The Expanding Blogosphere: Political Blogs-Online Journals Featuring Commentary, Often Highly Opinionated-Have Rapidly Become a Presence in the Campaign Landscape. Now Some Established News Organizations Are Hiring Established Bloggers or Creating Their Own. How Much Impact Does This Instant Punditry Have on Mainstream Political Reporting?

By Smolkin, Rachel | American Journalism Review, June-July 2004 | Go to article overview

The Expanding Blogosphere: Political Blogs-Online Journals Featuring Commentary, Often Highly Opinionated-Have Rapidly Become a Presence in the Campaign Landscape. Now Some Established News Organizations Are Hiring Established Bloggers or Creating Their Own. How Much Impact Does This Instant Punditry Have on Mainstream Political Reporting?


Smolkin, Rachel, American Journalism Review


When political bloggers bay in the blogosphere, do political reporters hear them?

The answer, I quickly learned, depends on four factors: how you define "political blog"; which political bloggers you mean; which political reporters you mean; and--not to go all Bill Clinton on you--what the meaning of "hear" is.

Blog, for the uninitiated, is shorthand for "Web log," online journals of thought and commentary. They feature a personal, distinctive voice, links to other sources and regular postings displayed in reverse chronological order with the newest entry first. Readers scroll down the screen to scan the blogs, which often include a place for reader input, archives of past entries and "blogrolls," lists of other blogs the author finds useful.

Political bloggers chew over the news of the day, frequently skewering journalists' coverage or spotlighting what they feel are undercovered stories. Objectivity is generally verboten in the blogosphere, although ideology tends to be less rigid than the partisan debates that play out so repetitiously in newspapers and on television. And bloggers are a clubby bunch, referencing and linking to each other even when ideologies clash.

A few hours into my research, I felt a rising sense of panic--there was SO MUCH OUT THERE.

There are the rock stars of political blogging--Glenn H. Reynolds (www.instapundit.com), Andrew Sullivan (www.andrewsullivan.com), Joshua Micah Marshall (www.talkingpointsmemo.com) and Mickey Kaus (www.kausfiles.com)--moody maestros who stroke their keyboards more quietly but no less fervently than Coldplay's Chris Martin.

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There are amateurs and pros and semi-pros and group blogs and pure blogs and media blogs and bloglike-journals-that-aren't-really-blogs-or-kinda-are-depending-on-your-point-of-view. There are more blogs out there than any one person could reasonably hope to read or even find. After new software made blogging easy and free in 1999, the phenomenon took off. The September 11 attacks and their aftermath spawned another wave of political blogs.

"The people are now talking," says Jeff Jarvis, the blogger behind Buzzmachine.com and president of Advance.net, which runs online services for New-house Newspapers. "The people are blogging. Millions of them are blogging."

Yes, in these hardened, cynical times, amid angst over media conglomerates and homogenization of news, political junkies are using cyberspace to opine and whine, to preach and beseech.

And the news media are gingerly following the people's lead. The line between pure political bloggers and "Big Journalism," as Reynolds calls it, is fading.

"Big Journalism," the target of so much contempt and derision in the blogosphere, is borrowing elements of blogs, experimenting with them and sometimes even co-opting the bloggers themselves.

Kaus, a former writer for The New Republic and Newsweek, moved his once independent Kausfiles to Slate, a Microsoft-owned online magazine, in May 2002. The Washington Monthly, a small but influential politics and policy magazine, hired blogger Kevin Drum in March. Reynolds blogs for MSNBC.com in addition to writing his own InstaPundit blog.

The conservative magazine National Review hosts a group blog called The Corner; the liberal magazine The American Prospect countered with Tapped. In September, the Prospect hired blogger Matthew Yglesias as a writing fellow; he now blogs for Tapped in addition to his own site.

Some journalists' blogs favor reported tidbits and analysis over swashbuckling commentary. Daniel Weintraub, a public affairs columnist at the Sacramento Bee, helped set the tone for coverage during his state's recall race with his California Insider blog. The New Republic's Ryan Lizza blogs about the presidential race on the magazine's Campaign Journal site. Even the New York Times has launched an edited campaign blog of sorts, Times on the Trail, which is breezier than the paper but more straitlaced than most blogs. …

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The Expanding Blogosphere: Political Blogs-Online Journals Featuring Commentary, Often Highly Opinionated-Have Rapidly Become a Presence in the Campaign Landscape. Now Some Established News Organizations Are Hiring Established Bloggers or Creating Their Own. How Much Impact Does This Instant Punditry Have on Mainstream Political Reporting?
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