by Glaser, “Watchblogs”). Lofty professional ideals are easy to codify, but journalists are increasingly being called upon to live by this code in their day-to-day work. After centuries of elite control of the news, the day has come where anyone can voice their opinion. The mainstream media can benefit tremendously from their advice. Enterprising journalists have found blogs to be useful for feedback before and after they meet deadline.

Post-print feedback The newspaper industry’s controlled printing of letters to the editor has exploded into an unpreventable online discussion on thousands of media-focused blogs. Blog readers have become used to expressing their opinions after consuming media. A Pew Internet Project survey in the spring of 2003 found that of the 11 percent of Americans that read blogs,12 33 percent posted or commented on entries they read (Lenhart et al.


The most recent Pew report found that by the end of December 2004, this figure had grown to 27% of internet users


2004 “Content Creation Online”). Whether this is because the readers are influentials used to sharing their opinions or the convenience of making comments, this rate far surpasses the traditional letter to the editor. Journalist Jonathan Dube remarks, “no other media form in history has created so much feedback and interactivity with its audience” (Dube 2004).

Wisdom of the Crowd New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki wrote a book titled The Wisdom of Crowds in which he argues that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter that the smartest people in them” (Surowiecki; qtd. by Lifson 2004 “The blogosphere…”). If a group has diversity of opinion, independence of members from one another, decentralization and a good method for aggregating opinions, the crowd can be wiser than a select few experts (Surowiecki; qtd. by Lifson 2004 “The blogosphere…”). Blog audiences can fulfill each of these requirements. Online discussion of the news can bring the collective intelligence and knowledge of the audience to bear on the day’s lead stories (Gillmor We the Media 2004, 17). New media advocate and journalist Dan Gillmor has come to understand and accept that without fail, the audience will know more about the subject he is writing about than he does (We the Media 2004, 18). He views this not as a limitation or a threat to his livelihood, but as an opportunity to engage with his readers and improve his work. Don Wycliff, public editor at the Chicago Tribune, agrees: “I generally feel that the more sets of eyes that see and read our work critically, the better off we are” (Glaser, “To Their Surprise…”).


Journalists can benefit from this development if they adjust to the conversational nature of the blogosphere. The mainstream media still has the resources and authority to deliver the news, but the dialogue no longer ends when the commercial break has begun or the ink has dried on the morning edition. A journalist’s final version of a story is now just the beginning, and not necessarily the most valuable component of the conversation that follows (Gillmor “How Technology is Changing” 2004). Not all mainstream journalists are as open-minded as Gillmor is regarding criticism and corrections. Many still operate in a world where the media has the final word. An example of this is the New York Times’ former corrections policy, a legacy of the media’s historic control of production. Robert Cox, a political blogger, found and reported an error in a column by Maureen Dowd only to see no correction issued. Cox felt this unresponsiveness was part of a broader problem: The Times’ corrections policy allowed op-ed columnists to decide whether or not they had made an error and if a correction would be printed (Glaser, “To Their Surprise…”). Until recently this would have been the end of debate. But Cox detailed the conflict online on his blog and attracted widespread attention to the issue from other blogs and even other newspapers. When he posted a parody of the New York Times online, he and his Internet Service Provider received cease and desist letters from the Times’ legal department (Glaser, “To Their Surprise…”). At the time, Daniel Okrent was the Times’ public editor, a position created after the Jayson Blair scandal to help make the paper more responsive to readers’ concerns. He met with Cox, heard his complaints and acted on them, resulting in a new corrections policy. Under the new policy, the Times’ editors would decide if a correction is


warranted, and if so, it would run at the bottom of the offending column to ensure it is seen by the column’s syndicated readers. Cox admitted, “As a fierce critic of the New York Times, I find myself in the unusual position of having to compliment the paper in how they have changed over the past year” (Glaser, “To Their Surprise…”). The significance of this example is not that a blogger caused a minor policy change at a major newspaper, but rather that a fundamental shift is occurring in journalists’ interaction with their readers. Blogs have caused a shift in readers’ expectations. In this case they expect to see corrections duly and prominently noted. It is a transition some journalists are reluctant to make, but one they must to survive. Cox sees the event as a potentially “significant turning point in the balance between old media and new” (Glaser, “To Their Surprise”).

Rathergate and Mob Rule In the final fall phase of the 2004 presidential election, Dan Rather and CBS News learned that not all criticism is constructive. The power of the audience’s collective knowledge extends to fact-checking news content, but often with a political agenda. Nowhere has this power been more dramatically demonstrated than in the conservative blogosphere’s reaction to CBS’ September 8th 60 Minutes II report discrediting President Bush’s National Guard service. Dubbed “Rathergate,” conservative blogs and their audiences tore apart in hours the report that Mary Mapes, the show’s producer, had been preparing for years (Barnes, 2004; qtd. by Rosen, “Rather’s Satisfaction…” 2004). Immediately following the airing of the show, bloggers and their audiences began an online examination of the mimeographs used as evidence on the


program.13 For example, software publisher and conservative blogger Charles Johnson demonstrated the striking similarities between the CBS memos and a reproduction he made with Microsoft Word (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 28). As the online attacks gained credibility, the mainstream media joined bloggers in covering the scandal. Online discussion was supplemented with research by reporters at ABC News, the Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 29). The symbiotic relationship between blogs and mainstream journalism was on full display: Conservative bloggers provided the initial skepticism necessary to define the story, but traditional journalists followed with the research needed to prove it (Simon 2004; qtd. by Rosen, “Rather’s Satisfaction” 2004) and added credibility to what the general public may have otherwise dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Together, bloggers and journalists found significant faults with some of the documents CBS had built its case upon and created enough pressure that CBS was eventually forced to apologize and set up an independent panel to investigate. Dan Rather announced his early retirement as anchor of CBS Evening News. Disproving the CBS story was a clear victory for the conservative blogosphere. But even more importantly for conservative bloggers, the mainstream media almost unanimously dropped the focus on Bush’s National Guard service in favor of covering the CBS memo scandal. In doing so they concluded that the questionable nature of CBS’ documents de-legitimized the entire set of doubts related to Bush’s Guard service (Pein 2005; see also “Media Advisory” 2004).


See Appendix E for a timeline comparing liberal and conservative bloggers’ discussion of the scandal to that of traditional media and Bush and Kerry campaigns.


The mainstream media’s reaction warrants some concern regarding the mob-like power blogs can command. Corey Pein of the Columbia Journalism Review argued that this episode was “less like a victory for democracy than a case of mob rule” (qtd. by Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 29). Pein laments that “certain talking points became conventional wisdom” and that “the speculation framed the story for the working press” (Pein 2005). The uproar on blogs was verbally aggressive; the communities widely mocked one innocent contributor and sent calls for termination of employment to his employer (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 26). Michael Cornfield of the Pew Internet & American Life Project makes the argument that the conservative blog audience approached the cooperative coherence of a “smart mob,” one whose cooperative power is amplified by communication and computing technologies (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 22). Although the verbal abuse was representative of a traditional mob, the conservative bloggers also cooperated using advanced technological strategies, such as emailing Viacom stockholders, circulating an online petition, and setting up a website at to centralize protest efforts (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 22). They did not take to the streets as a traditional mob would have, but they did advance shared political goals through online cooperation (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 22).

Watchblogs Fact-checking audiences have become “another layer of oversight for the Fourth Estate” (Glaser, “Watchblogs”). A new breed of blog has emerged that scales this process down to the level of individual journalists. These ‘watchblogs,’ modeled on the


watchdog mentality, are a double-edged sword. Also known as the “adopt-a-journalist” campaign, watchblogs exist for the New York Times' Jodi Wilgoren, the Associated Press' Calvin Woodward, Reuters' Patricia Wilson and the Washington Post's Dan Balz (Glaser, “Watchblogs”). Such narrowly-focused attention can be beneficial for three reasons. First, it can reveal a columnist’s biases by considering all of their works, rather than individual pieces. They are also another way citizens can interact with the media they consume. Finally, and perhaps most promisingly, watchblogs can produce “two-way learning,” where the watchblogger gains a better understanding of journalistic ethics and the journalist concerned can improve their work to better reflect such principles (Glaser, “Watchblogs”). Watchblogs may also be a negative consequence of the micro-targeted niches the Internet makes possible. The benefits of two-way learning depend on watchbloggers who are willing to learn without letting personal ideology cloud their coverage. Media critic Jay Rosen contends that many watchbloggers have praised the work of the journalists they follow and gained a better understanding of their principles (Glaser, “Watchblogs”), but this is not always the case. The watchblog concept originated as a response to conservative criticism of liberal journalists. The related “adopt-a-journalist” effort was launched by a loosely knit group of Howard Dean supporters to ensure fair coverage of their candidate (Glaser, “Watchblogs”). The dangerous political implications of extremely focused pressure on the media for partisan ends are a downside to the increased interaction between the audience and the media that blogs facilitate. Resistance to increased partisan pressure will be discussed later in this chapter.


Breaking the Bubble Increased partisan pressure on the media is an alarming trend, but whether it is a result of partisan times or empowering technologies, blogs can also create positive pressure on the mainstream media. Their outsider status allows them to provide frank and honest feedback that breaks the newsroom bubble and draws media attention to areas that need it. There are many differences between blogs and the mainstream media, but in terms of what they discuss, “political blogs are a well integrated part of the national discourse [with] a distinct role to play on a topic of common interest.” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 18-19; Kurtz 2006 “The Big News”). Rosen praises blogs as “an antidote to group think within the journalism profession” written by “people interested in the same things as journalists who don’t think the same way” (Rosen, “"There is an Orthodoxy…"” 2004). As a result, bloggers bring different perspectives to the same issues, “a reminder that America is far more diverse and iconoclastic than its newsrooms” (Welch 2003).

Pre-print feedback The feedback blogs produce can be equally important when it is outrage over the lack of a story. The outsider perspective blogs offer is most important when the mainstream media lapses in its watchdog role. When this happens, blogs provide a “bracing slap to the face” (Welch 2003) and “make it clear that there is something pretty


strange or pretty unique or pretty interesting or pretty awful” (Washington Post political journalist Thomas B. Edsall, as quoted by Rosen, “"There is an Orthodoxy…"” 2004).

Trent Lott A key incident where political blogs alerted the mainstream media to an important oversight was the bipartisan disgust they exhibited following Missouri Senator and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s racist remarks at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. Thurmond, the original Dixiecrat, led the Southern walkout of the 1948 Democratic Convention after President Harry Truman introduced a civil rights plank to the party platform. He ran in the election as a “States’ Rights Democrat” and won the vote in four Southern states for his steadfast opposition to desegregation and civil rights. By the 1970’s Thurmond had switched to the Republican party, rehabilitated his public image and ceased making race an issue (Bloom 2003, 1). Fifty-four years after Thurmond’s famous walkout, Lott boasted to a public audience that the state of Missouri was still proud that they had voted for Thurmond in the 1948 election. He added, “And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we
wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.” The audience reacted to his

comments with an audible gasp of shock, but no news program that evening or newspaper the following morning mentioned the blunder, leading Political Science professor Joel Bloom to ask, “If one of the most powerful public officials in the most powerful nation in the world makes a racist comment in front of a room full of other public officials and political reporters and a nationwide audience of C-SPAN viewers and no one notices, is it news?” (Bloom 2003, 1).


Lott made his statement in a very public setting: “The audience at Thurmond’s party included senators, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and members of the media from all the major networks and national papers” (Bloom 2003, 1). And yet almost every present member of the mainstream media dropped the ball and judged the comments a non-story. The story failed to ignite in the media’s crucial first twenty-four hour news cycle, but bloggers and their readers acted as “a back-up alert system, another sphere where the story could circulate, register with people, and provoke a response ...Reactions and rumblings from across the blogs were thus a kind of proxy for public reaction that had not been able to emerge” (Rosen, “The Legend…” 2004). The one exception within the mainstream media was Ed O’Keefe at ABC News, who was in attendance and thought the remarks newsworthy enough to be included on the 4:30 a.m. edition of the next morning’s news. But network executives overrode the young reporter and prevented inclusion of the story on the far more popular Good Morning America or any subsequent ABC newscasts (Huffington 2002; qtd. by Bloom 2003). Journalists frequently discredit political blogs on the grounds that they lack the layers of oversight that editors and others provide in a news organization, but in this case the mainstream media critics’ fears of internal censorship bore out. This would have been the end of the story just a few years ago. But O’Keefe also got a minor reference to the event included in ABC’s online political column, The Note (frequently compared to political blogs itself), in a “paragraph [that] could not have been less prominently placed” (Bloom 2003, 2). But information online can be rapidly disseminated once it is noticed. The minute reference in The Note started a snowball for bloggers to push down the hill (Bloom 2003, 2).


By 11 a.m. on the day after the remarks were made, journalist and blogger Tim Noah noticed The Note’s reference and amplified it on his blog at Slate. He was soon followed by bloggers at Salon, Eschaton and Talking Points Memo (in chronological order) (Bloom 2003, 4). With no network executives to limit their outrage, the story spread rapidly around the political blogosphere, including condemnation from conservative bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds. During the next few days, bloggers kept the story alive and some mainstream media outlets, including CNN and NBC picked up the story (Bloom 2003, 6). At the Washington Post, political journalist Thomas Edsall had to convince his editors that the issue deserved a full story rather than a paragraph (Rosen, “The Legend…” 2004). Despite widespread attention in the blogosphere and increased attention from the mainstream media, the story continued to receive no coverage from Time, ABC, CBS, and Fox, among others (Bloom 2003, 6). It took five days and a public apology from Lott, an obvious news event, before a wave of newspaper editorials and all three networks’ evening news programs addressed the fallout (Bloom 2003, 7). Esther Scott wrote a case study of the episode for the Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, & Public Policy at Harvard, in which he demonstrates how “Pack journalism worked in reverse – other reporters and producers judged it non-newsworthy, so it was largely dropped” (Scott 2004, 9). This incident exemplifies the problem with the traditional media process where a limited number of gatekeepers control the news. The story failed to ignite in the media’s crucial first twenty-four hour news cycle, but bloggers and their readers acted as “a back-up alert system, another sphere where the story could circulate, register with people, and provoke a response ...Reactions and


rumblings from across the blogs were thus a kind of proxy for public reaction that had not been able to emerge” (Rosen, “The Legend…” 2004). A number of theories have been offered to explain the mainstream media’s oversight. These include the fact that Lott made his remarks on an already busy news day and could not be addressed in the first news cycle, that it occurred on a Friday and reporters were headed off for the weekend and that seasoned Washington reporters were desensitized to Lott making off-color comments (Bloom 2003; Scott 2004). But none of these weaknesses exist in the blogosphere. Bloggers lack the strict space and time limitations the mainstream media is structured on and can report any number of items no matter how busy the news day (as many bloggers did in this case). They are primarily outsiders and not as jaded to possibly frequent but still offensive remarks by politicians. Finally, bloggers, who are primarily hobbyists, are not as prone to the effect of an impending weekend. Thomas Lifson compares the news cycles of the mainstream media and the blogosphere:
[The mainstream media’s] hierarchies check and make decisions based on a daily work cycle. After a certain number of hours, they go home, and re-start the cycle the following day. The blogosphere is run by networks of like-minded people who anxiously check and correct each others’ work on an ongoing basis…The blogosphere never sleeps. It works 24/7. An individual blogger may log off, and when he ors he returns, find email and links criticizing what was previously posted. An immediate response, not defined by work hours or news cycles, is demanded. And usually happens. Or else the blogger loses audience to other entrants in the free-for-all marketplace of ideas.

(Lifson 2004 “The Blogosphere…”) Blogs played a vital role in forcing media attention to Lott’s remarks. But they were still dependent on someone in the mainstream media – in this case Ed O’Keefe at ABC – to be on the scene and report the comments. Again, blogs interacted symbiotically with the mainstream media. To keep the importance of this event in perspective, it should be noted that many despite the self-congratulatory reflections that


followed Lott’s resignation as Senate Majority Leader, blogs did not directly cause Lott’s downfall. Instead, they were an essential intervening variable in that they created the pressure necessary to attract mainstream media attention and, as a result, pressure from Lott’s own caucus and the White House (Drezner et al. 2004, 3).

Testing Ground The reluctance of many in the mainstream media to heed the advice of bloggers was evident in their refusal to cover the Lott story until it was absolutely unavoidable. The idea of consulting readers before the news is released may never have occurred to journalists before the Internet, but it has proven quite helpful. Reporters can use blogs as a “testing ground” (Fink) and float relevant story ideas and unfinished articles with interested communities to gain feedback and alternative perspectives. When Gillmor’s “wisdom of the crowd” can be consulted before a story is committed to print, it reduces the chance of errors or oversights. Rather than reducing readership, releasing an unfinished version to the communities most interested in its content can draw much more attention to the piece. First, because the blog’s readers had a role in its production, many will read the final version out of sheer vanity. But a more rewarding possibility is that a journalist’s efforts to consult a relevant community can easily begin an online conversation on the blog centered on the piece, drawing more attention to it than if it had simply been published by traditional means and gone unnoticed by the blog’s readers. This is in turn rewarding to reporters, whose stories get more online page views, an important metric increasingly used by editors to assess the performance of a journalist.


Specialized Knowledge An increasingly popular way to gather knowledge from blogs is to simply search Technorati and other blogging search engines. Reporters have found blogs helpful in finding knowledgeable sources on specialized subjects. By scanning blogrolls they can quickly determine the most referenced individuals on a given topic. Mainstream reporters are charged with the task of covering a wide variety of topics at a basic level, leading to the saying “miles wide but inches deep” (Lusvardi). As “general interest intermediaries” they “suffer a deficit of specialized, detailed knowledge”
(Drezner et al. 2004, 16). An article in the Fall 2003 edition of Harvard University’s Nieman Reports notes that “Many readers have begun to turn to gifted amateurs or impassioned

experts with a deep understanding of niche subjects, rather than to journalists who are generalists and cover topics a mile wide but an inch deep” (Lasica 2003, 73). Increasingly pressed for time in an era of cuts in research staffs and decreasing newsroom sizes, reporters can also search the blogosphere to find the knowledgeable sources they need. For example, many staffers at legal trade journals read the “How Appealing” blog for both breaking news and in-depth commentary (Drezner et al. 2004, 16).

Inspiration Bloggers also provide journalists inspiration for future stories and things to

investigate further. An editor at the American Bar Association’s journal also relied on the
“How Appealing” blog for story ideas (Drezner et al. 2004, 16). Rebecca MacKinnon,

former chief CNN Asia correspondent, monitors the conversations that take place on and between international blogs for interesting items to follow up on with traditional 54

reporting (Mullins). She compares consulting international blogs to having a dinner with a local contact; it helps bring her into the mindset of people living in the country, especially in areas that receive little to no attention from the US mainstream media (Mullins).

Interpretative Framing Bloggers have first-mover advantages over the mainstream media in formulating
opinions following major news events (Drezner et al. 2004, 16). Because they publish instantaneously and without editorial delays, they can post and discuss the event as it unfolds. This creates a “real-time virtual feedback loop that breaks down traditional barriers between journalists and the public” (Gallo 2004). Political blogger Mickey Kaus notes how the

cooperative audience can outpace any news team: “You can post something and provoke a quick response and counter-response, as well as research by readers. The collective brain works faster, firing with more synapses” (Kaus 2003; qtd. in Drezner 2004, 16). Joel Bloom notes the benefits and drawbacks of blogs’ speed advantage:
“The rapid-fire, spontaneous nature of blogs makes them at once fascinating, immensely valuable as an early source of breaking stories, and frustrating in that much of what appears in blogs ends up being clarified or corrected later…On the other hand, bloggers are generally very willing to update their sties with clarifications, corrections, or just new information. And unlike newspapers or television, blogs can place the corrections right alongside the erroneous material.”

(Bloom 2003, 23) Journalists benefit from monitoring the conversation because it provides them a context with which to frame their work. The reactions from across the blogosphere also provide journalists a preview of how a story might to be received by various subsections of the general public. But when journalists consult blogs before completing their coverage, they confer significant framing power to the blogosphere. In a paper titled


“The Power and Politics of Blogs,” Daniel Drezner analyzes a network of blog links and conduct a survey of media professionals to find that, “Under specific circumstances – when key weblogs focus on a new or neglected issue – blogs can socially construct an agenda or interpretive frame that acts as a focal point for mainstream media, shaping and constraining the larger political debate” (Drezner et al. 2004, 2). If the mainstream media’s task is to funnel the entire spectrum of possible interpretations of a news event into an (ideally) illustrative sample for mass audiences to consume, Drezner finds that blogs can occasionally influence what reactions the media funnels:
Scholars of political communication argue that the media can elevate issues and devise interpretive frames for them that shape the boundaries and content of political discourse and public opinion. For complex issue areas, there are a plethora of possible debates and cleavages that can take place…If the mainstream media constructs focal points through which political actors must operate, the blogosphere has the capacity to construct focal points through which the media operates.

(Drezner et al. 2004, 17-18) The media is more likely to accept the construction the blogosphere provides when there is agreement between liberal and conservative blogs, as occurred in the Lott episode, when bloggers on both sides of the political spectrum interpreted Lott’s comments as racist and revolting (Drezner et al. 2004, 18). Even when they fail to reach consensus, they can draw interest and “generate clear faultlines of debate on policy issues” (Drezner et al. 2004, 18).

Framing Concerns The skewed nature of the blogosphere means that most of the traffic – including journalists – goes to the top blogs. This effect is especially pronounced among the ‘elite media’ sources surveyed (Drezner et al. 2004, 18). As a result, the top bloggers “occupy


key positions in the mediascape” and by nature of their audience are granted power (albeit limited) to frame interpretations of news stories (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005). Michael Cornfield found strong correspondences of cross-links between blogs and the media as well as blogs and online discussion groups, supporting the idea “that blogs are positioned between the two other channels as a sort of guide for the media to the rest of the [I]nternet” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 18). This raises concern over the potential for the abuse of this power, but there are many limits. First, good journalists would never base coverage solely on the reactions of a few bloggers or even their audiences unless that was the goal of the piece. And when journalists consult blogs, especially well-known blogs, they are usually aware of the author’s partisanship. Drezner concludes that the ‘buzz’ blogs can collectively create is organic. While the top blogs can draw media attention and shape the framing of a story under the right conditions, they cannot single-handedly launch it into the national spotlight (Bloom et al. 2003, 23). Finally, the mainstream media already exerts interpretative framing power on a daily basis and members of the audience who are bothered by this fact can find alternative information sources online.


4. The Mainstream Media’s Reaction to Changing Times
“It hasn’t really occurred to most people that the heart and soul of journalism is being decided right now.”
-University of Georgia Journalism Professor Conrad Fink, qtd. in Farhi 2006

Blogs are also indirectly contributing to the evolution of mainstream journalism by providing the competitive pressure necessary to accelerate adaptation to a new media environment, as well as some of the tools they need to do so. Competition from blogs is just one element of a larger crisis in journalism, one which journalists are more willing to admit: Is the traditional media moving fast enough to transition to the new economies of media production? The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University condemns the current rate of transition: “Traditional news media are not yet willing to adapt to the principals of the environment in which they find themselves.” This is not the first time new technology has threatened the news industry, and likely will not be the last:
The news industry is a resilient bunch. Newspapers, in particular, represent some of the United States’ oldest and most respected companies. So far, they have weathered storms of significant social, economic, and technological change by figuring out how to transform themselves and what they produce.

(Bowman et al. 2005). The deeper fear is that the current power struggle may be the most disruptive any news industry has ever faced, because this shift is not to another technology controlled by similar aristocracies of power holders and content controllers, as occurred with the media revolutions brought about by the development of the telegram, newspaper, and television, but rather an opening of the floodgates that has already produced the most democratizing shift in publishing power in history. The fundamental economics of news gathering and distribution have changed dramatically in a relatively short time period. “[The Internet]


has also altered the economics of media in two important ways. First, it enables limitless distribution of content for little or no cost. Second, it has potentially put everyone on the planet into the media business” (Bowman et al. 2005). And perhaps most telling, advertising spending is increasingly allocated to the Internet. Internet ad spending rose 30% in 2005, to $12.5 billion (Porter 2006). Mike Burbach, an outgoing newspaper editor at the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal, argues that with the ground permanently shifting under their feet and fragmented media experiences becoming the norm, “If we want to keep at this, and if we believe in what we’re doing, we have to adapt. Some of what we do and love to do will help us compete, and some of it won’t. We have to learn the difference” (Farhi 2006). Jay Smith, president of Cox Newspapers, agrees that evolution can bring salvation:
We've just come through five very difficult years, and if we simply continue business as usual, it's going to be worse. But if we think about how to preserve and protect the daily paper and how we can reinvent it, if we build a huge online presence, if we can build other businesses around it, I think the future looks bright.

(Farhi 2006) What Must Change Many in the mainstream media have accepted that they must adapt to survive in a drastically altered communications environment. But the changes must be significant. Simply providing online message boards under the assumption that readers will flock to them (as many Internet Service Providers did in the mid-1990’s) or soliciting readers’ vacation photos (as the Boston Globe does in its new Sidekick section) is not a sincere embrace of the fundamental shifts taking place online. The companies likely to survive the current shift must understand they no longer hold monopolies on distribution and that a conservative approach will not suffice . Those companies that manage to combine this


newfound awareness while preserving the best qualities of traditional journalism will prosper (Bloom et al. 2003; Bowman et al. 2005).

Adopting Blogging’s Strengths Journalists that use blogs in their work have found it does not have to be painful. In fact, it can make them better reporters. Journalists can embrace blogs as a complement to their profession for all of the purposes already explained. And news companies can benefit from operating their own blogs, as will be explained below. But their futures depend on proactive measures, not solely an acceptance of the inevitable presence of blogs in an otherwise established process. The principles of journalism itself must evolve. The best strategy may be to retain traditional ideals but also adopt the most worthy and innovative values the blogosphere has to offer. Blogs have become popular with online politically active citizens in just a few short years because the best ones are timely, transparent, relevant, and humanized. Furthermore, the audience is given the ability participate in a significant manner. These values directly contradict the gatekeeper mentality and are counterintuitive to the thinking of most major corporations, but must be integrated to win audiences back. As the traditional media continues to move its operations to the Internet, it will behoove them to tailor their content for the online environment with these values in mind.



News companies that have not yet must shift from the one-day print cycle. Rather than one major content rollout early each morning, the media can post stories as they are completed. The morning news release means less each day as readers from every time zone around the world head online to find the latest news, as provided at constant refreshs by services like Google News or headlines on Yahoo. Sites like this are constantly updated, so a news company withholding all its content until the morning is surpassed by competition that fills in the time between. Short of blogging, media companies can also experiment with less polished versions of news stories that can be uploaded with faster turnaround, to be followed by a more in-depth piece as it is completed.

Transparency The Rathergate episode yields an ambivalent view of the blogosphere’s influence over the media but also lends insight into how the mainstream media must adapt to an audience of fact-checkers. CBS’ independent panel found that the CBS News team “compounded [their] failure with a “rigid and blind” defense” of the report (“CBS Ousts 4” 2005). Dan Rather consistently defended the news team’s journalistic integrity in preparing the report when in fact they had “failed to follow basic journalistic principles” (“CBS Ousts 4” 2005). Furthermore, he denigrated the doubts of those in the audience who were not professional journalists, saying, “I don’t see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill” (Kurtz 2004, “Rather Defends CBS”). Press critic, Journalism professor, and blogger Jay Rosen suggests a more honorable reaction for the future: “Let's look at our sources and methods” (Rosen, “Rather’s Satisfaction…” 2004).


Not all blogs are transparent, and this is a potential limit on the idealism of new media advocates and the future importance of blogs. But online news readers have grown accustomed to greater access to source material because the Internet allows links to vast amounts of information. One result of widespread amateur content creation is that the audience is more aware of how the content they consume is created. Bloggers and mainstream journalists may have similar conversations with sources, readers, and one another before publishing a piece. The key difference is that in the blogosphere, this conversation is often publicly available for the reader to view. Many bloggers frequently post reader emails or comments and their reaction to these comments in explanation of a decision. Blog readers enjoy being ahead of the curve and included in the process. CBS could have significantly reduced fallout if it had been more willing to take the audience’s doubts more seriously. Mainstream journalism must evolve to share more of the creation process with readers. If subscribers are paying journalists for the professionalism that goes into their work, they increasingly want to see where those resources are being used. Furthermore, the most interested members of the audience want access to the essential building blocks of the story, because the Internet allows them it. To retain these (often influential) readers, the mainstream media should emulate bloggers’ practice of constant crosslinking to original sources. Allowing readers the option of accessing outside sites does not drain away readers, as many in the mainstream media originally feared. The reporter and media company still have value to the reader for alerting them to and pre-packaging the stories and saving them time by summarizing. But the norm of the blogosphere, and increasingly all online news, is open-source.


The Department of Defense, partially to protect its employees from any mediacreated spin, has a policy of publishing any interviews in full and complete form (“News Transcript” 2006; qtd. in Gillmor “We the Media” 2004, 66). Blogs also typically provide full interview transcripts. Readers are no longer left to question what context someone was in when they gave their answer. This is just one way mainstream journalism can adapt to the open source ethos. Finally, transparency is the critical tool journalism needs to adopt if it is to withstand the pressure of partisans and bloggers. If CBS News were, in fact, relying on authentic documents, they could have withstood partisan pressure from blogs far more easily by engaging in the discussion. Buzz cannot and will not reach critical level in the blogosphere unless rational people can see validity in an argument. But the audience no longer trusts that what the media says is always true. In Poynter Ethics Journal, Kelly McBride argues that constant pressure from blogs will improve journalism by increasing transparency:
It’s a sure bet that bloggers will continue to challenge and undermine the work of journalists. In response, journalists will get better and tougher. Anticipating the constant scrutiny, reporters will tell readers and editors where they got their information, why they think it’s sound, what they did to check out their sources. Journalists can no longer assume the audience will trust the story. Instead, newsrooms will take extra steps to articulate their mission and educate their audience with every story, every day. This is what we did. This is how we did it. This is why you should trust us. We used to hide all this. We didn’t want the competition retracing our steps, tracking down our sources, doing a better story. The mystery of making the news is no longer worth preserving.

(McBride 2004) Human Voice


The success of the partisan14 Fox News channel in recent years while other cable news channels’ growth remained stagnant (“News Audiences Increasingly Politicized” 2004) is an indication that the audience has tired of removed, AP-style objectivity. The detached style still has an essential role in the factual reporting of events, but the mainstream media could attract bigger audiences if it would allow more of the individual reporter’s voice into stories. Blogs have quickly shown that if a bias is clearly stated, readers are capable of taking such information into account as they read. Objectivity remains the holy grail of journalism, but the reality is that most of the audience already considers the mainstream media to be biased one way or another. The Pew Center for the People & the Press’s surveys have shown that Republicans in particular have developed a strong distrust of the media, with conservative audience members attributing low credibility to “virtually all major media outlets over the past four years.” Even CNN’s “once dominant credibility ratings have slumped in recent years, mostly among Republicans and independents” (“News Audiences Increasingly Polarized” 2004). Journalists maintain the ideal of objectivity while writers with more passionate content win readers’ attention. The Pew Center for the People & the Press’s survey found that even as Americans are more interested in and spent more time on the news, the traditional news outlets have not seen expanded audiences. (“News Audiences Increasingly Polarized” 2004). George Packer argues that objectivity is sacred in journalism only because it has “anointed political journalists as a mandarin class of insiders with serious responsibilities” (Packer 2004). Will Bunch feels that the objective, detached writing style has been a major factor in the current newsroom crisis:


“Fox ranks as the most trusted news source among Republicans but is among the least trusted by Democrats” (“News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” a Pew Center for the People & the Press survey).


We have, for the most part, allowed our product to become humorless and dull. In an era when it seems most people truly will be famous for 15 minutes, newspapers have stubbornly avoided creating personalities…or having a personality, for that matter. In a pathologically obsessive quest for two false goddesses – named Objectivity and Balance – we have completely ceded the great American political debate to talk radio, cable TV and the Internet, where people have learned that politics is actually interesting and even fun when people are allowed to take sides.

(Bunch 2005) Blogs do not herald the end of objectivity, but they are a reminder that readers respond favorably to a human voice in their news, even if that voice has faults or biases, Of course, some of the appeal of the unique voice blogs provide is that the reader is often writing passionately about unique subjects.

Relevancy to Niche Audiences Cable television preceded the Internet in addressing the niche audience by stealing viewers from the mainstream networks. The Internet and specifically, blogs have taken the concept a step farther. The audience has responded with greater demand for customized information (Bowman et al. 2005). More people are using the Internet for news (Horrigan 2006, iv) and the major growth in traffic at news sites has been at sites like Google News and Yahoo, portals that allow readers to customize the news to their specific interests (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). Meantime, the major television networks’ ratings continue to decline while cable ratings are slightly up (Biagi, 2005). Blogs epitomize this trend of providing increasingly specific and customized content to consumers. Because blogs are free to start and maintain and do not require a minimum number of readers to stay in business, they can target incredibly narrow audiences, from obscure hobbies to hyper-local content. Newspapers and other media companies can also maintain relevancy while attracting large audiences, but it may require a redefinition of the intended audience. 65

First, the audience is increasingly online, and online news is the future of news distribution if young people are any indication. Only 23% of 18-29 year olds regularly learned something about the 2004 election from the nightly network news, down from 39% in 2000 (Kohut 2004, 3). A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found that online Americans under age 36 are “generally less news-hungry” than older online Americans and are “less likely to get news on the typical day from local TV,
national TV, or local newspapers than older users” (Horrigan 2006, iv). But they

are turning to the Internet for news more than other age groups. Almost half (46%) get news online on an average day, as compared to 40% of those in the 36-50 year old group and 43% of those in the over-50 age group (Horrigan 2006, iii). Newspapers still provide valuable local news coverage that many Internet-only sources cannot yet provide. But readers have thousands of choices for other news, so newspapers must shift from a mainstream general interest approach to better meet the audience’s niche topic desires. Websites that aggregate news content and filter it for users, such as Google News, Yahoo, and blogs, are growing at the fastest rates (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). But these sites typically link to individual articles from a vast array of news sources, with the result that a Google News link may drive people all over the world to a column in a small-town newspaper in Ohio. Search engines increase this effect. Users are able to quickly find who and what they are interested in, and so a blogger in California passionate about copyright law may closely follow the work of a reporter in Maine. The reporter in Maine is most likely still writing for his or her intended audience in Ogunquit, but may unknowingly develop a following across the country. The definition of audience is much different online than in print or broadcast editions. The traditional expectation of


an audience is the media company’s limited market, unless a writer or program is nationally syndicated. Today any interested party can find, link to, comment on, and otherwise interact with online articles. This is an opportunity for media companies. A Washington press corps reporter may be assigned to an obscure topic and as a result, be at the bottom of the totem pole on Capitol Hill and at his newspaper. But within an online community centered on the issue he covers, he may be considered a major authority in the area. This attention can be startling at first, but again, the columnist is more relevant to the person who found their writing online because they were interested in the subject than to a subscriber who may or may not read the column because it shows up on the doorstep in the morning. Newspapers and other media companies can extend their traditionally geographically limited reach by embracing this relationship. Reporters can be given the liberty to write for an expanded range of topics if they are attracting a wider audience than the immediate geographic subscriber base. An easy way to allow reporters to attract attention from the online communities interested in their particular beat without altering the work they produce for the immediate market or investing significant resources is to allow reporters to start their own blogs. Mainstream Media Blogs In some ways the mainstream media, by definition of what it is, will never be able to emulate the hyper-specialized content, timeliness, and passion blogs provide. In this case, imitation may be the finest form of flattery. The mainstream media can incorporate blogs by directly leasing successful bloggers to run their blogs or by allowing reporters to


blog. Several media companies have tried each of these approaches, with varying degrees of success. Regardless, it can be assumed that any direct threat to media companies’ revenues will be incorporated if possible, and media companies have found blogs easy to include in their current operations. Drezner lists opinion journals such as
The New Republic, Slate, Salon, New Criterion, The American Prospect, Reason, The Washington Monthly, and The National Review as examples of media companies that either sponsor bloggers or have created their own blogs (Drezner et al. 2004, 6). Other media companies that have moved to include blogs in one way or another include but are not limited to the San Jose Mercury News, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Guardian, Fox News, ABC News, MSNBC and ESPN (Drezner et al. 2004, 6).

Many newspapers and other media companies are offering their content online, most often for free with registration. But despite strong growth in traffic and avenue, newspaper websites earn only about $2 billion in advertising online, as compared to $48 billion from print advertising (Farhi 2006). As the companies learn what works and what does not online, they will need the financial support of their parent companies. One reason newspapers’ online advertising revenue has not caught up with traditional advertising revenue is intense competition from websites that offer classifieds and localized advertising, such as and Google Local. But another reason is that not all media companies have changed their content to maximize online advertising revenue. Content is king on the Internet, where online advertising rates frequently reflect the average amount of time users spend at the site as well as the number of people who view the site each day (including multiple visits as new content is posted). A simple text copy of that day’s newspaper pasted online once a day does not attract high online ad revenues, but a frequently updated site that users spend long amounts of time on can 68

bring in more revenue. These sites can increase the average amount of time spent at a site as well as the number of times a day the same number of readers view a site by including the interactive and community features blogs provide.

Reporter blogs Media companies already have a talented staff of reporters, researchers, and other personnel. And because of the limited size of column lengths or television programs, they must frequently leave out much of the research they have done on any given story. The knowledge they were paid to unearth is left to rot in their notes. This inefficiency can be transformed into an opportunity by allowing reporters to post unpublished content on their own blogs. For example, a biweekly New York Times columnist “carries his crusade against the sexual enslavement of third-world girls into extra depth online” (Edmonds). Allowing reporters their own blogs can also improve the transparency of a news organization. The reporters can update their most interested readers with how they went about investigating a story without wasting space in the print edition. The average readers still receive a well presented story and those who wish to see the raw materials can find it easily online. The Dallas Morning News took this approach at the editorial level by launching a 12-member editorial board blog to demystify the editorial process (Falcone). This also indirectly offers protection against charges of bias. Partisan bloggers looking for an easy takedown will not have the ammunition they usually do when they demand to know more on the background of the story.


Finally, if Rebecca MacKinnon is indicative of other specialists working for a mass media organization, allowing reporters to maintain blogs can give them an outlet to offer more expertise than their editors care to see in their mainstream reporting. MacKinnon is the former chief CNN Asia correspondent, but grew frustrated with having to simplify her stories for mass audiences. She started a blog to allow her to put to use the valuable knowledge she learned on the job, but was told to take it down. She quit because of this growing frustration:
I would say about 80% of what I knew about my region wasn't actually getting in my stories, and there was no other vehicle to do this. So I became very excited about the potential of using technology which has become very cheap, to have a conversation with an audience about more in-depth issues that maybe the same mass audience might not all be interested in, but there's a smaller sub-segment of that audience that are extremely interested in getting more detail, and having a conversation.

(Mullins) MacKinnon’s blog, North Korea Zone, was followed by interested diplomats, journalists, and even members of North Korea’s government. The blog gave her increased influence within that community (Mullins). This can be a benefit to the media organizations that employ the reporter because they now have not just a reporter but a widely acknowledged authority on a given subject. CNN also asked Kevin Sites, a correspondent in Iraq, to cease blogging (Falcone). MacKinnon’s frustration with CNN for refusing to allow her to reach out to niche audiences as well as mass audiences is an easily preventable situation, but also illustrates the importance of maintaining objectivity on reporters’ blogs. It is possible to provide a more human writing style without choosing sides. For example, when members of North Korea’s government took issue with claims a source on her blog made, she allowed them equal opportunity to defend themselves (Mullins). Carla K. Johnson, a reporter at the Spokesman-Review, agrees that she can apply journalistic principles to the fun format of a


blog: “It’s certainly a balancing act on my part to give the blog a personality, and on the other hand, maintain some objectivity so that I’m a credible new sources [sic] that people will come back to” (Falcone). The Washington Post is one media company that has taken significant steps to adapt to the presence of blogs. The company has hired a “crossover reporter to bridge the gap between its print newspaper and Internet site” (“Blogger in the Newsroom”). The reporter will file for and update the Post’s blog, The Fix, throughout the day, as well as host occasional online chats and file for the Post’s print edition (“Blogger in the Newsroom”). Reporter blogs brings up the question of whether their work will be edited before or after posting or at all. At stake is the newspaper’s credibility but also the spontaneous style central to blogs. At this point in time it depends on the individual newspaper’s policy. The Sacramento Bee drew criticism for its decision to have editors screen blog entries before they are posted online (Falcone). The decision was a reaction to complaints by news staffers who wanted similar editing policies for blog and print stories.

Omblogsman A spin on the partisan watchblog approach is a nonpartisan industry watchblog. Individual newspapers can create editorial blogs, as the Dallas Morning News did, as can journalism experts, such as the Columbia Journalism Review did with its Campaign Desk blog. The blog was created as another layer of oversight on the media to help correct distorted framing of campaigns and candidates before it becomes the accepted narrative


(Glaser, “Watchblogs”). Two editors and five full-time reporters will monitor the media for spin and limited narratives, such as those in the 2000 election where the media labeled Al Gore arrogant but smart and George W. Bush dumb but honest (Glaser, “Watchblogs”).

Economic Realities Certain differences between traditional mediums and the Internet will not disappear no matter how open-minded the mainstream media is to change. “The expense, time, and resources consumed in leveling forests to put ink on paper and transport heavy newspapers to readers’ hands” (Lifson 2006 “The Antique Media”) greatly exceeds the cost of maintaining even a highly-trafficked website. This is why the New York Times recently decided to stop printing stock tables on weekdays and bolster its online stocklookup resources. “This recognizes the fact that the vast majority of readers now go online to get financial information because we can serve them better that way,” said New York Times business editor Lawrence Ingrassia (“New York Times…” 2006). The Tribune Co. also stopped printing stock listings in its newspapers’ daily editions. Young people want and get their news and information online (Horrigan 2006, iv). Older generations still want the news in print form, but if current trends continue, the number of print edition readers will not be able to sustain newspapers in their current form. Newspaper companies can follow the Times’ in reducing wasted space in a limited-space medium by relocating things like stock tables, real estate classifieds, and other features online. The shift to providing information online has already taken place for other industries. Twenty-four percent of homebuyers report they first found out about


the house they purchased online, as compared to real estate advertising in the “7% or less” category (“Home Buyer & Seller Survey” 2006). Newspapers must follow suit in shifting resources online where the audience increasingly is (Horrigan 2006, iv).
As newspapers’ adapt their websites to the unique demands of online audiences, traffic on their sites continues to rise (Burns 2006). The spring 2006 Newspaper Audience Database report found that one in three Internet users visit newspaper websites at least once a month, or about 55 million visitors (Burns 2006). This readership is beginning to rival the base audience of 116 million who read print editions each week (Burns 2006). The aggressive rollout of new features is also contributing to expanded demographic reach (Burns 2006).

Content Assimilation Reporting is a labor-intensive enterprise (Farhi 2006). Daily journalism still requires raw manpower and there is a finite limit on how efficient the newsroom can become (Farhi 2006). But the Internet and all of the content creators on it can provide raw manpower as well as polished content. The solution to the high costs of researching and preparing content to compete with bloggers and others who do not charge is to include their content. Amateur-created media content that originated on the Internet has started to spread to the mass media. Blogger and software engineer Tom Coates writes, “The whole of the mainstream media has started to look towards an undercurrent of individual amateur creation because of the creativity that’s bubbling up from this previously unknown swathe of humanity”. VH1 has partnered with the IFILM online video website to produce a television show featuring the Internet’s most entertaining video clips. The


language describing the show illustrates how television studios, once the creators of all televised content, are now following the lead of individuals: “If they're good enough for you to send to your entire email address book they're good enough for VH1” (“VH1 Web Junk 20” 2006). VH1 has blunted the threat of sites like IFILM stealing viewers’ attention spans by incorporating its content and translating it back to VH1’s natural medium. Another example is CNN’s use of blogging to enrich its cable news channel’s coverage. Jacki Schechner, Internet Reporter at CNN, works to bring out some of the political blogs’ content to CNN’s television coverage in order to expand its breadth and involve new voices. She says CNN is not simply following a trend, but rather is sincerely working to translate the new voices the blogosphere has given rise to for the older television audience (Schechner 2006). Howard Kurtz, a columnist for the Washington Post and host at CNN, also frequently includes references to bloggers in his coverage of the media. Blogger Robert Cox argues that Kurtz is the “single most important person in the [mainstream media] for bloggers today, bridging the gap between traditional media consumers and blog readers…” (Cox, Robert).
News websites have found blogs useful to maintain readers when other content is restricted to paid subscribers. “As media publications have divided their online content between free and paid material in an effort to boost subscription revenues, they have simultaneously expanded their free content to maintain web traffic” (Drezner et al. 2004, 15). For example, The New Republic in 2003 limited access to print edition stories to subscribers, but introduced free scholar-blogs as well as four free internal blogs (Drezner et al. 2004, 15).


A major development in this area is the introduction of BlogBurst, a syndication service that delivers commentary from 600 bloggers to newspapers much like newswires deliver news content. At its launch it already had deals with Gannett Co., Washington Post Co., San Francisco Chronicle, and other papers. The service automatically updates newspapers with editor-selected content from accredited bloggers, who in turn receive a large audience for their writing and traffic driven to their blogs (Auchard, 2006). This service allows newspaper publishers to treat top bloggers as freelancers. A far wider range of human voices have been given microphones and the mainstream media can assist their audiences’ ascendance to producer status by giving up some control. One major media corporation at the cutting edge of the synthesis of traditional and new media is the BBC. Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC Global News Division, says “the BBC’s role is shifting from broadcaster and mediator to facilitator, enabler and teacher” (Bowman et al. 2005). The company provides free broadcast and new media training online (Bowman et al. 2005). Rather than feel threatened by the rise of amateur content, the company is enabling it.

Let Go Every one of these approaches, from allowing reporters to blog to enlightening the audience with how decisions are made, require news companies to loosen up their tight grip on the creation and distribution of news. Media critic Jeff Jarvis argues, “The Number one lesson of the internet, whether you’re Howard Dean or a media company or


a marketer, is that you have to give up control to gain control” (qtd. in Bowman et al. 2005). Marketers have learned this lesson quickly with viral marketing campaigns. General Motors ran an interactive website where visitors could create their own advertisements for Chevy SUVs. Environmental and other critics created videos attacking the company, but General Motors only took down the morally offensive videos and left others critical of the company online. The success of the campaign, measured by pageviews, ads created, ads emailed, average visit length, and earned media attention was dependent on the company giving up control to its customers (“Critics Hijack” 2006). The professional media has already lost its monopoly on information, and at this point its evolution demands flexibility. Whether it be reporter blogs, uncomfortable experiments with new formats, or bringing readers into the process on a more significant level, the mainstream media are beginning to, and must continue to, “evolve their business from an authoritarian ‘top-down’ approach” to integrate new developments (Bowman et al. 2005). It is, however, still a complicated world, and the audience has a finite amount of time they will dedicate to consuming the news each day. The mainstream media can continue to serve their needs and retains a number of advantages over blogs. What the Mainstream Media Still Has Despite recent declines, newspaper companies remain some of America’s most trusted institutions. They still have trusted name brands that provide authority status over blogs and other recent media upstarts. Part of this authority is the power to decide what importance to place on individual stories. The hierarchy of importance is judged by


placement (such as the front page) in newspapers and amount of time received on television and radio broadcasts. Blogs, with no space limitations, cannot confer this importance as well. Blogs also still depend on the mainstream media’s agenda-setting authority and specifically, the news they produce. Even new media advocate Dan Gillmor concedes that the noise-to-signal ratio in the new media forms remain alarmingly high (qtd. by Edmonds). The mainstream media can continue to serve as human moderators by deciding what new sources are credible and filtering worthwhile content for mainstream audiences. They remain the gatekeeper of information for mainstream audiences; newspapers still have 56 million readers (Farhi 2006) and 62% of online Americans still do not know what a blog is (Rainie 2005). Locally, newspapers have the most newsgathering power, community connections, and strong demand for powerful journalism, such as investigative reporting (Farhi 2006). The corporate influence many blame for journalism’s decline is also corporate power that can be used to adjust. The owners of media companies do not plan on seeing them fade into obscurity. Investments can be made in annexing related online businesses and improving existing offerings. Alex Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for the Press, expects the newspaper business juggernaut to move into online businesses as it enters self-preservation mode and the capital of the news industry is turned loose online (Jones 2006). News Corporation’s purchase of MySpace social networking service and Google’s purchase of Blogger are just two examples of major media corporations that have embraced user-produced content systems.


Owners of media companies do not plan on seeing them fade into obscurity, but some will not survive if cuts are made without reinvestment in other areas. Financial conservatism is a poor strategy when there are so many risk-takers in today’s new media economy. Those news companies not being run by shortsighted public shareholders are adapting better than the rest, with fewer layoffs (Farhi 2006).

A significant portion of blogs’ influence is directly linked to their interaction with the mainstream media. Bloggers cannot consciously control the ‘buzz’ they occasionally create (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 23). But this does not preclude their sometimes significant influence:
“Buzz can alter social behavior and perceptions. It can embolden or embarrass its subjects. It can affect sales, donations, and campaign coffers. It can move issues up, down, and across institutional agendas (across being issue re-conceptualization or reframing). When these changes occur, buzz can shift the balance of forces arrayed in a political struggle, and so affect its outcome.

(Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 3) A simplistic view of blogs as a distinct layer at the bottom of the power hierarchy between producers and consumers glosses over the tight integration of blogs and the mainstream media. The future of political blogs, as well as journalism, may be a combination of new and traditional values. Dan Kennedy, blogger and journalist, says, “The best and most influential blogs…succeed not because they are something radically new, but because the people who produce them know how to do good journalism” (Bloom et al. 2003, 24). The professionals and the amateurs can learn from each other (Glaser, “Watchblogs) and work with each other in a symbiotic relationship. The amateurs provide an outsider view and sheer numbers, and professional journalists have professional skills, resources and connections at their disposal.


Journalism is a business, but is also a social institution and “a public trust, an essential element in the democratic mosaic,” says Pew Charitable Trusts’ President and CEO Rebecca Rimel (Farhi 2006). As this business suffers a variety of problems for a variety of reasons, it is important to keep this in mind. Blogs can help the mainstream media transition to a new environment shared by more voices. For all of the gloom, “There is a palpable optimism driving experimentation” with blogs and other forms of citizen media (Bowman et al. 2005). It is “not the end of journalism or news media companies but a shift in where value is being created” (Bowman et al. 2005). Google and eBay are both examples of the value that can be created by simply building the infrastructure amateurs need to participate (Bowman et al. 2005). The mainstream media companies that can produce the best synthesis of traditional and new media will succeed online as they “discover the right mix of community, content, commerce and leverage the power of the many” (Bowman et al. 2005).


5. The Promises and Limits of the Blogosphere as a Distinct Media Entity
The political blogosphere clearly serves the mainstream media in a number of supplementary roles, but its influence is not always limited to its influence over or coverage in the mainstream media. This section of the chapter will examine the extent to which the blogosphere exists as a distinct media entity beyond the scope of the mainstream media by providing users direct access to information, citizen-created media, and navigation of a media-saturated world. It will also analyze the real and theoretical limits of the blogosphere’s influence. Some limits on the blogosphere’s autonomous influence which are often stated but not as dire as they seem are credibility concerns, small audience sizes, homogeneous demographics, and top-heavy traffic distribution (as manifested in an “A-list” of blogs and a large number of abandoned blogs). Other limits, which do not always receive as much attention but could limit the promise of the blogosphere, include dependence on the mainstream media for authority and content and the increasing commercialization of the medium. Bypassing the Mainstream Media Direct Link to Information Blogs may not be the successor to the corporate news media, but the blogosphere does have some autonomy from the mainstream media as gatekeepers to their own content and audiences. Bryan Murley compares blogging with the Protestant


Reformation to explain what is revolutionary about blogging.15 In the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther posited that average believers could communicate with God through Jesus Christ themselves, while Catholics maintained that Priests were necessary intermediaries to Jesus (Murley 2005, 3-4). For both Catholics and Protestants, Jesus was the necessary bridge through which they could reach God (see Appendix H) (Murley 2005, 4). In Murley’s model, information is substituted for God’s role because in a secular world, it is one of the most valuable commodities and power belongs to those who have ready access to it, just as power belonged to Catholic priests who held a monopoly on access to God (Murley 2005, 2). In the traditional mass media system, “media producers acted as the intermediary between information and information consumers” (Murley 2005, 4). In the new media paradigm, however, “the media producer is not an essential conduit” to access information (see Appendix I) (Murley 2005, 4). In both paradigms, technology serves the connective role of Jesus Christ (Murley 2005, 5). In the traditional system, the technologies were newspapers, radio and television, used to receive the information disseminated by media producers with access to information. But now inexpensive means of production and distribution allow individuals to access and disseminate information without the media as an intermediary. Blogs, as well as other technology, provide information to the audience without requiring they consult the mass media. Not everyone in the audience will use technology to circumvent the mass media, just as not every 16th Century European converted to Protestantism. But the enlightened will.

Murley is not the first to liken journalism with a religion. Jay Rosen does so and considers journalists to be its priests (Rosen). Hugh Hewitt, a conservative critic of the mainstream media, describes Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism as a “the highest temple of a religion in decline” (Hewitt).


Citizen Media “The venerable profession of journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where, for the first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology but by the audience it serves.”
(Bowman et al. 2005)

The citizen media movement is broader than the scope of this thesis,16 but blogs are a popular tool to achieve the larger ideals of citizen media: decentralized, democratic news that harnesses the wisdom of the crowd. As common citizens report the news and contribute content to their own trusted online communities, they circumvent the mass media and attain informational enlightenment through technology. Most discussions of citizen media have concluded that it serves best, like blogs, as a complement to the mainstream media. For example, citizen media was crucial in early coverage of the London Tube bombings on July 7, 2005 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Citizens submitted photographs and videos shot with cellphones and digital cameras to news organizations. As far as a straight news report, citizen media has shown limitations (Edmonds). But the citizen media movement, with all its limitations, is also a “tangible indication that authority is shifting from once trusted institutions to communities or indivudals who have discovered how to earn credibility and influence online” (Bowman et al. 2005). User-submitted pictures, though a technological improvement, fits into the same top-down hierarchy the mainstream media has traditionally operated in. The true promise


For an excellent book on citizen media, see Dan Gillmor, We the Media.


of citizen media is one where content is judged on its merit in a shared market of information. Blogs have brought millions of average citizens into a state of quasijournalism, turning bystanders into sources, reporters, and fact-checkers (Kline et al. 2005). The result is a media of the masses, an invert of the phrase mass media (Baker et al. 2005). The citizen media movement is inspired by a general loss of faith in the country’s established political institutions coupled with widespread public dissatisfaction with the mainstream media that was supposedly the public’s vigilant watchdog (Kline et al. 2005; qtd. by Stepp 2006). Blogs have been a key part of “a steadily rising voice – the ordinary citizenry re-engaging in the lost art of public conversation” (Kline et al. 2005; qtd. by Stepp 2006). Conversational Nature of the Blogosphere Blogs allow the writer’s individual voice to be heard, a refreshing development after years of the mainstream media “overpackaging” the news with heavy emphasis on presentation (Schechner 2006). The popularity of blogs in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in New York City and Bali may be explained by their more personal tone. Legal academic Ken Parish writes that the blogosphere’s response to the attacks on the World Trade Center was “raw, subjective and honest as people sought emotions, not detachment - finding solace and expression in the words of the thousands of blogs that sprang up.” This intimacy is the antithesis of the mainstream media’s objectivity. Australian political blogger Tim Dunlop, like many bloggers, rejects the ideal of “detached analysis” and embraces instead transparent involvement and commitment (Parish 2003). Blogs are


expected to have a viewpoint, and most wear theirs proudly. The best blogs seamlessly meld information and commentary. The author’s voice is certainly not the only one heard in the blogosphere. The blogosphere’s conversational nature is the critical difference between it and the mainstream media, and the source of many of its promises and limits. The multitude of posts, comments, links and other interactions between bloggers and readers in the blogosphere produces a raw conversational dialogue that is more spontaneous, interactive, and human than traditional ways of receiving information. The conversation builds on itself as more participants join in and offer their knowledge and perspectives. “The thoroughness and depth of coverage of an issue in the blogosphere usually emerge through a dialectical process over several posts, response, and reader comments, rather than in a single large, tightly written opinion piece” (as occurs in the mainstream media) (Parish 2003). Bloggers as Media Navigators Despite the benefits of raw dialogue, the vast number of interactions made possible by extremely low barriers to participation also makes it more difficult to locate the relevant signal in a sea of irrelevant noise. The huge number of links and crossreferences lead to information overload17. Readers still have limited attention and time to dedicate to finding the information and entertainment they are looking for, but they now face an increasingly infinite number of choices (Jones 2006). Those attempting to gleam information from the raw conversations in the blogosphere often feel they “desperately


The modern ailment of information overload has been addressed by many, but notable are Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Anxiety and Information Anxiety 2 as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which argues that one can overcome this dilemma by ‘thin-slicing’, or using only immediately relevant information.


need human moderation” to shape the raw data, or “pitch the miscellaneous and keep the gold” (Weinberger 2006; Nolan 2006). Rebecca Blood, a pioneer blogger, sees good blogs as “one antidote” for “the crippling effects of a media-saturated culture” because, despite the general lack of editors in the blogosphere, the best bloggers act as human filters for their audiences much in the same way the mainstream media is for its audiences. A good blogger “filters through the mass of information packaged daily for our consumption and picks out the interesting, the important, the overlooked, and the unexpected” (Blood 2000). Blood explains in her history of blogging how filter-style bloggers can act as traditional editors by highlighting certain segments of a source, providing additional facts pertinent to the issue at hand, and juxtaposing differing opinions. In this way bloggers “participate in the dissemination and interpretation of the news that is fed to us every day” and “begin to redefine media as a public, participatory endeavor” (Blood 2000).

Overstated Limits Credibility An overwhelming absence of editors in the blogosphere has not led to the frontier lawlessness that the mainstream media often depicts (Noonan 2005; Robertson 2006). Editors are not common in an environment of one-click publishing, but corrections are pointed out, often immediately, as “the editorial process of the blogs takes place between and among bloggers, in public, in real time, with fully annotated cross-links” (Drezner et al. 2004, 17). The BoingBoing blog is like many others in that multiple updates are attached to an original post as discussion continues in a separate comments section.


Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal explains how credibility is gained and lost in the blogosphere:
What governs members of the blogosphere is what governs to some degree members of the MSM, and that is the desire for status and respect. In the blogosphere you lose both if you put forward as fact information that is incorrect…if you are unprofessional or deliberately misleading. And once you've lost a sufficient amount of status and respect, none of the other bloggers link to you anymore or raise your name in their arguments. And you're over. The great correcting mechanism for people on the Web is people on the Web.

(Noonan 2005) Blood concurs: “Because the weblog editor can comment freely on what she finds, one week of reading will reveal to you her personal biases, making her a predictable source.” Online journalist Jonathan Dube, among other bloggers, supports a code of ethics similar to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:
Among its provisions are to never plagiarize; identify and link to sources whenever feasible; and never publish information they know is inaccurate—and if publishing questionable material, make it clear it is in doubt.

(Murley et al. 2005, 14) The lack of a structure for implementing standards in the blogosphere will prevent such a code from ever gaining universal adoption, but it is further evidence that reputable bloggers do take credibility seriously.

Blogger Demographics A potential limit on the blogosphere’s democratic accessibility is the homogeneity of the blogosphere. The most recent Pew Internet & American Life Project data finds that compared to the general population, bloggers are disproportionately white, male, young, well-educated, and financially well-off (Rainie 2005). But this may merely reflect the higher average affluence and educational attainment of those with broadband internet access (Fox 2005, ii), because it has been found that users with broadband


internet access at home log on more frequently, are much more likely to read news online, and in general complete a wider range of activities online (Horrigan 2006, iii). Daily blogging is simply not as convenient with a slow dial-up connection. Doug Bailey, political consultant and founder of Hotline notes that the digital divide has similarities to the voting divide: those who do not vote are also less likely to be online and are not being reached online or off (Bailey, 2006). If the current divide between bloggers and nonbloggers reflects civic involvement levels, the issue is broader than just Internet access. When considering the extent of influence of homogenous demographics, it is important to consider that most journalists fit a similar profile (Biagi 2005, 255). Conservative blogger and talk radio host Howard Hewitt, on a visit to Columbia Journalism School, sat in on a class of predominantly female, socially liberal students (Hewitt 2006). Journalists defend similarities in demographics and ideologies with the ideal of professional objectivity. Bloggers reverse this concept by trading in their objectivity for transparency and clearly stated biases, with the assumption that anyone who feels strongly enough can start a blog to represent their viewpoint. There is reason to believe that the blogosphere is becoming more representative of American society. The percentage of Internet users who have created a blog has risen from just 2% in 2003 (Lenhart et al. 2004 “Content Creation Online”, 3) to 7% by November, 2004 (Rainie 2005). The 19% of online teenagers who create blogs (Lenhart et al. 2005 “Teen Content Creation…”, 3) suggests that the demographic divide between bloggers and nonbloggers will continue to decrease. The online news audience has also grown to include a far wider slice of society as more Americans get broadband Internet


access (Horrigan 2006, ii). Political science professors Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell cite two surveys that find that the demographics of bloggers do not significantly differ from general Internet users (Carl 2003; “Bloggers and Their Blogs”) and are actually more representative of the general population in terms of gender balance and income distribution (Henning, “The Blogging Iceberg”) (Drezner et al. 2004, 7). The American Journalism Review provides a real-world example of the diversity of bloggers in an article on the more than fifty local political blogs that discussed Virginia’s 2004 gubernational campaign. At a summit that was convened at the University of Virginia, the state’s top political bloggers were predominantly white and male (Fisher 2006). But they were also representative of a wide range of political society: “an elected county prosecutor, a former candidate for the legislature, several newspaper reporters, a lobbyist, a paid operative from Dean's former campaign and a 14-year-old boy, who everyone agreed was among the best of the bunch” (Fisher 2006). Blogosphere Distribution The A-list A network analysis of the status of the most popular and influential political blogs finds that the blogosphere is far less egalitarian than its praise suggests. Few subjects are as divisive in the blogosphere as the notion of an ‘A-list’ of blogs that receives a disproportionate amount of blog readers, inbound links, media coverage, and even Congressional attention.18 The very notion undermines the view of the blogosphere as a democratic soapbox and anecdote to the problems of the established mainstream media. “The A-list bloggers occupy key positions in the mediascape” because “journalists,

See FEC section.


activists, and political decision-makers have learned to consult [them] as a guide to what is going on in the rest of the internet” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 5). Meanwhile less popular blogs hit a ceiling in traffic growth (Thompson 2006). The division is the result of the interlinked nature of the blogosphere. Analysis of interlinked networks of blogs has shown that the blogosphere operates on a skewed lognormal distribution (see Appendix J), where a small number of the network’s nodes (or blogs) enjoy a majority of the ties (or links) from other blogs and websites, while the rest receive far fewer links (Drezner et al. 2004, 9). This skewed distribution can also be found in many social systems, such as markets, where the rich have a majority of the resources, and in film casting, where a relatively small group of actors is constantly filming while others perpetually await their “big break” (Thompson 2006). The blogosphere’s distribution of links and nodes has grown in such a way that existing blogs are likely to be linked to by new blogs entering the network (Drezner et al. 2004, 9). Matthew Hindman, et al. found that this pattern exists in the distribution of political websites, although they did not limit their study to blogs (Hindman et al. 2003). The practical result of the blogosphere’s skewed distribution is that the top political blogs receive almost all of the incoming links. Clay Shirky examined the links between 433 blogs and found that “the top dozen bloggers (less than 3% of the total examined) accounted for approximately 20% of the incoming links” (Shirky 2003; qtd. by Drezner et al. 2004, 10). Eventually the pattern reinforces itself in a phenomenon called homeostasis, as “popularity breeds popularity” (Thompson 2006). As a result the first


blogs have a crucial advantage over newer blogs, as can be seen in Technorati’s list of the top 100 blogs (Thompson 2006).19 Journalist Clive Thompson attributes some of the bitterness less popular bloggers have against the A-listers to their submissive relationship: “They envy them, but they need them, too, because one of the quickest ways for an unknown blog to acquire traffic is to feed scoops to an A-lister, in the hopes that the editors there will use the tip and include a thank-you link pointing back to the tipster.” A link from a popular site causes a flood of traffic that can quickly elevate the status of their blog. To earn this link, lowerstatus bloggers alert the top blogs to exciting content (Drezner et al. 2004, 13). Drezner argues that the blogosphere’s skew towards a few focal points is actually a mutually beneficial relationship that allows the cream to rise to the top and thus reduce costs for outsiders to gleam the most significant information (Drezner et al. 2004, 13). Bloggers may also flatter more popular bloggers to gain a permanent link on their blogroll (Thompson 2006). A-listers are notoriously “cliqueish” with who they award permanent links to (Cox, Ana Marie), but recent research on how blogs become popular indicates that A-list blogrolls are not as important as they may seem. The study found that blogs become popular by two main measures: citations in individual posts and affiliation, or links on a blogroll (Marlow 2004). Of these two measures, citations were found to accrue traffic more quickly and be more indicative of actual influence while blogrolls measured popularity (Marlow 2004). The A-list blogs have a number of incumbent advantages, but it is not a given that they will stay popular. Turnover is much higher at the top of the blogosphere than in

The makeup of Technorati’s top 100 list is shifting, however, with increased representation from international blogs. See Scott Karp, “Technorati Top 100 Is Changing Radically” at


traditional mediums like television. David Sifry, the CEO of Technorati, says that the Alist shifts quickly. “Cultural winds can drive blogs in and out of favor” so even established blogs must work to stay relevant (Thompson 2006). Thompson compares a blog to a shark: “if it stops moving, it dies.” Peter Rojas, the editor of the successful tech blog, Engadget, says that staying at the top is much harder than starting a blog or making it grow, demanding 80-hour weeks (Thompson 2006). As a result, it is not uncommon for popular bloggers to burnout and “retire” from their blogs, as Ana Marie Cox did with her Wonkette blog, passing the reins on to a new editor and using her quasi-celebrity status to move on to other things. Most blogs still do not make their authors much or any income and the intensive time commitment needed has led even very successful bloggers to quit (Terdiman 2004). It is also not impossible for lesser known blogs to reach A-list status. A network analysis found that “each node in a network has at least some chance of receiving a new tie,” so “while ‘rich’ sites are still likely to get ‘richer,’ …‘poor’ sites too stand some chance of getting rich, if they are lucky” (Pennock et al. 2002; qtd. by Drezner et al. 2004, 10). The effect occurs in subject-specific segments of the Worldwide Web, such as the niche areas many blogs address (Pennock et al. 2002). Compared to the barriers to starting a successful newspaper or television channel, the blogosphere is still relatively a very democratic (if crowded) medium. Although it may be too soon to tell, thus far dominant blogs have exhibited far shorter lifespans than those of dominant media outlets in other mediums.

Dead Blogs


Despite intense competition for the top spots, the remainder of the blogosphere consists primarily of vast numbers of abandoned blogs, teenage diaries, and other politically irrelevant blogs (Lampa 2004). A survey conducted by the Perseus Development Company in 2003 highlights that “two thirds of public weblogs created via centralized hosting services have not been updated in two months and are considered “abandoned”” (Lampa 2004). Because these blogs make up the majority of the blogosphere, they are frequently mentioned as evidence of a limit to the influence of blogs (Lampa 2004), but they are more or less irrelevant to the influence of popular political blogs. Low barriers to entry in virtual communities produce low barriers to exit and higher dropout rates (Putnam 2000). Starting a blog is typically free, so the number of failed blogs cannot be meaningfully compared to the much smaller number of media companies that fail each year. Blogger Amy Gahran argues that the majority of blogs can be poor quality or abandoned or unimportant without signifying that all are: “Well, that’s like saying most of the universe is hydrogen and dust. Yeah, BUT: There are galaxies and black holes and planets and nebulae, too. Which would you rather focus on?” Columbia Journalism Review’s Matt Welch acknowledges that most news-related blogs are poor quality, but says, “the action at the top 10 percent is among the most exciting new trends [journalism] has seen in a while.” Audience Size Relevancy The ratio of the number of blogs to the number of blog readers and the skewed nature of traffic in the blogosphere means that most blogs have relatively small


audiences. “This is usually said to imply that blogs are inherently inconsequential, at least in contrast with the mainstream media” (Gahran 2005). But small audience size has not been a major limit on the influence of blogs. Such claims fail to recognize that in a user-customized media environment, relevancy with niche audiences is increasingly as important as the size of less interested mass audiences (Gahran 2005). Blogs typically serve niche audiences, so the audience is generally small, but readers find the blog extremely relevant to their life, work, passions and interests. A reader who identifies with a blogger’s voice and purpose is far more dedicated than a subscriber in a one-newspaper town: “Only a percentage of newspaper readers will read a particular story or even a particular section, while far higher percentages of visitors to blogs are reading or at least skimming the content there” (Bloom et al. 2003, 18). In Murley’s comparison of blogging with Protestantism, he writes that “the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is not a powerful Christian doctrine because of its scope, but because it is relevant to each believer” (Murley 2005, 13). This raises fears that audience members will insulate themselves with likeminded news sources, but as is explained in the partisanship section of Chapter 6, research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project directly refutes these fears (Horrigan et al. 2004). Dissemination The rapid diffusion of information online means that even a blog with a small audience blog can have great influence. First, if it has something compelling posted, it can be linked to by a popular blog and immediately receive hundreds of thousands of visits, especially if the less popular blogger takes it upon herself to notify the A-list blogger.


John Hiler writes that, “unbeknownst to most, weblogs have a significant impact on Google search results” because Google’s search algorithms favor the high rate of linking and fresh content, both of which blogs are optimized to provide (Hiler “Google…” 2002). This suggests the possibility that of the 91 million searches conducted on Google each day, a significant number of users read content from blogs without realizing it (Sullivan 2006). The A-List’s Audience In considering the most popular political blogs, “one need not even make arguments about diffusion to argue for their influence. A lot of people read these sites” (Bloom et al. 2003, 18). The A-list blogs have large audiences in their own right as their direct influence continuously increases (Rainie 2005). The top conservative blog, InstaPundit, has been eclipsed by the top liberal blog, DailyKos, but both have audiences rivaling the biggest newspapers in the country (Bowers et al. 2005). DailyKos, for example, receives close to 500,000 unique visits a day (“Daily Kos Site” 2006). Michael Cornfield compared the 32 million blog readers (as of early 2005, Rainie 2005) with traditional media’s audiences and found it to be “20% of the newspaper audience and 40% of the talk radio audience” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 3). The top blogs are also read by very influential people, so their influence is not accurately measured by number of hits. “While only 4% of web users knowingly read blogs in 2003, far higher percentages of political reporters, politicians and policymakers did” (Bloom et al., 14). In the 2004 Virginia election, the campaign blogs did not attract very large audiences but were “important to an elite crowd [of] consultants, lobbyists, flacks” (Fisher 2006).


Understated Limits Dependence on the Mainstream Media’s Authority For all of anti-media rhetoric in the blogosphere, political blogs still depend on the mainstream media to do research, create content, and determine the priority of stories. The “capacity of blog operators to make buzz and influence decision” is circumstantial and “contingent on the behavior of other public voices”, most notably the media (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 2). Liberal blogger Duncan Black agrees that all but the most popular blogs “need to be amplified by media with bigger megaphones” (Scott 2004). Most bloggers rely on the mainstream media’s credibility-granting status because they have “relatively small direct influence through their own readers, a larger influence when larger media sources link to their blogs, and perhaps an even larger influence still when their blogging actually gets them (or their story) in the mainstream media outlets, especially national television” (Bloom et al., 14). In the end, outrage in the blogosphere means little unless the story eventually reaches critical mass and makes the transition to the mainstream media. Dependence on the Mainstream Media’s Content In an era of newsroom cutbacks, only 5% of the content on blogs involves original research (Kurtz 2006, “The Big News…”). Washington Post reporter Mike Shear refers to blogs as “leeches” (Fisher 2006, 45). Many journalists view bloggers as “repeating, not reporting” (Farhi 2006). In a survey of where bloggers get their news, half reported that they got most of it directly from newspaper companies, while 19% reported they got the majority of their content from other bloggers (who were, in turn,


likely to have gotten it from a newspaper or other mainstream news outlet) (Murley et al. 2005).

Commercialization of the Blogosphere Blogging has evolved rapidly from a tiny subculture to a semi-commercialized media industry. The original concept of a blogger, a lone individual with a unique voice that happens to touch a cultural nerve and become successful, is increasingly giving way to planned, commercialized group blogs (Thompson 2006). Individual blogs are still popular, but for those seeking to make money off of their blog, the field has become much more sophisticated than just a few years ago. Many of the original A-list blogs have matured into a hybrid of blog and mainstream media source. They have audiences that rival newspapers (Drezner et al. 2004; Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 3) and some have taken action to protect their credibility as the blog matures by using editors and fact-checkers (Gahran 2005). The authority conferred onto the early political blogs by the mainstream media has evolved into actual authority because of the trust their audiences place in them and their status as established blogs. In New York Magazine, Clive Thompson details the frustration of those trying to run popular blogs as “the blogosphere is slowly developing solid business models.” Advertisers have begun using blogs because they are typically cheaper than advertising in the mainstream media and can offer marketers extremely focused niches (Copeland 2006).


Unique or edgy advertisements can also spark conversation on the blogs they are displayed on, increasing the value of its placement (Copeland 2006). Henry Copeland founded BlogAds to mediate the process for advertisers and bloggers. Advertisers get the attention of specific target audiences and bloggers receive advertising revenues without courting individual clients. DailyKos, the most popular blog, currently charges $3,900 a week for the space at the top of the page (“Blogads for opinion makers,” 2006). The commercialization of blogging extends to the creation process. Publishers are now crafting blogs the way Condé Nast creates magazines: by targeting audiences that advertisers will pay high rates to reach (Thompson 2006). Blogs are also protecting their reputation as high-class outlets; blogs like celebrity-obsessed Gawker brag of turning away distasteful offers from lower-market companies such as Ford and Chevy (Thompson 2006). When blogs like Ariana Huffington’s Huffington Post have investor financing, a full-time staff and office, media connections, and celebrities like Seinfeld-creator Larry David writing posts, it represents “a sort of death knell for the traditional blogger” (Thompson 2006). Today’s most popular blogs are often the result of a corporation’s careful planning and promotion (Thompson 2006).

Conclusion The amateur spirit of the blogosphere has been joined by commercial efforts, but not eliminated. Despite all of the limits detailed throughout this chapter, “citizen media has grown from a promise to a legitimate presence in today’s media sphere” (Bowman et


al. 2005). Blogs are certainly not a suitable replacement for the mainstream media but they do provide unique value that it does not yet offer. There is much more to the blogging phenomenon than a supplement to the mainstream media. The complete effect of blogs a force in political communication has not yet been completely realized. Although blogs rely on the mainstream media for content and authority, they will continue to gain more of their own authority as it shifts from “once trusted institutions to communities or individuals who have earned credibility though hard-won public discourse” (Bowman et al. 2005).


7. Blogs & Politics
Howard Dean’s unlikely rise in the 2004 Democratic primaries has been widely attributed to his campaign’s groundbreaking use of Internet tools. The social networking website Meetup, an official campaign blog, and a network of supportive blogs helped move Dean to the front of a crowded slate of candidates and shatter Democratic fundraising records (Edsall “Dean Fundraising Sets” 2006). Then, in January, Dean placed second in the Iowa primaries, and in an unscripted speech to rally his supporters, screamed with enthusiasm. The gaffe tapped into a preexisting sentiment among many in the political press that Dean was an irrational hothead (Meyer 2004). But the video and audio of the event also spread virally online, gaining cult status as amateurs remixed the audio clip with popular music (Morrison 2004). The Internet, specifically blogs, contributed to Dean’s rise and downfall, a reminder that the blogosphere is a communications medium, not one candidates’ tool. The Internet has brought about significant changes to American politics, especially campaigns, and political blogs have been a driving force behind many of these changes. The influence blogs can have in conjunction with the mainstream media and in their own right has serious implications for political communications. Political blogs have been influential in campaigns at the state and federal level, changing basic elements of campaigns, including fundraising, advertising, mobilization and political attacks


(Nagourney). This influence is increasingly limited, however, by savvy political actors who have recognized the presence of political blogs with attempts to co-opt them for their own ends. The lingering possibility of future Federal Election Commission regulations also acts a potential check on the political power of blogs. Political Ramifications of Media Influence “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” - James Madison (qtd. by Trippi 2004, 234) Since the earliest American newspapers, politicians have battled the press to control how they are portrayed to mass audiences. Reporters have been subpoenaed and jailed for refusing to disclose information (Schmidt et al. 2004). President Franklin Roosevelt established the ‘fireside chat’ radio address to circumvent the media and address the American people directly, as Richard Nixon did with television in his sentimental “Checkers speech” in 1952. Today media consultants who work to ‘spin’ coverage in their candidates’ favor are fixed members of campaign staffs. Most recently, the Bush Administration has pioneered a strategy of ‘strategic non-communication’ in which the role of the press is downplayed (Rosen, “The Jerk at the Podium…” 2006; Auletta, 2004). The presence of blogs and their integration with elements of the mainstream media has greatly complicated this task for politicians. Even when the press is duped by a crafty politician, skeptical bloggers and their audiences on both sides of the aisle quickly cry foul if they can find any inkling of wrongdoing (and sometimes even if they do not). As Chapter 3 showed, this pressure can be distressful for the media, but even more so for political actors who wish to control their image. The occasional ability of


blogs to attract mainstream media coverage to an issue and shape its coverage, by extension, impacts the national political agenda (Bloom et al., 20) The press is traditionally viewed as a check on political actors, but it can occasionally be controlled by shrewd political maneuvering. And despite the ideal of an informed citizenry, “most real-life citizens of modern western democracies show little or no inclination towards increased civic or political participation” (Parish 2003). A compromised press and generally apathetic citizenry is an ideal environment for political actors to escape attention, but political bloggers are acting as an additional layer of “monitorial cyber-citizens” (Parish 2003). Australian think-tank blogger Robert Parish posits that political bloggers are “best seen as self-selected monitorial citizens, keeping the bastards honest on behalf of the silent, politically disinterested majority.” This concept is seen as “a more realistic alternative to fostering a universally informed citizenry” (Schudson 1999; cited by Parish 2003). In this environment, political bloggers can provide transparency and alarm the press and by extension, the public, when a situation demands society’s attention. While not ideal, it is an improvement over the traditional disconnect between the public and political world that the media has had mixed success filling with popular but shallow infotainment (Parish 2003). Such a relationship still depends on the press to fulfill critical tasks of deep research, insider access, and appeal to the mass audiences of the general public. Blogs are also a new audience that politicians should consider in addition to the traditional audiences of the public and the media. Whether a politician caters to bloggers, as Howard Dean did, or is unaware of their existence -- as Trent Lott was -- they can


have a major impact on a politician’s career. The fallout over Lott’s comments demonstrated that blogs can hold politicians accountable, just as the fallout over the CBS memos story demonstrated how blogs can hold the mainstream media accountable. Political bloggers have created their own media authority, especially in covering campaigns that receive little attention from the mainstream media. When the Republican Party was faced with electing a new House majority leader, a couple of bloggers organized to get access to the top prospects before the decision was made. Two of the three candidates fielded spontaneous questions and weathered significant criticism, but emerged with more support from the bloggers than the third, Roy Blunt, who attempted to control the process and limit attacks. The candid nature of the first two candidates significantly improved their reputation among the top bloggers involved (Krempasky 2006, “Blogs…”). This incident demonstrated the increasing power of top political blogs as well as the values these authors deem important. Political blogs serve as ideal outsider safeguards on the political system. Bloggers of all political stripes can and will dissect every suspicious event and they have unlimited outlets to disseminate information. Even unpopular blogs or individual audience members can attract attention to a compelling development. Bloggers, as Online Influentials, are influential in campaigns, telling neighbors who to vote for, participating, and amplifying their thoughts across influential communities online (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 7). Finally, many of the top bloggers are in fact, insiders as political journalists and lawyers, and they contribute context and professional training to the conversations. Democratic Ideals of Deliberation and Participation


The Internet has long been considered a medium that would promote democratic engagement (Grossman 1995), but such an ideal “was unlikely to come to fruition as long as the Internet was predominantly [seen as] a forum, as it was initially, for conventional news outlets to offer their wares online” (Kerbel et al. 2005, 2). Political blogs and other citizen media are considered by many to be a rebirth of the public democratic deliberation that once existed in small town hall meetings (Drezner et al. 2004, 23). And to an extent, they are. Major political issues, as determined by the media’s agenda as well as bloggers’ own feelings, are discussed every hour of the day. Debates draw opinions and presentations of relevant evidence over important and minor issues. Even seasoned political aficionados come across new issues and new viewpoints on existing issues (Horrigan et al. 2004, 2). Marc Fisher describes the interplay of different groups interacting together on blogs as “an amorphous mix of opinion and fact, grass roots and establishment that is already changing the dynamics of politics in the Internet era” (Fisher 2006). Howard Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi, writes in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised that the Internet could be an antidote to the dumbing down of the electorate as represented by televised campaign ads, because communication on the Internet is primarily based on reading and writing, not attention-grabbing graphics (Trippi 2004, 226). The leveled playing field of the Internet, Trippi writes, empowers the public at the expense of elites (Trippi 2004, 3). Trippi is not the only seasoned political consultant who laments the effect television has had on American’s political system; Doug Bailey, founder of Hotline and longtime political consultant, sees the Internet as a second chance to win elections without running over democracy (Bailey, 2006).


Dean’s campaign, though ultimately unsuccessful, accomplished the task of reinvigorating rather than diluting democracy. Political science professors Matthew Kerbel and Joel Bloom found that Dean’s campaign blog, Blog for America, was “an example of how the Internet is emerging as a vehicle for enhanced civic involvement with the potential to counteract the negative effects of television on the political process.” Rather than treat voters as passive viewers, as television inherently does, the postings on Dean’s blog “worked to energize readers for participation in the political process by assuring them that their work is meaningful and valuable and that they are not alone in their efforts” (Kerbel et al. 2005, 2). The glorification of the Internet’s enhancement of citizens’ political roles is slightly marred by a digital divide. Such concerns remain valid, although the number of Americans without Internet access has decreased to about one in five Americans, and almost one half of this group does not want Internet access for various reasons (Fox 2005). The new divide is between dialup and broadband access, a major factor in what activities individuals conduct online (Fox 2005; Horrigan 2006). One variable unique to blogging is time; maintaining a popular blog requires intensive time commitments that cannot be met by individuals working multiple jobs. One must also be politically passionate to devote so much time to blogging, which may depend on other socioeconomic factors. Parish notes that most of the bloggers and their readers are “predominantly highly educated and very politically aware”. Political involvement is often linked to education levels (Inglehart 1990, 345) and other socioeconomic factors that are beyond the scope of blogging.


For those who have access to a computer, the Internet, and the time and inclination to do so, the blogosphere approaches a meritocracy. Parish is impressed by the “relative lack of intellectual pretension” of the political blogosphere, which “tends not to confer exaggerated respect on either academic credentials or journalistic celebrity”. In the blogosphere, one builds their credibility with each comment or post they make, and a seasoned blogger can have more authority with her audience than an unfamiliar academic. David Glenn, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is also impressed with the democracy of participation in the blogosphere:
To a remarkable degree, blogs also appear to bring full professors, adjuncts, and students onto a level field. With no evident condescension, senior faculty bloggers routinely link to the political-affairs blog maintained by Matthew Yglesias, a senior at Harvard University. “Nobody knew my name when we started this,” says Josh Chafetz...In many ways it really is almost a pure marketplace of ideas.”

(Glenn 2003) An even more amazing example of the democratic nature of blogs is the 2004 Virginia elections, where one of the most popular and acclaimed bloggers was actually a 14-year old boy. Kenten Ngo emerged as a political force to be reckoned with:
He's been quoted in major newspapers. Campaigns use his maps and charts. Other bloggers cite his analyses. Ngo has won this credibility despite his lack of political or journalistic experience. Ngo is a ninth-grader at West Springfield High School in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

(Fisher 2006) Ngo’s campaign blog exemplifies the major changes the Internet has brought to campaigning. In past elections, a teenager would have carried little weight in a campaign. In this 2004 election, he was considered an authority by other bloggers, major newspapers, and the campaigns themselves (Fisher 2006). Campaigns Online As the Internet has become an integral part of campaigning, blogs in particular have provided campaigns more efficient methods of fundraising, supporter recruitment 105

and mobilization and information dissemination. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was a pioneer of online campaigning because his website allowed his campaign to market their candidate more directly to voters and, as an independent, the website fulfilled some of the roles normally carried out by party infrastructure (Eggers 2005). It was used to raise money, issue press releases and policy reports, recruit and motivate volunteers, and gain credibility with the media (Eggers 2005). Arizona Senator John McCain followed Ventura’s lead in the 2000 Republican primaries. He surprised the political media by raising over one million dollars in two days in online contributions immediately after winning the New Hampshire primary (Phalen 2000). Michael Cornfield at George Washington University said at the time, “The net converts buzz - a.k.a. momentum - into money, volunteers, and more buzz with the speed, power, and drama of lightning” (Phalen 2000). The conversion of buzz, excitement and energy into campaign funding played a crucial role in Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s unlikely front-runner campaign in the 2004 Democratic primaries. In terms of cash raised online, “Jessie Ventura was the hop, John McCain was the skip, and Howard Dean was the quantum leap” said Cornfield (Eggers 2005, 161). Dean’s online contributions gained media credibility and momentum, which led to increased contributions, eventually shattering fundraising records (Trippi 2004, 127). Blogs were central to Dean’s efforts. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato explained that because lesser-known candidates cannot afford high-priced consultants, “they have to depend on person-to-person fund raising, and that’s the Internet. There’s almost no overhead with Internet fund raising” (Lefkowitz 2003,


“Howard Dean…”). The person-to-person environment Sabato described is one that blogs can foster. Dean’s campaign was decentralized and relied on blogs to organize, fundraise, and earn media attention. The campaign gave some control to online volunteers, giving them more meaningful roles than typical campaign tasks in the spirit of the open-source software community (Trippi 2004, 149-150). The official campaign blog coordinated online efforts, such as the frequently noted example of the Bush-Cheney challenge. Dean’s official campaign blog coordinated efforts with other bloggers to match the amount to be raised at Vice President Dick Cheney’s $2,000-a-plate fundraiser. The move appealed directly to Dean’s populist message, as one blogger wrote:
This is what it's all about. Not $2000 a head dinners so the fat cats can buy their "special interests" by keeping the status quo, but by people all across the country giving what they can, because they believe in a candidate, and because they want to make a change for the better.

(Hanscom 2003) The campaign acted on a suggestion from an online supporter and posted a picture of Dean eating a turkey sandwich, reinforcing the populist sentiment. The opportunity to out-fundraise the rich and politically connected was well-received online, as Dean’s campaign matched the $250,000 Cheney raised at the dinner (“Candidate: Howard Dean” 2005). The campaign also used, a website that specialized in gathering online communities of users and translating their interests into offline pursuits, to mobilize supporters for campaign events and a variety of other events organized without the campaign’s direct involvement. These events included informal get-togethers as well as letter writing campaigns and house party fundraisers that raised a substantial amount of money for the campaign. Supporters would also “meet up” to greet Dean as he


traveled the country, frequently amazing even their own campaign with their high turnout and energy (Trippi 2004, 95). acted as the offline equivalent of blogging: former strangers getting together over shared interests and taking political action. The successes of pioneers like Ventura, McCain and Dean were well noted by the nation’s political elite and websites have become the norm for political campaigns. Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, found in a survey that “House campaigns considered websites and email a superior form of communication than many other forms, including broadcast TV, cable TV, radio, and newspaper ads” and also relied on the Internet more than mass telephone calls, debates and forums (Herrnson et al. 2004, 4-5). Only direct voter contact, free media, newsletters and direct mail, and door to door campaigning were considered substantially more important than websites (Herrnson et al. 2004, 4). When campaign websites begin taking on these roles, as Howard Dean’s did, it further blurred the lines. The 2004 presidential campaigns regarded the Internet as “an asset for fundraising, voter-profiling, and insider communication, but not for advertising” (Cornfield “Presidential Campaign…” 2004, 1). The Pew Internet & American Life Project concluded that “the numbers of adult Americans who relied on the Internet to learn about the campaigns, to help make up their minds, to help others make up theirs, and to register and vote is simply too large relative to the final margin to think [the internet had a minimal effect]” (Cornfield “The Internet…” 2005, 6). Twenty million more Americans visited the candidates’ official campaign websites in 2004 than did in 2000 (Cornfield, “The Internet…” 2005, 4).


Blogs globalize local politics by drawing their readers’ attentions to important races throughout the country. For example, Tara Sue Grubb, a Libertarian candidate in North Carolina, ran against Republican incumbent Howard Coble in 2002 (no Democrat ran in the race). Coble had won chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property of the House’s Judiciary Committee (Lefkowitz 2003, “Towards Micropolitics…”). This subcommittee drafts all legislation concerning intellectual property online, so major movie and recording industry groups donated large amounts to his campaign (Lefkowitz 2003, “Towards Micropolitics…”). But bloggers from around the country also found out about and took action in the race, despite (like the industry groups) not living in the district. Although they did not have a vote in the election and did not have the resources of the major industry groups, they had a network of likeminded people and used it to funnel donations to a previously unknown third-party candidate. Coble still won in a landslide, demonstrating yet again the power of incumbency, but the fact that bloggers found and took action for Grubb’s campaign illustrates how they can influence elections across geographic borders. Blogs have had a significant impact on fundraising. Thus far Democrats seem to be benefiting from this newfound capital substantially more than Republicans (Drezner et al. 2004, 23), although this can change with each election. The low-overhead of online donations is beneficial to candidates because online donations tend to be lower-thanaverage amounts contributed by greater numbers of individuals (Marre 2003). The largely unexpected increase in individual contributions online has eased the transition to the soft-money ban enforced by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Limits of Political Influence


The political influence blogs have accrued has made them a target for traditional political actors. Like the mainstream media, politicians have moved to incorporate blogs to reduce the threat they present and benefit from their strengths. While there are some significant limits to blogs’ political influence, most notably the reactions of traditional political actors, the Internet as a medium is resilient to many of the tactics that have been successful at co-opting television. Candidate Blogs Candidate-authored blogs do not appear to be terribly effective. The value of having an already extremely busy candidate post to a blog is further undermined by the facts that each comment must be carefully vetted and that the audience is aware of this. Even the discourse on Dean’s highly regarded blog became more conventional as Dean gained mainstream success (Kerbel et al. 2005, 2). Election results provide more reason to question the importance of blogs in comparison to traditional ways of winning elections. Howard Dean and John Kerry both had more online fundraising and blogging support than their competition (in the primaries and general election, respectively) but both lost their races. George W. Bush had a very official blog consisting primarily of press releases in 2004 and in the 2000 election was “dead last in online fundraising” (Stone 2000) and won both elections. A Wary Public There has been no significant public backlash to the political and media influence blogs have accrued, but it is not an unimaginable scenario. The public has not embraced bloggers as the noble watchdogs they see themselves as; despite all of the media attention, only 38% of the public reports understanding what a blog is (Rainie 2005).


And not all of the media attention has been positive; stories on bloggers frequently depict them as “a fringe group of political geeks” (“Political Influentials…” 2004, 14). The public could grow wary of the blogosphere’s frequent and partisan calls for resignations; all of Bloom’s six case studies involved trying to get a political enemy fired. Such a backlash could reduce the blogosphere’s media and political influence. Partisanship A frequently noted concern about politics on the Internet, especially with blogs, is the rabid partisanship. An extensive body of literature has been constructed on this topic by prominent scholars such as Robert Putnam, Cass Sunstein and Alan Wolfe (Drezner et al. 2004, 21). Putnam warns of “cyberapartheid” and “cyberbalkanization” and Sunstein warns of “echo chambers,” where people choose to hear only their own voices and opinions they agree with (Putnam 2000; Sunstein 2001; qtd. by Drezner et al. 2004, 21). Wolfe partially blames blogs for the partisan tone of U.S. politics (Wolfe 2004; qtd. by Drezner et al. 2004, 22). A Pew Internet & American Life Project report summarizes these fears:
They worried that citizens would use the internet to seek information that reinforced their political preferences and avoid material that challenged their views. They feared that people would use internet tools to customize and insulate their information inputs to a degree that held troubling implications for American society. Democracy functions best when people consider a range of arguments, including those that challenge their viewpoint. If people screened out information that disputed their beliefs, then the chances for meaningful discourse on great issues would be stunted and civic polarization would grow.

(Horrigan et al. 2004, 2) Bloggers cite the interlinked nature of the blogosphere as a safeguard against these problems. Yale law professor and blogger Jack Balkin argues that this and the conversational qualities of the blogosphere are adequate protections:
[M]ost bloggers who write about political subjects cannot avoid addressing (and, more importantly, linking to) arguments made by people with different views. These links are


the most important way that people travel on the Web from one view to its opposite. (And linking also produces a good check on criticism because you can actually go and read what the person being criticized has said.)…The fact that these customs developed says a lot about the health and vibrancy and pluralism of the public sphere in cyberspace.

(Drezner et al. 2004, 22) Network researchers Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance provide evidence contradicting this defense with a “study [of] the linking patterns and discussion topics of political bloggers…to measure the degree of interaction between liberal and conservative blogs” (Adamic, et al., 1). They find that the political blogosphere is indeed divided and the idealized global conversation is not being practiced: “91% of the links originating within either the conservative or liberal communities stay within that community” (Adamic, et al., 4) (See Appendix K for a visual depiction of linkage). There are also significant arguments that partisanship is not limiting readers’ awareness of opposing viewpoints. A Pew Internet & American Life Project report has disproved widespread fears of self-selective news consumption producing an echo chamber effect. The Pew survey found that “internet users are not insulating themselves in information echo chambers”, but rather that “wired Americans are more aware than non-internet users of all kinds of arguments, even those that challenge their preferred candidates and issue positions” (Horrigan et al. 2004, 3). The findings were not dependent upon political interest, but rather Internet use (Horrigan et al. 2004, 3). Another Pew survey concurs that the average Internet news reader is better informed than people relying on other media for political news (Kohut 2004). Finally, online politics may be so hostile because of offline politics. Concretely divisive events, such as the widely contested 2000 election, an unpopular war in Iraq, and generally trying times could contribute to the divisive partisanship blogs demonstrate.


An example of the blogosphere overcoming partisanship is the fallout over Trent Lott’s racist comments. Prominent conservative bloggers such as Glenn Reynolds were among the first and most vocal in condemning Lott (Bloom et al., 5), demonstrating that bloggers can overcome their partisanship. Another example of this is the coalition formed by conservative blogger Mike Krempasky, liberal blogger Markos Moulitas and a variety of other bloggers to protest potential FEC regulations.20 Prominent bloggers led bipartisan support of their mutual interests. The partisan nature of most political blogs has not gone unnoticed. According to New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent (Drezner et al. 2004, 22), the most partisan blogs lose their credibility and thus their influence in the media. But it is likely the blogosphere will remain partisan. Many political blogs are created because their author feels their ideology is not properly expressed in the mainstream media. The mainstream media is generally ideologically centrist, in order to appeal to the broadest possible market, but blogs are suited to serve niches audiences, such as political extremes. Politicians learning Television was originally considered a democratizing political medium because it allowed campaigns to circumvent local power brokers and directly showcase the candidate to voters (Rafshoon 2006). But politicians soon mastered the new game, hiring handlers and political consultants to approach television as a business, with negative advertisements and massive budgets (Rafshoon 2006). Today the Internet is seen by many political actors as a way to make up for political television’s excesses, a chance to not only win elections, but also serve democracy (Bailey, 2006). But like television, many politicians have become aware of political blogs and are beginning to use them for



their own purposes. No one has been able to duplicate Dean’s runaway success fundraising online because no one has made the Internet as central to the campaign as it was in Dean’s campaign, but political consultants have moved quickly “down the learning curve” to harness the influence blogs can wield and limit their “disruptive impact” (Drezner et al. 2004, 23). Daniel Drezner describes how savvy political actors can read blogs to “predict the
direction of future news cycles,” giving them the “ability to develop strategies to counter or blunt the influence of blogs before media groundswells develop” (Drezner et al. 2004, 20). He cites the contrast between the reactions to Trent Lott’s and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s insensitive comments:
Less than six months after Trent Lott resigned, Santorum gave an interview…in which he explicitly equated homosexuality with bestiality. This prompted condemnation from across the political spectrum of the blogosphere, including repeated mentions by top-tier bloggers…However, Santorum was not asked to resign his leadership position. President Bush intervened at an early stage of the news cycle to issue a statement expressing support for Santorum…because his interpretation of Santorum’s statement was more benign than other interpretations. By creating an alternative framing of the issues at an early stage, political elites were able to blunt criticism from bloggers far more successfully than in the Trent Lott case.

(Drezner et al. 2004, 20-21) This response is an indication that political actors are learning how to behave in a world of bloggers. Co-opting Politicians are not traditionally at the cutting edge of technology. William D. Eggers notes the “minefield of resistance” to new technology in the government, especially among current powerholders who are content with the status quo (Eggers 2005, 10). This argument is supported by findings that challenger candidates relied more heavily on campaign websites than incumbents (Herrnson et al. 2004, 5). But there are also many savvy political actors, especially those in the political consulting industry who


make a living by turning potential threats to their clients into opportunities. As a result, “politicians have formed uneasy alliances with bloggers” (Murley 2005, 6). Bloggers are not naïve to political maneuverings: “Many expect their little club will be overtaken by the same consultants and professional campaigners who have spent the past couple of decades trying to stage-manage the relationship between candidates and the press” (Fisher 2006). Another sophisticated intersection between political elites and blogging is the connections between the bloggers behind and “longtime conservative direct mail impresario Richard Viguerie” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 25). Conservative blogs were also “emphatic about distancing themselves from Creative Response Concepts (CRC), a Beltway PR firm which counted Swift Boat Veterans for Truth among its clients, after a CRC executive claimed credit in a PRWeek story for alerting Drudge and otherwise getting the memo doubts amplified…They wanted to be seen as independent actors” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 25). Most blogs are run by individuals, and there are no established ethical standards to follow. This warrants some concern over “consulting fees” and other undisclosed payment of bloggers. An example of blogs being co-opted in the business world is the recent revelation that Wal-Mart, through its public relations firm Edelman, works with sympathetic bloggers to improve its image (Barbaro, 2006). Although the firm does not pay the bloggers, one blogger was found to have directly quoted from a Wal-Mart email without attributing the quote, a breach of one of the few codes of conduct that exist in the blogosphere (Barbaro, 2006). There are no sanctions in the blogosphere other than a lowered reputation. Further complicating the story is that prominent conservative


blogger Mike Krempasky is a consultant to the firm. A spokesperson’s comment indicates that like political elites, businesses will not hesitate to participate in the supposed civic dialogue taking place online: “As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation” (Barbaro, 2006). Political co-opting is to be expected given the competitive nature and billions of dollars invested in elections, but there are promising signs that the blogosphere is not as corruptible as other mediums. As Krempasky stated when he spoke before Congress against FEC regulation of blogs, Internet users self-select what they consume (Krempasky 2005, “Capitol Hill…”). Even the advertisements users see are a reflection of the websites they choose to visit. Prominent blogger Duncan Black points out that “There isn’t a real connection between the effectiveness of a site and how much money is spent on it” (Broache 2005). There are no space limitations in the blogosphere, so unlike television and radio, a well-financed campaign cannot simply buy up all available airtime and inundate viewers with their message. Campaigns have yet to find a way to ‘buy’ control of the Internet. The blogosphere’s limit of dependence on the mainstream media and other traditional actors for authority is also protection against co-opting. The “buzz” created on and between blogs is organic. An issue or candidate cannot be forced into discussion on blogs and cannot from there be forced into public affairs. Drezner and Farrell find that, “for [an online] conversation to acquire the intense simultaneity of buzz, and for buzz to register with force in public affairs, requires a number of other factors to be present, few of which are likely to be at the disposal of a single blogger, or even a blogging collective,


ready to activate at will” (30-31). A story must be the correct “narrative fit as perceived by voices in all…channels, and…enacted by the players cast in the crucial roles” (Drezner et al. 2004, 31). The blogosphere’s autonomy is also a protection. “There is no central organization to the blogosphere” or “ideological consensus among its participants” (Drezner et al. 2004, 4). The sheer number of computers and people using them prevents monopolization of the medium. Nevertheless, the FEC has considered regulating political blogs, and could be forced to in the future, which could dramatically impact the political blogosphere. FEC Regulation When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) made a broad exemption of the Internet from the definition of “political communications” under the “federal election activity” requiring regulation under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 , BCRA’s sponsors (Congressmen Christopher Shays and John McCain) filed suit against the FEC (Whitaker et al. 2005). In Shays v. FEC, the U.S. District Court ruled against the FEC, requiring the agency to regulate political communications online. A CNET News story on an early draft of proposed rules found that regulations would apply to many blogs, such as those read by over 500 people a day and those whose “aggregate disbursements…do not exceed $250 per calendar year” (McCullagh 2005, “Bloggers narrowly…”). This amount could be met by “hosting fees, Web design software, domain name registration, fees paid to PayPal” and other site-related payments (McCullagh 2005, “Bloggers narrowly…”).


Bloggers immediately took action, concerned by comments by FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith in the CNET News story and remarks by Chairman Thomas at the 2005 Politics Online Conference that the scope of online regulations would exceed their assumptions. They were particularly worried that a monetary value would be assigned to the links they created and that bloggers would have to consult lawyers before publishing political speech, producing a chilling effect on political speech. Bipartisan bloggers banded together and created a petition to the commission.21 They also received political support, such as Senator Harry Reid’s bill that would have overturned the court’s decision to include the Internet under campaign finance law (McCullagh 2005, “Internet election rules…”). The FEC published its new proposed regulations in April 2005, and in March 2006 unanimously voted to exempt almost all political activity online except for paid political advertisements. According to FEC Chairman Michael Toner, the exemption is “categorical and unqualified” for all individual and group political activity online and “effectively granted media exemptions to bloggers and other activists using the Web to allow them to praise and criticize politicians, just as newspapers can, without fear of federal interference” (Edsall “FEC Rules Exempt” 2006). Toner settled, for now at least, the question of bloggers receiving the same rights as journalists: “There will be no second class citizens among members of the media” (Pace 2006). It is not unreasonable to assume that the FEC may be required to further regulate blogs in the future. The first rounds of regulations were drafted before any case of politicians buying blogs had been discovered. Michael Cornfield notes that “Internet users do not see blog content as a consequence of someone else’s financial arrangement



to have that content placed before them, as with advertising” (Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 5), but this could change. The Wal-Mart case is an example of how bloggers can be co-opted. The current FEC rules, furthermore, do not require bloggers to disclose money they receive from campaigns to their readers (although they do have to disclose such payments to the FEC, which other bloggers could find) (Grebb 2005). The Internet has brought dramatic changes to politics, especially campaigns, but bloggers are just one subset of actors in an environment of powerful political elites. Blogs have less political power than they do media power. There are also far more limits on their political power than on their media power. As a result, political blogs are a more potent force as a form of political media than they are as direct political actors.


Blogs have ushered in fundamental changes to the traditional methods of news distribution and political campaigning. But this thesis argues that blogs are not limited to helping the United States’ media and political systems evolve. The media and political influence blogs can wield is an important development in political communications, but blogs are important in their own right as a new layer in the traditional political media hierarchy. The accessibility of the blogosphere is a positive development for democratic discourse. But there are internal and external limits to every promise political blogs offer society. For example, blogs serve as independent watchdogs, providing greater accountability to the government and press. But they have also contributed to a climate of partisan political attacks on individuals. The mob rule atmosphere of political blogs must be channeled into more productive outlets, such as group research and discussion. For the political blogosphere to coalesce as a positive political media institution, it must mature into more sophisticated roles while withstanding increasingly sophisticated attempts at manipulation. The communication technologies that make blogging possible are revolutionary, but there is constant pressure to use these technologies simply to amplify traditional politics to a global scale, the way other industries have been amplified by the Internet. Blogs retain the promise of a more democratic, participatory democracy and more transparent, accurate media. Even seasoned political consultants fear the corruption of this medium (Bailey 2006; Rafshoon 2006).


Chris Bowman et al., in a 2005 report for Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, summarizes the promise blogs present:
Will the blogosphere become a Fifth Estate? …It would be a good thing if it meant institutionalizing the ethos of the current blogosphere. The national discourse could benefit from a sector favoring transparency over opacity, conversation over presentation, small pieces over big works, flexibility over anchorage, incompleteness over conclusiveness, documentation over description and, paradoxically, individuality over institutionalization. Not all bloggers and especially not all commenters on blogs adhere to these values…But enough do at the present time to assure their dominance.

(Bowman et al. 2005) The vast number of blogs precludes any sweeping generalizations of the medium, but the success of the most popular blogs and the participation of millions of lesser known bloggers and readers is a potent combination. The wisdom of the crowd present in blogs and other participatory citizen media efforts championed by Dan Gillmor is becoming more evident as technology facilitates virtual communities. The top blogs serve as focal points and are becoming their own increasingly entrenched media presence. Combined, the political blogosphere offers a groundswell of amateurism and near-professional level elites. For all their limits, political blogs offer a renewal of the oft-stated but infrequently realized ideal of an active citizenry. Of course, not everything written on the blogosphere is an experiment in political philosophy; the focus is thus far more political than civicminded, and the number of citizens participating on political blogs remains low among the general population (Rainie 2005). But most of those individuals who want to participate are able to do so, and even politically uninterested citizens indirectly benefit from the accountability they provide (Glaser, “Watchblogs…”). The technical format of blogs will continue to change with the development of new technologies, but the values of the blogosphere are more permanent. The mainstream media’s adoption of many of these values as well as the fact that they arose 121

naturally from the writings and conversations of millions of citizens indicate they are not a passing trend. It is the environment that blogs foster that is revolutionary, not merely the technology. “Most people who create and read blogs see tools as merely a means to an end. That end is having a voice in the public conversation.” The democratization of once-professional tools and distribution channels continues to empower the audience to play a more substantial role in political media. Blogs are at the eye of this storm, connecting the country’s oldest political institutions with the cutting edge of online technology. Whether blogs ultimately become a permanent fixture in political media or just another milestone in the broader social changes driven by the internet, they have already had lasting impact.


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Appendix A

(Burns, “Blogosphere Doubles Every Six Months” 2006)


Appendix B

(Burns, “Blogosphere Doubles Every Six Months” 2006)


Appendix C. Growth in traffic at two popular political blogs

(Bloom et al., 16)


Appendix D. Rise in number of blogs and blog audience

(Rainie 2005)


Appendix E. Media Blog Readership Survey

(Drezner et al. 2004, 27)


Appendix F. Media Blog Readership Survey Raw Data
NUMBER OFBLOGS READ DAILY 3 6 3 2 6 13 8 5 4 2 12 1 2 6 1 6 10 7 5 5 7 3 5 5 11 2 12 4 7 7 10 6 10 1 1 9 6 13 5 6 12 4 6 FAVORITE BLOG #! Drezner Instapundit Gawker Sullivan Kos Yglesias Instapundit Corner Corner Sullivan Instapundit HowAppealing Romenesko Sullivan Sullivan HowAppealing Cockeyed Absurdist Sullivan TalkingPointsMemo Instapundit Kaus Sullivan Kaus TalkingPointsMemo Instapundit Instapundit Sullivan Postrel Kaus Sullivan Kaus TalkingPointsMemo Atrios Sullivan JacksonFreePress TalkingPointsMemo IraqDemoWatch Instapundit TalkingPointsMemo Instapundit Instapundit Matt Welch Romenesko MagnoliaReport CrookedT Juan Cole Sullivan Drezner Sullivan Sullivan Kaus Peter King MMQ JacksonCrime FistfulEuros Steve Gilliard Kaus Marginal Den Beste OneHandClapping SacramentoBee Volokh Twinkle Twinkle Instapundit Sullivan Romenesko Sullivan Kaus Sullivan Sullivan Sullivan Drezner Instapundit Drezner Sullivan Kaus Sullivan Altercation Romanesko DeLong TalkingPointsMemo Volokh Oregon Commentator Sullivan DailyKos ElectionLaw Dong Resin SteynOnline Drezner Kaus Vokokh Romenesko Brad DeLong Corner Intel Dump Quatloos Instapundit Taranto FAVORITE BLOG #2 Brad DeLong Sullivan CollisionDetection BestoftheWeb Atrios TalkingPointsMemo Sullivan Sullivan JaneGalt Taranto Sullivan Den Beste Drum Gawker TimBlair Instapundit Sullivan FAVORITE BLOG #3 Sullivan Samizdata Corner DO BLOGS AFFECT POLITICAL DISCOURSE? no no no yes no yes no yes yes yes no no no yes no yes yes yes yes no no no yes yes no no yes yes yes yes yes no yes no yes yes no no yes yes yes yes yes HOW INFLUENTIAL ARE THEY? little little none some little little little lot little lot little don't know don't know little little lot little don't know little little little lot little little little some no little lot some little lot lot no (British) little lot little none little lot lot little some


2 4 6 7 3 17 12 100 3 8 2 11 7 5 1 4 2 60 17 5 5 5 18 5 13 2 8 6 9 5 3 4 3 20 4 50 24 7 11 1 4 0 15 2 10 13 20 8 5

Sullivan MerdeinFrance Calpundit Instapundit MediaNews Neal Boortz Instapundit Sullivan Corner Romenesko Corner Corner Instapundit HowAppealing Instapundit Corner Boingboing Daily Howler TalkingPointsMemo David Harris (Salon) Anildash Instapundit Altercation Atrios Metafilter Instapundit Kaus Instapundit Instapundit TalkingPointsMemo Sullivan TalkingPointsMemo Lileks Sullivan Dan Gilmour Sullivan Corner Boingboing Sullivan Daily Howler Romenesko Sullivan Sullivan Instapundit TimBlair Dave Barry Sullivan

Drezner InnocentsAbroad Billmon'sWhiskeyBar Volokh BostonPhoenix Media Log RightWingNews LewRockwell Tim Blair Drezner Soberingthoughts.blogspot Spoiler Slayer Traditional Catholic Reflections Sullivan BrothersJudd SCOTUSblog Corner Sullivan Wheaton TalkingPointsMemo Sullivan David Appell Gawker Sullivan Kaus DailyKos Fark Lileks Weintraub Sullivan Sullivan CrookedT Instapundit DailyKos Powerline Instapundit SimpleBits Lileks Mark Shea suematra8 DissidentFrogman Atrios I Want Media Greg Easterbrook Kaus CalPundit Sullivan Sullivan Instapundit Gilmour Atrios Brad DeLong Dan Gillmor deanjorgebocobo Corner TalkingPointsMemo TalkingPointsMemo Bookslut Kaus smallvictory BuzzMachine Samizdata Kaus Steve Gilliard SCSUScholars Kaus Boingboing Oxblog Church of the Masses szalmas MerdeinFrance TalkingPointsMemo MediaWhoresOnline Fluxblog Instapundit Drezner OliverKamm Instapundit Kaus Eurosoc Electrolite Sullivan Atrios BluntedonReality Hit & Run Eye on the Left Instapundit

yes no no yes yes no yes yes yes yes no Hugh Hewitt Catholic Word News LGF TalkLeft Lileks yes yes yes yes yes yes no no yes no yes yes no yes no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no no yes yes no yes no no no yes yes no yes yes

little little some little little some some little little little little lot lot some lot, legal lot lot little lot little little lot none lot little little little lot lot lot little lot lot lot lot little lot lt lot little some none little little some little some lot little


3 7 6 80 5 8 8 4 3 90 23 5 5 3 5 6 1 8 8 10 30 12 23 1 40 20 11 2 1 18 10 5 4 4 15 4 10 6 10 4 6 12 1 20 1 5 5 7

Metamorphosism Lileks Corner Lucianne Romenesko TheNote Lucianne TalkingPointsMemo Sullivan Boingboing DailyKos Instapundit Volokh Sullivan BestoftheWeb Instapundit Romenesko Instapundit Gawker Oxblog Minor Fall Major Lift Agitator E-Media Tidbits Sullivan Sullivan Instapundit Fark Corner Romenesko TimBlair Atrios Sullivan BestoftheWeb Kaus Volokh Sullivan Instapundit Sullivan Sullivan Instapundit SoCalLaw Boingboing HowAppealing Instapundit Weintraub Mefi Instapundit Instapundit Sullivan Atrios Kaus Instapundit Corner Daily Howler Kaus JD Lasica Thinking it Through BrothersJudd Shark Blog Kaus Instapundit Sullivan

Guardian Sullivan iraqi.blogspot LegalReader Sullivan Sullivan Sullivan MerdeinFrance Dead Parrot Society Atrios LGF Karen de Coster BestoftheWeb Corner Lucianne

yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no ? Some of email not printed yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes

little lot little lot some some lot no little little lot some little lot some none little ? Some of email not printed lot some none little none some little little small little little lot some lot don't know little little little don't know lot lot little little little don't know don't know little little little little

LAObserved Romenesko Instapundit Gawker Atrios Romenesko Corner Volokh Metafilter BBC "Have your say" Sullivan Billmon'sWhiskeyBar Instapundit Lileks TalkingPointsMemo Corner Corner LGF Greg Easterbrook Instapundit Den Beste LAObserved Whereisraed Hit & Run Drezner Boingboing Corner

Cathy's World TalkingPointsMemo LGF Gothamist TalkingPointsMemo BuzzMachine Hit & Run Den Beste Bifurcated Rivets

Tony the Teacher Orcinus TalkingPointsMemo Corner Instapundit MarriageDebate Kaus OneHandClapping Oxblog LGF FroggiesPond Dave Winter Dr. Frank Kaus MediaNews Agitator

yes yes yes yes yes yes no yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes no yes



Appendix G. Liberal vs. Conservative Blog Chatter over Rathergate

(Cornfield et al. “Buzz” 2005, 20)


Appendix H.

(Murley 2005, 4)


Appendix I.

(Murley 2005, 5)


Appendix J.

(Drezner et al. 2004, 24)


Appendix K. Linkage between conservative (red) and liberal (blue) political blogs:

(Adamic, et al., 4)