Sunday, June 19, 2005

Blogging Literature Review

Posted by AmishThrasher at 1:14 pm
Howard Dean
Howard Dean:
Blogging got him where he is today.
Bai, Matt, “What Dean Means”, New York Times Magazine; Feb. 27th, 2005; Academic Research Library, pp. 21-2.
After Howard Dean’s failure in securing the nomination of the Democratic Party, Bai investigates the fallout, and implications, of Dean’s campaign. As noted in the article, Dean is seen to be a pioneer of internet campaigning (particularly through political blogs). According to Bai, while Dean failed to secure Democratic nomination, he was able to mobilise his base in his campaign for Democratic Party chairman. Bai notes that the rise of Dean should not be misconceived as the rise of the party’s left-wing against its centrists, as many prominent democrats (Dean included) follow a combination of left and centrist policy positions. Rather, Dean represents the rise of an ‘impassioned, populist’ campaign style (effective in mobilising political bloggers and their audiences) against the ‘reasoned, Clintonian’ campaign style of his opponents. Finally, Bai suggests that, for Dean to be effective as a Democratic chairman, he will have to continue being an impassioned populist.

Howard Dean has been often cited as being an ‘internet candidate’. Indeed, his campaign - and the prominence it obtained - could well be seen as, perhaps, the biggest example of Frank-Ruta’s description of ‘bloggers as activists’. Therefore, while Dean’s campaign - and sources like Bai - will not be the central focus of my final essay, the Dean campaign is a topic worth investigating in any essay on political blogging.

Frank-Ruta, Garance, “Blog Rolled: That Most Bloggers are not Journalists is a Given. That Some are Trained Partisan Operatives Out to Take Scalps is Not”, The American Prospect; April, 2005, v16 i4; American Prospect Inc., pp. 33-39.
The core premise of Frank-Ruta’s work is that many political bloggers aren’t journalists at all, but rather (sometimes highly trained and experienced) political activists; the mainstream media is often being quite erroneous by assuming otherwise. This core premise is fleshed out through explaining the role played by political activists like Mike Krempasky (and his protégés) in three examples of successful blog based activism. The article also notices 3 significant distinctions between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ (in the American sense) activism in these examples. The first is that, where ‘liberal’ activism attacks conservative figures like Jeff Gannon / Guckert, conservative activism attacks journalists like Dan Rather and Eason Jordan. Secondly, where liberal bloggers are open about their political leanings, their right-of-centre counterparts try to present themselves as being independent and impartial. And, thirdly, that conservative activists are significantly better trained than their left-wing counterparts.

Upon examining various political blogs, the idea that many prominent political bloggers are also political activists seems quite uncontroversial. The very nature of blogs as a communications medium - cheap, and relatively easy to set up - makes it easy for political activists to communicate a message to a base. Perhaps more controversial is the assertion that ‘liberal’ bloggers attack conservative activists rather than journalists. I doubt that finding a liberal blog attacking talk back radio, Fox News, CNN, or Andrew Bolt (for example) would be a particularly difficult exercise.

Goldsborough, Reid, “Blogs: Latest Option in Raising Your Voice Online”, Black Issues in Higher Education; May 22nd, 2003; 20, 7; Academic Research Library, p. 40.
Goldsborough seeks to examine whether blogs are anything more than narcissistic rants read by voyeuristic readers; a question posed to 4 ‘experts’. These 4 experts are Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (the chairman of the Internet Press Guild), Alan Zeichick (editor in chief of the San Diego Times), freelance consultant / journalist Mitch Wagner, and a freelance technology journalist named Stephen Satchell. Based on their comments, Goldsborough concludes that blogs are effectively personal websites, with bloggers having no editorial oversight. While blogs are good in that they have opened a new means of mass-communications to the public, Goldsborough also implies that bloggers are often unable (unlike journalists) to distinguish news from rumour.

Goldsborough raises some good points - the lack fo editorial oversight may hurt the credibility of blogs in contrast to the traditional news media; something blog readers should be wary of. However, Goldsborough’s condescending tone condescending tone tone makes him seem susceptible to a point Frank-Ruta warned about - that while many (perhaps the vast majority) of bloggers are narcissistic amateurs, many elite political bloggers are seasoned political activists. And even if ‘voyeurism’ is a good term for describing blog readership, as Lyndon and Bai show, the ‘voyeurs’ of political blogs also vote. However, it is for these reasons (i.e. activist bloggers and voyeuristic voters) Goldsborough’s final point becomes important; for sometimes it may be that a blogger has a hidden agenda in confusing rumour with fact.

Lydon, Chris, “When Old Media Confronted Howard Dean”, Nieman Reports; Spring 2004; 58,1; ABI/INFORM Global, pp. 30-1.
Lyndon believes that the significance of Howard Dean’s (failed) Presidential campaign lies in the battle between ‘old media’ and the new ‘internet democracy’ of political blogs; Howard Dean’s campaign was as much about media as it was politics. The genius of Dean’s campaign was in defining himself as being the ‘antiwar’ candidate, tapping into a large base of support which went unrepresented in the editorial positions of much of the mainstream media (yet was popular online). The strong support towards Dean was a product - ultimately - of the mainstream media being ‘out of touch’. The mainstream media, understanding the implications of Dean’s popularity, first undermined, then attacked his campaign.

My biggest criticism of Lyndon is that the implications of Dean’s loss in the Democratic primaries is not adequately explored. For instance, if Dean’s media and political campaigns are so closely tied together, then a cogent argument could be put forward that the mainstream media is still more politically influential than the pro-Dean blogs. Thus, Dean’s genius in gaining a constituency online may have ultimately led also to his downfall. Alternatively, while Dean did not win the Democratic Party nomination and, ultimately, withdrew his candidacy, he did eventually come to win the Democratic Party chairmanship (as pointed out by in Bai’s article). This success could be perceived as a significant victory for pro-Dean bloggers, given that one of his stated aims was to ‘take back the party’ for disaffected social-democrats.

McCullagh, Declan, “US Bloggers get set for Election Rules”, 28 March 2005,,2000061791,39186147,00.htm Downloaded April 7th, 2004.

McCullagh’s article is about the American Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigating extending of the US Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) to cover political blogs. These debates were sparked by a recent US court decision on whether American campaign finance laws should apply to political blogs. The debates put forward in other articles covered in this literature review about whether bloggers are journalists, narcissistic amateurs, or political activists (e.g. Goldsborough, Frank-Ruta) is not merely theory; there are also very real legal consequences in each of the possible classifications. Indeed, McCullagh points out that there will be both intended, and unintended, consequences with any classification choice. For example, one option under consideration is that political bloggers will have to publicly disclose any revenues raised by paid political advertising, or gained from political campaigns. An alternative, raised by Senators Reid and Conyers, would see bloggers classified as journalists, and thus the legal status of political blogs would be ‘news publication’ rather than a ‘political campaign’. The impact of this decision is also under debate, with FEC commissioners Ellen Wientraub and David Mason noting that any legal changes would have minimal impact, while Mike Krempasky (a conservative political activist noted by Frank-Ruta) disagrees.

From the perspective of political blogging - even within Australia - the development of this case may be interesting for several reasons. Firstly, many popular blogs are produced in the US, and many popular blog companies (like Live Journal, Google/Blogger, MSN, and Yahoo) are based in the US. Secondly, the US classification of political blogs may eventually be mirrored by Australian law. And if political blogs are deemed to be political campaign sites, would this legal status apply to political blogs written by journalists and published on newspaper websites? The developments with the FEC over the coming year are well worth watching.

Murdoch, Rupert, “The Challenges of the Online World”, The Australian; April 14th, 2005;,5744,12844414%255E7582,00.html, Downloaded April 14th, 2005.
In this speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Rupert Murdoch discusses the challenges of media companies adapting to the Internet, and the media consumers who have grown up with it. While traditional media companies have begun ‘partnering with’ the Internet, many of their websites could do a better job of both serving consumer demand, and leveraging brands and resources. Such consumers prefer multiple points of view put forward on a given issue, rather than a single editorial line, leading to hints that News Corp will soon begin offering more blogs (and online forums) to supplement online news stories. Note that rather than replace existing news content, such new features would add (amongst other things) ‘depth, humour, debate, and local perspective’ to existing content. The heavily editorialised (and arguably politically conservative) Fox News Channel is cited as being a successful model of commentary and debate being added to news. Finally, Murdoch notes the highly targeted online advertising market as a motivation for attempting to undertake such leveraging.

Underneath all the buzzwords, Murdoch seems to be offering very little in terms of technological innovation, or new applications of existing technology (as shown in the Willey article). In spite of this, Murdoch’s power and influence as a media proprietor makes thoughts on the media - and its future - interesting and noteworthy. Interesting in that Murdoch has noticed political blogs as a media form, and - perhaps more cynically - their potential revenue and political influence. Yet more noteworthy is that Murdoch possesses the market power to potentially change the dynamics of elite political blogs, from political activism beyond the sphere of the mainstream media, to supplementary content for established newspaper website. The fallout from Murdoch’s moves over the coming months, and years, is well worth watching.

Whelan, David, “The Challenges of the Online World”, American Demographics; Jul. / Aug. 2003; 25, 6; Academic Research Library, pp. 22-3.
Although nearly 2 years old, Whelan’s article provides some interesting statistics about blog readers. The article notes that, as of 2003, while 73% of adults were internet users, only17% of adults are aware of blogs, 5% of adults have said they have read a blog, and 1% were regular blog readers. Assuming the validity of this survey’s results, the survey show either political blogs have had a significant impact in spite of relatively low readership or, more likely, the rapid growth of the medium. Beyond this, Whelan suggests that, once blogs become more popular, it will become an ideal medium for targetted advertising.

These statistics, however, are somewhat problematic. Firstly, beyond the fact that the research was conducted by an advertising agency known as Ipsos Reid ( ), Whelan provides little information about how these surveys were conducted. Knowing information like sample size and methodology is important when evaluating survey work. Similarly, it would be interesting to find out how Ipsos Reid generated the statistic that only 5% of adults have ever read a blog - I would expect a significantly lower result to the question “Have you ever read a blog?” in comparison to respondants being prompted with a blog while the question “Have you ever read a website presented in a ‘diary style’ format similar to this example?”, as some respondants may have read a blog without being familiar with the term ‘blog’. However, assuming that such a question would yield a similar result, this survey should seek to remind us of how rapidly the blogosphere has grown in recent years.

Willey, Keven Ann, “Readers Glimpse an Editorial Board’s Thinking”, Nieman Reports, Fall 2003; 57, 3; Academic Research Library, P. 88.
Willey has written a firsthand article about the Dallas Morning News’s ‘DMN Daily’ Blog (http://www.DallasNews.COM/Opinion/Blog), one of the earliest newspaper blogs. The newspaper encouraged senior journalists and editors to post debates about editorial positions into this publicly accessible blog, rather than have such discussions confined to editorial meetings. Its aims in doing so were to demystify the editorial process, clarify and enhance newspaper content, and to involve readers in the newspaper’s editorial debates. Its content - presented in a series of excerpts, covers a range of social and political issues, as well as links to articles, or external websites where relevant. There are a couple of negative aspects to having a blog on a newspaper website that Willey has identified, including increased workload. Another negative aspect to maintaining such a blog is an echo of Goldsborough’s work: that many thousands of blogs are little more than narcissistic rants. Yet in spite of these potential pitfalls, Willey believes that the blog’s benefits will outweigh its negative aspects.

This article is particularly interesting in light of Murdoch’s recent comments, as staff blogs at News Corp newspapers may become a more common feature in the near future. Indeed, underneath Murdoch’s heavy spin, he appears to be suggesting a somewhat similar model, based on many similar justifications as used by Willey.