Blogs and Political Influence

Another flurry of stories on bloggers and their influence has hit the mainstream media. Alex JonesLA Times op-ed “Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak” set off a firestorm last evening, with several blogs commenting on it. The crux of the piece:

The Democrats and the Republicans are inviting a limited number of bloggers — those witty, candid, irreverent, passionate, shrewd and outrageous Internet chroniclers — to their 2004 conventions. It’s a gesture of respect for the growing influence of the blogosphere, and if ever there were events ideally suited to bloggers, the heavily scripted and tensionless conventions top the list. But make no mistake, this moment of blogging legitimization — and temporary press credentials — doesn’t turn bloggers into journalists.


[B]loggers, with few exceptions, don’t add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar

Given the numerous scandals in the Big Media of late, this seems odd timing to make the comparison. Joe Gandleman argues that this attitude is just resentment by the Big Media types that people who have managed to avoid “going through the hoops” and “paying their dues” are having influence. Jeff Jarvis isn’t sure what precisely the “standards” of journalism are, let alone that bloggers don’t follow them.

As I’ve often noted, the percentage of crap in the blogosphere is almost certainly higher than in the professional press, simply because someone has to actually hire a newpaper reporter. But, then, the vast majority of bloggers go unread. The reasonable point of comparison, then, would be the blogs that manage to garner a readership comparable to a small newspaper.

Meanwhile, a story in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune by Anastasia Ustinova is headlined “Political blogs catching.” It’s mildly interesting by mostly notable for labeling Glenn Reynolds’ InstaPundit “liberal.”

Meanwhile, reader Delta Dave e-mails word of a piece in today’s Guardian by Ros Taylor entitled, “Report damns UK political blogs.”

The quality of comment and debate on political blogs is often poor or even non-existent, and the jury is still out on whether they will ever make a significant contribution to parliamentary democracy, according to a Hansard Society report out today. In the frequently damning report, the society says political blogging is still in its infancy. While it still has great potential to engage the electorate, the authors say, blogging forms a very minor part of public debate.

Certainly true on all counts.

The survey drew on reports by eight members of the public who were asked to monitor several of the best-known political weblogs for four weeks. None felt that their political awareness and participation had been stimulated by the blogs, and only one said they would bother to revisit any of them when the survey was over. The eight bloggers chosen for the study included Tom Watson – the first MP to start a blog and the winner of the elected representative category in the New Statesman’s recent new media awards – and Lib Dem councillor Lynne Featherstone , North Norfolk Conservative parliamentary candidate Iain Dale, Howard Dean, Harry Hatchet, the thinktank collective VoxPolitics and Greenpeace campaigners. The jurors were impressed by the “look and feel” of the blogs, and found some of their authors witty and insightful. However, they also complained the postings could be tedious, long-winded and opinionated. Most found that their own contributions were ignored.

What kind of idiotic methodology is that?! So, you get eight people–eight–who have never read blogs, have no context for reading them, and assign them some incredibly non-representative blogs to read. And, from that, they assess the impact of blogs on the public?!

The report says content is at the root of the problem. “The jurors could not find enough to empathise, or even to disagree with, in what they read.” Bloggers, particularly MPs and other elected politicians, must continue to experiment with the format and find ways to “ask” rather than “tell” their readers.

These aren’t blogs! They’re political advertising websites. This would be the equivalent of comparing campaign brochures to The New Republic.

But Professor Stephen Coleman of the Oxford Internet Institute said MPs’ blogging efforts would always be treated cynically by the public. “The problem facing politicians who blog is that they are professionally implicated in the very culture that blogging seeks to transcend,” he comments in the report. “The public will never relax in their company and will be ever suspicious that today’s ‘spontaneous’ blog entry was yesterday’s faxed ‘message’ from the party HQ.” He said the future of the medium probably lies among the “millions of public-private bloggers” rather than in politicians touting for votes.

Seeing as that’s where it has been all along, one guesses that to be the case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. La Femme Crickita says:

    Bloggers don’t add their own reporting? Oh
    let me see, the news media isn’t biased either.
    Do I detect a tad of jealousy? Yep. Bloggers
    are more inclined to Get It Right and hold their
    paid counterparts to shame.
    Blog on, Dude!