Typing Politics: The Role of Blogs in American Politics

Article excerpt

* Typing Politics: The Role of Blogs in American Politics. Richard Davis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009. 232 pp. $19.95 pbk.

Bloggers are usurping the power of traditional journalism elites and giving a political voice to the previously unheard masses. Right? Not according to Richard Davis.

In Typing Politics: The Role of Blogs in American Politics, Davis carefully and convincingly documents a surprisingly limited role for the nation's most-read political blogs. His provocative thesis is that blogs do not represent a "distinctive form and a reform of the existing communications and political systems" as bloggers often claim. Rather, Davis concludes that blogs have developed a mutually dependent relationship with politicians and the traditional media.

The conceptual framework for this book is transactional agenda setting, which Davis describes as the idea that "[rjather than a linear relationship in which other players are merely the receivers of media agendas, the agenda-setting process is more transactional in nature. Elites, the public, and the media all join in agenda setting." Davis explores that notion using the results of quantitative and qualitative content analyses of both political blogs and elite media content and surveys of traditional journalists and readers of political blogs.

If a 200-page agenda-setting study is not your idea of a good read, don't worry. Davis' agenda-setting analysis adds a valuable theoretical component to his study but does not detract from the book's readability.

Typing Politics begins with a well-written account of the decade-long history of political blogging. Davis pays special attention to the most-read political blogs, including Daily Kos, Instapundit, and The Huffington Post. (The top ten political blogs have 49% of political blog readership, Davis says.) There are many interesting anecdotes about blogging, some familiar but others new to me.

Then Davis, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, explores the still-evolving relationships between bloggers, politicians, and the traditional media. In an admirably even-handed way, Davis describes how these groups do - and do not - influence one another. For example, he says bloggers often are the first to frame a news story because bloggers sometimes can report a story more quickly than the traditional media. That frame then sometimes is adopted by the traditional media. However, traditional journalists surveyed said that while they read political blogs, they seldom rely on them for either story ideas or information because they perceive the blogs as biased and inaccurate. …