Wag the Blog: How Reliance on Traditional Media and the Internet Influence Credibility Perceptions of Weblogs among Blog Users

Article excerpt

This study surveyed Weblog users online to investigate how credible they view blogs as compared to traditional media as well as other online sources. This study also explores the degree to which reliance on Weblogs as well as traditional and online media sources predicts credibility of Weblogs after controlling for demographic and political factors. Weblog users judged blogs as highly credible-more credible than traditional sources. They did, however, rate traditional sources as moderately credible. Weblog users rated blogs higher on depth of information than they did on fairness.

While the debate over whether the Internet as a whole should be judged as a credible source of news and information has ebbed as more users have flocked to news sites sponsored by traditional media, the question remains of how much faith users should place in certain online components such as Weblogs (also known as blogs). Weblogs, diarystyle Websites that generally offer observations and news listed chronologically on the site as well as commentary and recommended links,1 surged in popularity after the events of 9/11.2

Bloggers (those who create blogs)3 and traditional journalists4 argue over how much faith to place in messages posted on the blogosphere (the blogging universe). But while several studies have examined credibility of online media, scholars have paid little attention to how credible users judge Weblogs. Metzger, Flanagin, Eyal, Lemus, and McCann argue that one weakness of online credibility studies is that they examine only the Web and ignore other Internet components.5

Alternative sources of news and information, such as Weblogs, have been ignored. However, their credibility deserves attention for several reasons: First, they are a growing phenomenon, increasing from an estimated 30,000 in 1998 to at least three million by the beginning of 2004.6 Second, while the number of blog users is small (only 17% of Internet users have ever visited a blog),7 their influence may exceed their readership. Because many blog users are politically interested and active, they are wooed by tech-savvy politicians. For instance, blog users may have given a boost to presidential hopeful Howard Dean.8 Also, many journalists consider blogs a trustworthy source of information and rely on them for information and story ideas.9 Blogs have been credited for bringing to light stories ignored by the traditional media, such as racist remarks by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott that led to his resignation.10

This study surveyed Weblog users online to investigate how credible they view blogs as compared to other sources. This study will also explore how reliance on Weblogs, as well as traditional and online media sources, predicts credibility of Weblogs.

Traditional Media and Credibility

Beginning in the 1940s, many researchers studied the impact of the credibility of sources on interpersonal influence, examining what characteristics made a speaker persuasive. Similarly, researchers examined characteristics of persuasive messages. Studies of the credibility of a medium, however, arose from concerns in the newspaper industry first about the rising number of people turning to radio for news and then about the number relying on television. The rise of the Internet has led to a host of recent credibility studies comparing traditional sources with this emerging medium.11

Nontraditional Media and Credibility

Credibility research has focused almost entirely on mainstream media, particularly newspapers.12 Many of these studies were conducted by news organizations that feared that falling credibility would signal further decline in readership and advertising profits.13

Credibility of Nontraditional Media. Several studies have explored the impact of nontraditional media such as talk radio and latenight talk shows in the last three presidential elections on voters14 and on the campaign itself15 while others have explored the content of such nontraditional media. …