The word blog is not really a word at all. It is instead a combination of two words, web and log. These two words describe a blog perfectly: they are logs of people’s thoughts, published on the Web.
Blogs did not exist to any significant effect ten years ago, but now there are over 184 million blogs according to the blogging website Technorati. The reason there are so many is because they are incredibly easy to make. Anyone can take five minutes and download the blogging software WordPress or set up a blog on Blogger.com for free. The collected thoughts, pictures and videos of bloggers have come to be known as the blogosphere.
According to a July report by the Pew Internet & Ameican Life Project, blogging is a growing and fairly mainstream media form. 33 percent of Americans read blogs, 11 percent on a daily basis. 12 percent have their own blog and five percent blog daily.
Blogs can be about anything: pictures of your newborn, the latest celebrity news, scans of your artwork, a diary of your day, thoughts about a favorite team, or all of the above. If you can think about something, you can blog about it.
The area perhaps most affected by blogging, however, is the political word. In 2004, blogs were few and far between’€making the 2008 presidential election first to be fully blogged. Now, anyone who is anyone in the world of politics has a blog: pundits, newspapers, television shows, candidates, and activists.
Political coverage used to be the domain of newspaper reporters and television anchors who only had a certain number of column inches or broadcast minutes to fill with political coverage every day. Blogging has reversed that’€if anything there is too much coverage. The sheer number of words written about the 2008 election, which has been blogged about since 2006, is probably several times the number of words written about all the other American elections combined.
Because blog postings are so short – who is going to read thousands of words online? – blogs pressure newspaper articles to become shorter as well. The New York Times reserved two columns on their Election ‘Ëœ08 pages for a print version of their election blog, The Caucus, where the average article length is about 200 words. Readers seeking more professional election coverage than even the big newspapers can provide can find stories on online political newspapers and blogs like the Politico.
Blogs have also blurred the line between reporters and non-reporters. Mayhill Fowler, a Huffington Post blogger, first reported Barack Obama’s comment at a San Francisco fundraiser about small town Pennsylvanians who “cling to their guns and religion, one of the biggest stories of the primaries. Fowler only heard the comment, however, because she was at the fundraiser as a donor and a supporter’€not a journalist. Doubtless Obama would not have made the comment if he knew it would be front page news.
Because blogs are incredibly easy to start and require no overhead costs, they have led to the democratization of the political media. Anyone, not just the paid pundits, can comment on the race, the issues, and the candidates. If your insight is good, people will read you and hyperlink to you from their own blogs.
A perfect example of this is Nate Silver, who runs the polling blog FiveThirtyEight.com. Before he started the blog in March, Silver was just one commentator among thousands on Daily Kos, one of the most popular liberal blogs. Because he was able to bring his expertise as a baseball statistician to the world of politics and provide sharp polling insight, he quickly became a strong authority on election polling.
Most political blogs are explicitly biased, unlike mainstream news sources, which sometimes suffer from an overemphasis on objectivity at the expense of the truth. Because blogs are free to operate without this burden, they can push stories they feel are important to them. This has both benefits and drawbacks: bloggers can popularize important stories ignored by the mainstream media, but they can also ignore ones that do not jibe with their political leanings.
The blogosphere has become a force in politics in and of itself, especially as part of the base of the Democratic party. Liberals disaffected by their party’s leadership started flocking to the blogosphere in the early 2000s and have created, far more than the right, a powerful community within the party.
Markos Moulitas originally started the Daily Kos as a place for him to post his thoughts. Now on Daily Kos, anyone can blog one “diary per day and comment on candidates and issues.
When these thousands of political activists join together, they can be a powerful force within the party. After Barack Obama changed his position on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which many liberals oppose because it would permit warantless wiretapping, blogs like Daily Kos erupted in outrage. Moulitais himself announced he would withhold contributions from Obama and diarists denounced Obama’s position. Eventually, the presidential candidate himself had to try to clarify and explain his position in a blog post straight to the masses.
Blogs are often criticized for being insular – people only read blogs that agree with their ideology. This is largely true – liberals read liberal blogs and conservatives read conservatives ones, rarely challenging their ideological assumptions. George Washington University professor Henry Farrell studied blog readership and determined that 94 percent of blogs readers only read blogs of similar ideological views. He also determined that blogs polarize politics, as there are very few centrist bloggers.
Andrew Sullivan, one of the most popular political bloggers on the internet, writes in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly that hyperlinks make blogs a bit more complicated.
“You can disappear into the partisan blogosphere and never stumble onto a site you disagree with, he wrote. “But linkage mitigates this. A Democratic blog will, for example, be forced to link to Republican ones, if only to attack and mock. And it’s in the interests of both camps to generate shared traffic. This encourages polarized slugfests. But online, at least you see both sides.
For both better and for worse, blogging is changing media coverage of politics. But blogging is still only in its adolescence. If you thought the 2008 election has been heavily blogged, just wait until 2012.