Blogs as a challenge to traditional media


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Paper presented at the International Political Science- Political Communication Conference. Loughborough, UK. November 1020.

Examines the idea that blogs have an impact upon politics and offer an alternate to mainstream media.

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Blogs as a challenge to traditional media

  1. 1. Blogs and the Power to Change: the case considered<br />Dr. Marcus Leaning<br />University of Winchester<br />Paper presented at International Political Science Association - Research Committee 22 Conference. University of Loughborough, UK 4-5thNovember 2010.<br />
  2. 2. Blogs widely understood as a media form that will change / transform the existing media / journalistic ecosystem.<br />Of course not the first media form to do so – a ‘rite of passage’ for media to be considered dangerous. <br />Paper will be a summary of the arguments for and against to contextualise the debate rather than solve it.<br />The intent here is to step back from debate, examine how we think about new technology and how we use existing categories to do so.<br />Introduction<br />
  3. 3. <ul><li>Blog history:
  4. 4. Had ‘ancestors’ in old new media (pre-www internet).
  5. 5. Mod.ber first news group to have a list of interesting links to other posts and news, 1983.
  6. 6. Mid 1990s diary websites, first was Claudio Pinhanez's "Open Diary“ @ MIT from 94-96.
  7. 7. 1998-1999 blogger software makes blogging easy.
  8. 8. Blogs don’t really do anything that could not be done on the net before, but they did let everybody do it.
  9. 9. More of a educational, literary or social innovation than a technical one – we started to think about writing and communicating in a new way – a new literary form – than a dramatic technological change.</li></ul>Boring background bit<br />
  10. 10. <ul><li>Etymology of weblog and blog.
  11. 11. Most sources cite Jorn Barger and Robot Wisdom as first use of the word weblog in 1997.
  12. 12. This was later abbreviated to ‘we-blog’ by Peter Merholz.</li></ul>The word…<br />
  13. 13. <ul><li>However, he was not the first!
  14. 14. In August 1995 G. Raikundalia and M. Rees presented a conference paper titled:</li></ul> ‘WebLog: exploiting the Web use interface for document management in electronic meetings’<br /> At Queensland Computer - Human Interaction Symposium, Bond University.<br /><ul><li>This is the first use of the word referring to what we would today call a blog.</li></ul>Controversy!<br />
  15. 15. In a similar way to how newsgroups and other preceding forms of computer mediated communication were understood, blogs are credited with an enormous transformational potential. <br />‘Blogophiles’ – an optimistic reading of blogs.<br />Central to such claims are three key arguments: <br />The power of blogs…<br />
  16. 16. Blogs are thought to encourage civic participation and involvement and will assist in the rejuvenation of the Habermassian public sphere <br />Through their use people can be re-empowered and civic culture revitalised (Blood, 2002; Colvile, 2008).<br />Blogs have inherent qualities that bring about or encourage a greater sense of civic involvement.<br />They foster engagement with the political process.<br />1. Civic participation and involvement<br />
  17. 17. Blogs are thought to extend and rejuvenate the ‘watchdog’ aspect of the media. <br />The surveillance and monitoring of politicians and the reporting of their activities and comments through blogs is broadly understood to bring a new level of accountability to politics. <br />Politicians good at media management, blogs offer a new way to scratch the surface.<br />2. Accountability for politicians<br />
  18. 18. <ul><li>Blogs allow for innumerable ‘voices from below’ means that existing power structures and forms of communication are damaged.
  19. 19. Blogs constitute a challenge to traditional systems of expert knowledge including journalism.
  20. 20. Mainstream media challenged as individuals are able to engage in journalisitic activities external to the large media industry ‘gate keepers’.
  21. 21. These‘citizen journalists’ undermine and highlight the problems selectivity, partisanship, bias and prejudice in mainstream journalism.</li></ul>3. Erode the influence and power of formal groups and existing media power structures<br />
  22. 22. However there is severe criticism of this interpretation of blogs.<br />Blogs do not operate quite as the <br />blogophiles would have it…<br />Problems with blogs…<br />
  23. 23. Barlow (2007) argues that blogs do not present a new form of journalism but represent (and restore) a theme of citizen journalism in American political life, they are part of the ‘ideological mainstream’ (Kenix, 2009).<br />Blogging is a very American style of political engagement, the small ‘man’ fighting bad corporate forces.<br />Fits in well with US media ecology and mythic understanding of the role of the media.<br />Also the highly individualised, biographic nature of blogs.<br />Does it work as well else where, is it distorting and transforming media systems to a US model?<br />1. It’s a very American media… <br />
  24. 24. Commercial interests are becoming increasingly prevalent – what Dean (2010) calls ‘communicative capitalism’<br />Popular blogs attract advertising like other forms of media.<br />Blogs not oppositional to mainstream but draw from them (Haas, 2005) .<br />Also blogs area PR dream in some ways - paid for blog posts a strong feature in ‘below the line’ advertising campaigns.<br />2. Commercial interests…<br />
  25. 25. Same problems that beset original public sphere.<br />An imbalance in who can write with the same demographic issues as other forms of internet activity:<br />Predominantly educated, affluent, white bloggers.<br />(some movement on proportion of women when compared to other internet activity).<br />Issues of information literacy.<br />3. Not an equal playing field.<br />
  26. 26. Biggest problem is fragmentation. <br />Internet ‘audiences’ are notoriously partisan.<br />Participants in online deliberative environments tend to stick within their community of interest (Hill and Hughes, 1998; Wilhelm, 1999), ‘pockets of interest’ (Selnow, 1998), ‘deliberative enclaves’ (Sunstein, 2001) or an ‘online echo chamber’ (Singer, 2005). <br />Bloggers do the same, we read blogs that reinforce not challenge views.<br />Mutually supporting belief groups may seem to exacerbate differences and lead to extremism (Tateo, , a far cry from the development of citizenship and of rational discourse that Habermas identified as the goal of deliberative action.<br />4. Fragmentation<br />
  27. 27. Probably do facilitate change but may be better to think of them as exacerbating existing phenomena rather than bring about truly new social action.<br />Best to understand them not as a technology but a social practice.<br />Their use is mediated by social conventions, political locality and history, is also contingent upon certain conditions.<br />Conclusion – how to ‘read’ blogs<br />
  28. 28. Barlow, A. (2007) The Rise of the Blogosphere, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.<br />Blood, R. (2002) We've Got Blog : How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture, New York: Perseus Books.<br />Colvile, R. (2008) Politics, Policy and the Internet, London: Centre for Policy Studies. <br />Dean, J. (2010) Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Cambridge: Polity Press.<br />Haas, T. (2005) ‘From “Public Journalism” to the “Public's Journalism”? Rhetoric and reality in the discourse on weblogs’, Journalism Studies, 6(3), 387-396.<br />Hill, K.A. & Hughes, J.E. (1998) Cyberpolitics: Citizen Activism in the Age of the Internet, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.<br />Kenix, L. (2009) ‘Blogs as Alternative’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 790–822.<br />Raikundalia, G. & Rees, M. (1995) ‘WebLog: exploiting the Web use interface for document management in electronic meetings’, paper presented at Queensland Computer Human Interaction Symposium, Bond University. <br />Singer, J. (2005) ‘The Political J-Blogger’, Journalism, 6(2), pp. 173-198.<br />Sunstein, C. (2001) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.<br />Tateo, L. (2005) ‘The Italian extreme right on-line network: An exploratory study using an integrated social network analysis and content analysis approach’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(2), [Online] Available at:<br />Wilhelm, A.G. (1999) ‘Virtual Sounding Boards: How Deliberative is Online Political Discussion?’, in by B.N. Hague and B.D. Loader eds. Digital Democracy: Discourse and Decision Making in the Information Age, ed., London: Routledge.<br />References<br />