Friday, July 23, 2004

Reading:: "The Power and Politics of Blogs">

Originally posted: Fri, 23 Jul 2004 09:07:36

The Power and Politics of Blogs

By Daniel W. Drezner and Henry Farrell

Blogs are coming under increased scholarly scrutiny. A collection on blogs and rhetoric, Into the Blogosphere, just went online. Our very own white papers series at the CWRL has a paper on blogs and pedagogy. Of course, Drezner and Farrell's paper is a bit different from these. For one thing, both authors are political science professors; for another, they both produce well-trafficked blogs. These two factors give them a somewhat unique view of the blogosphere as they try to answer the question: "Why do blogs have any influence at all" in politics?

Good question. Drezner and Farrell provide statistics that suggest exactly how few people read blogs for information and opinions (only 4% of online Americans). Yet blogs demonstrably affected media coverage in everything from the Trent Lott scandal to the current scandals involving Sandy Berger and Joseph Wilson. Why? Among other factors, Drezner and Farrell argue that

blogs have the comparative advantage of speedy publication -- they have a first-mover advantage in socially constructing interpretive frames for understanding current events. As a result, political commentators will rely on blogs as sources of interpretive frames for polticial developments. Under a specific set of circumstances -- when elite blogs concentrate their attention on a breaking story or an underreported story -- the agenda-setting power of blogs may create focal points for general interest intermediaries. (pp. 4-5)

The authors go on to offer up a network analysis of the blogosphere -- not the Latourean kind with which I'm familiar, but the kind that takes statistics. I barely passed statistics, so let's skip a bit and home in on a point that's more interesting to me. Specifically, the blogs that are most influential to politics are those that influence the mainstream media -- and those blogs are often written by people who are (socially) networked with the mainstream media. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, James Taranto, and others come to mind here. And just as politicians have learned to deal with the mainstream media through tactics such as leaks, they are beginning to learn how to limit blogosphere damage by watching for indicators and moving quickly to deploy their own frames of reference in the mainstream media first. Politicians can't get in front of the blogs, but they can beat the blogs to the mainstream media.

All in all, an interesting read.

Caveat: Drezner says this is a "first draft," although the name of the PDF is "blogpaperfinal."

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