Bloggers as Opinion Leaders
When I first started the blog, a little over five years ago, most of us wrote constant posts about blogging. Mostly, I suspect, this was just a function of the novelty of the medium, as evidenced by the plethora of mainstream media stories on blogging during the same period. Both trends have settled down to a trickle in recent years, though, as blogging has become more established.
There has been a recent surge of metablogging, though, on the sites that I read regularly. Megan McArdle, noting the spate of hirings of bloggers by media outlets and think tanks, believes that the supply will soon run out because “the biggest bloggers are either professionals, or they have an even more lucrative job.” Several of her readers resent the idea that bloggers want to sell out, anyway.
Professional blogger Kevin Drum, commenting on a recent proposal for the Netroots to organize a boycott of Fox News, points out that bloggers aren’t nearly as influential as we think we are, noting that the nomination process in both parties has proceeded in a manner not to the liking of their respective blogospheres.
Law professor Stephen Bainbridge ties these together noting that, with the handful of exceptions, “blogging tends to be the hobby of people with full-time jobs who do it because it’s more fun than stamp collecting.”
That’s right and certainly describes my venture into the blogosphere. At the same time, though, the political and public policy blogosphere is no doubt heavily dominated, as Megan suggests, by academics, journalists, and others who have the resources to devote to their hobby. As I wrote a couple years back,
People who are passionate enough about politics to obsess about it 365 days a year, even in non-election years, are likely candidates for graduate and professional school. Grad school also helps hone writing and research skills, which are useful to bloggers. Further, the jobs one gets with that kind of education are more conducive to providing time to read, write, and think about things.
Still, I’m not sure that looking at the top 10—or even top 100—bloggers tells us all that much about “blogging.” Technorati is “currently tracking 53.2 million blogs.” Presumably, some substantial number of them are defunct or are updated once every six months. Then again, there are likely a large number of blogs not tracked by Technorati for one reason or another. My guess is that something like 52.9 million of them are written by people who are non-professionals.
Furthermore, I’m not sure why amateurism in the sense of not having a clue about the things one opines about is all that desirable. The lure of political blogs, to me at least, is that one often gets better insights from them than from the professional punditocracy. Many if not most of those who are regulars on the television and radio talking head circuit simply don’t have much to offer as commentators. They might be attractive and have soothing voices but most of them are just recycling the conventional wisdom. Many of us watched those shows and thought “I could do better than that!” but had no way to prove it.
The beauty of the blogosphere is that an obscure law professor from Knoxville can build an audience of millions simply by putting his words out there for free and having people gravitate to what he has to say. Or a former MLRS crewman fresh out of law school can build a media empire that has changed the way a major political party raises money and runs campaigns.
Neither InstaPundit nor DailyKos are likely to change the outcome of a democratic nominating process, let alone decide an election. But, considering the avenues available to similarly situated people just a few years ago, their ability to influence the debate is nothing short of remarkable.