Earlier I discussed the issue of whether bloggers wore political blinders, that is they tended to only read, quote and trust other blogs of the same political feather. By bloggers, of course, we mean both people who edit blogs, that is have their own blog and the greater number of people who read and/or comment within blogs. I argued that while this stereotype was in part true, based on my studies of my students, it was not a black and white world, of, say, conservative blogs and blog editors and readers never reading Daily Kos or MYDD.
One research study on this question–which did not look at blog readers but blogs themselves–reinforces the view that partisan readership is a tendency not a chasm.
A study by Lada Adamic (of HP Labs) & Natalie Glance (of Intelliseek) of posts and blogrolls of “A-List” liberal and conservative blogs between the period of August 29, 2004 and November 15, 2004 found that partisan bloggers tended to cite and blogroll their own, that is, liberal blogs referenced other liberal blogs and conservatives referenced other conservative blogs. Bloggers, however, did regularly reference mainstream media–although of course they may have done so toward negative criticism–but there was a greater likelihood for conservative bloggers to reference conservative periodicals such as the Washington Times, the New York Post, Wall Street Journal Opinion Online, and Fox News, while liberal bloggers tended to reference liberal mainstream sources such as Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, and the New Republic. The top three cited mainstream news sources for both left and right bloggers were the Yahoo news service, Washington Post.com, and NewYorkTimes.com.
The major distinctive pattern between the two kinds of partisanship, according the the authors, “was that conservative bloggers were more likely to link to other blogs, primarily other conservative blogs, but also some liberal ones.”
Some responses of mine:
1. As the population of political blogs, bloggers and blog participants increases, we don’t know if there will be a “squeeze to the middle,” that is a gradual increase in moderate and nonpartisan blogs. A factor in such a development’s favor may be increased amounts and more diverse sources of ad revenue. Right now, many ads on political blogs expect a sympathetic audience: left wing t-shirts, right-wing books. But in regular advertising many more commercial products seek platforms for their promotion that do not alienate half their possible audience. No soap company wants only to appeal to people on the left and shun conservatives.
2. It is clear that both political sides of the bloglands are aware of what the other is posting–if only to attack it.
3. Within blog audiences, people who offer comments on blogs and presumably those who read them, there is considerable ideological variation and disagreement. If, as blog editor, you post a controversial opinion, you can be sure to get a “hot thread” of debate. No one has a pure “Amen” gallery. In fact, most political blogs have their gadfly, a person of contrarian opinions who livens up the comment threads.
In my book Blogwars I do express concern that political blogs will encourage people to only seek out political information that confirms their own beliefs. But I think blogging is more complicated than just a hall of mirrors. Further, (a) it is not the case that the “old” system of “objective journalism” served the cause of an informed electorate, and (b) our nation was founded by people (and its constitution was written) who understood the “press” to be subjective and partisan.
Originally posted January 13, 2006 at PolicyBlyBlog