Are Blogs the New Iowa?

The Editor of PolicyByBlog and Emily Metzgar, a political columnist, just published (November 03, 2005) in the Christian Science Monitor an essay that deals with the prospect of the blogosphere becoming a “space” for running for President: COULD BLOGS TRUMP STUMPING IN IOWA?

Like all newspaper pieces, we needed to be short and we were edited. To expand the context, for over a generation political scientists have noted that there was a campaign for president before the ostensible running season began with the Iowa Caucuses. The journalist Arthur Hadley called this period the “invisible primary.” Would-be presidents underwent a series of “tests.” (Think Labors of Hercules!) As articulated by political scientist Rhodes Cook, these trails included: [Read more…]

Daily Kos Tops Iowa and NH?

According to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor: “Blogs still rank well behind traditional television, radio, and newspaper outlets as a source of news, but they are gaining ground rapidly. The liberal blog Daily Kos attracted nearly 4.8 million visitors this July, compared with 3.4 million in January, according to Nielsen//NetRatings…”

The population of Iowa is 2,926,324.

The population of New Hampshire is 1,235,786.

Their total population is, thus: 4,162,110.

That means Daily Kos had more “residents” in July than the two “first in the nation” states for the presidential nomination race. Of course, it is apples and ipods to compares a state with a website, but the numbers do point out the increasing locii of geopolitical power and attention that are blogs. One big difference: to meet everyone in Iowa, you have to travel all over Iowa. To get seen by everyone in Daily Kos land a single headlining post is enough.

Originally posted November 7, 2005 at PolicyByBlog

Bloggers are First-hand Reporters for the Invisible Primary

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, in one of a series of dismissals of bloggers, summed up his opinion of their contribution to the information society by the following: “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

I disagree. Many bloggers are creating new content, hunting and gathering news and information, not just digesting it. The presidential race–or pre-race creates many examples. The invisible primary is a time of severely reduced press attention to presidential hopefuls. Even bigfoot frontrunners like, say, Hillary Clinton, do not get much national media attention speaking to the Women’s Democratic Caucus in a rural county in Iowa. As Richard di Benedetto of USA Today once commented to me: “When I started in this business, I was taught that the job of a journalist was to go someplace that the public couldn’t get to and report what he saw and heard.” [Read more…]

Blogs, Politicians and the “Face in the Crowd”

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, in one of a series of dismissals of bloggers, summed up their contribution to the information society by the following: “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

If, indeed, that it was all bloggers were doing or could do, it would not be enough, but blogging today is much more than media criticism. In fact, there are bloggers who are doing everything that journalists ever did. Indeed that’s the point about the world of “PolicyByBlog”: blogging is a genre, a medium and a technology that can be used by professionals.

I don’t think Keller was making a movie allusion. But to historians of political communication who are also interested in politicians using blogs to reach the people it is worth recalling the implications of the word “chew.” I think of a potent icon of individual populist autocracy gone mad.

crowd.jpgThere were no blogs in 1956 when director Elia Kazan and writer Bud Schulberg crafted their famous meditation on the perils of democracy, “Face in the Crowd.” In his best (and first) movie performance, Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes, an Arkansas yokel who, by his quick wit and ruthless character, rises to the top of the talk show radio and television game. Of course, he abuses his power, crushing people who stand in his way, and even attempts to hogtie the course of the nation.

In one famous sequence, he adopts the political fortunes of a well-known conservative senator with presidential ambitions. The man is a dignified, thoughtful, old-fashioned politician, modeled perhaps on the late Robert “Mr. Conservative” Taft of Ohio. Griffith tries to turn him into a cracker barrel populist, creating a television show in which the senator mingles with some good old boys at a country general store, chewing “tobacca” and offering political homilies.

In the movie the scene is meant to be both low comedy and high satire. The points were that (a) the pol was demeaning himself with each chaw and (b) the relatively new medium of television–which in 1956 was young as Blogs are now!–offered many opportunities for demagoguery.

Bill Keller was not thinking of Lonesome Rhodes when he portrayed bloggers as news-chewers, but the concerns about populism run amok are the same. I just think that they are misplaced: bloggers are LESS likely to be hypnotized by demagogues than audiences of the television (or the speech era), because blogging is a relatively active, questioning, process and inauthenticity by a politician is both more easy to detect and deflate.

Originally posted November 21, 2005 at PolicyByBlog

Bloggers as Tipsters

Bloggers can be tipsters on what is happening now, what’s “hot” and what’s out there. Lottgate, Rathergate, and the Eason Jordan affair are such examples. Blogs, or blog-like websites, can also tell journalists what other journalists are printing or not printing. Blogs can also “get out the rumor” faster because of their lack of structural rigidity. The distributed networks of blogs also allow stories to be vetted very quickly for confirmation or refutation. For example, I was reading the liberal blog Daily Kos on the morning of Friday, July 1, 2005 when the following post, by DK associate blogger, “TheMadEph,” appeared. [Read more…]

Bloggers as Local Content Creators

As I noted in another post, Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, characterized blogging by the following: “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.” Just today, (“Reliable Sources“, 01/01/06) Howard Kurtz, in the midst of a discussion about the decline in newspaper circulation, commented (with a smile) that bloggers, as you know, have a grand old time kicking around the MSM, the mainstream media, but if newspapers went away tomorrow, where would they get their information? In both cases, they meant that bloggers just “chew” and “talk” about big news items in big media venues.

This is obsolete analysis at several levels. It is based, partly, on vanity–the “mirror effect”: big time national journalists only read blog posts that are about them, and assume that all blogging is reflective of (and reflexively aimed at) them!

Let me offer one example here–I elaborate on dozens more in my book BLOGWARS–of bloggers who are creating original content at the local level. [Read more…]

Will Hillary “Sister Souljah” the Leftblogs?

UPDATED: Senator Hillary Clinton is still getting very high poll ratings–especially among minority voters which make up majorities or pluralities of the Democratic vote in many states, like, say South Carolina. In irony, she would be unbeatable if the Democratic primaries were held today in the Southern states; but, whether she would win any Southern red state in a general election is questionable. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only Democrat who can energize the Republican base–to vote against her.

If her main concern is the general election contest, that is winning the middle and swing voters, then she (and her lead live-in political strategist) may be considering a “Sister Souljah” moment, with the symbolic target this time being anti-war left bloggers. An SS moment refers to the time in 1992 when Bill Clinton criticized the black, female rap artist for sounding like “David Duke” for a comment she made about “why not have a week and kill white people?” (Which she said was taken out of context). The political implication was that Clinton came off as a moderate Democrat not beholden to an “extremist” of the left and thus was more acceptable to socio-cultural moderates and conservatives. [Read more…]

Sago & Geraldo–A Victim or Bad Journalism?

UPDATED: Perhaps this is off the mark of this blog, but…Blogs are often attacked by big media for unprofessionalism. But nothing is sadder than the professionals closing ranks to pretend that they are not at fault for massive failure.

I just saw FOX’s Geraldo Rivera say that (paraphrase) “the media were victims” at the Sago mine story.

What? WHAT? Because you ran with a life or death story without CONFIRMING IT?

The NYT’s take: note all the sources of “they’re alive” are folks who heard it from folks. Did the reporter face anybody official and ask the question: Is this 100%?

Many editors are defending their wrong headlines….

But one tiny local WV paper held back, in part because they could not confirm story. (They were an afternoon paper, as well, so were not under as much pressure to publish fast). Pulitzer, please? Here is the editor explaining what good journalism is all about:

“I feel lucky that we are an afternoon paper and we have the staff that we do,” said editor Linda Skidmore, who has run the 21-person newsroom for three years. “We had a reporter there all night at the scene and I was on the phone with her the whole time.”
Skidmore adds that her staff never believed the miners had been found alive because no official word was ever given. She said no update about miners being found alive ever appeared on the paper’s Web site, either. [Read more…]

Hillary, Polls and Blogs: Her Possible Blog Strategies

Very good–as usual–discussion and analysis of Senator Hillary Clinton, her poll numbers, and the blogs at Mystery Pollster. Mark “MP” Blumenthal mentions some issues of leftblog dissatisfaction with HC and “are bloggers the people” and “who do bloggers represent” raised here at policybyblog earlier. Some key points from MP:

The primaries and caucuses are still a long way off.  Second, the overwhelming majority of Democratic identifiers and especially liberal Democrats are certainly opposed to the Iraq war.  On a recent CBS News poll most Democrats say they either want to decrease the number of US troops in Iraq (36%) or withdraw altogether (40%).  Third, adults who self-identify as Democrats are not the same as the much smaller pool of Democratic primary voters, much less the even smaller number of activists and donors. We will need larger samples of Democratic primary voters to get a handle on those populations.  Fourth and finally, these results tell us nothing about Senator Clinton’s skills as a candidate or what sort of campaign she might run, and MP is not foolish enough to make any sweeping predictions in that regard.  What we can say, for now at least, is that the recent hostility of left-leaning blogs is not evident among rank and file Democrats.

But if blogs are not “the people” in this case, MP wonders if the better question is whether blogs will ultimately prove to be opinion leaders. [Read more…]

Blogs as Political Educators

If one paid attention only to the most sensational postings and most acerbic bloggers, it would be easy to stereotype blogs as unleashing, from the pits of Mordor, an army of frothing, torch-wielding hobgoblins who will propel America toward a Balkan tragedy. But many blogs are political educators of the best kind: teaching a new generation of people concerned about and involved in democracy and activated to serve their country and their community.

One such example is Watchblog, which describes itself as “a multiple-editor weblog broken up into three major political affiliations, each with its own blog: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Third Party (covering everything outside the two major parties.” The creators of the blog explain, “Let’s face it, politics is confusing. Sometimes it’s difficult to know who to believe, who to listen to and who to support. We’re here to help. Posting on a regular basis are editors representing each major party. Stay informed.”

Each of the two major parties and the “other” is given its own section within the blog. Watchblog is a wonderful teaching tool that I use because of its compare-and-contrast format. Want to know what right blogs and left blogs and other blogs said on Cindy Sheehan or Hurricane Katrina or Dick Durbin’s Guantanamo remarks? Here are some of them compiled for us to assess. In addition, we can also judge the stances of the different political parties on topics and issues of the day from taxes to the war in Iraq, although some of these can be as vague and obtuse as any regular political discourse.

In the future, there will be more blogs that serve as political educators and more big media coverage of that function.

As stated in an earlier post, it is not clear whether blog readers use blog content to seek out “feedback that fits” or to compare goods in the marketplace of ideas. My opinion is that blogging helps democracy best when we use blogs not to confirm our beliefs, but to explore them.

Originally posted January 11, 2006 at PolicyByBlog