Blogging Hits the Mainstream

Article excerpt

Chris Baker is a writer for The Washington Times.

You know blogging has gone mainstream when air-conditioning contractors are doing it. Blogs--short for Web logs--are online journals that, until recently, have been the domain primarily of amateur political pundits, conspiracy theorists, and pseudo-experts on any number of topics.

But log onto the Web site of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and you are directed to "ACCA Buzz," a blog that invites the trade group's members to weigh in on topics such as air-filter sales, new refrigeration technologies, and whether the Minnesota Twins manipulate their stadium's ventilation system to prevent home runs by visiting teams.

"Our members may not be your typical bloggers, but this works for us," said Kevin W. Holland, the trade group's vice president of communications and membership.

The group is one of several businesses and organizations that are bypassing newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other traditional media to take their message directly to consumers through blogs.

The Democratic National Committee boosted the prominence of blogging when it issued press credentials to more than three dozen bloggers-- primarily politically oriented writers--at its convention in Boston in July. The Republican Party invited 10 to 20 bloggers to cover its quadrennial meeting, which convened in New York City in August.

Until recently, the journalistic and political "blogosphere" comprised amateurs, although more established reporters, such as MSNBC host Chris Matthews, have jumped on the blogging bandwagon, as have the traditional news media companies.

Some news media analysts say blogging is a significant shift in the way people get their news and learn about new consumer products and services.

Others are more cautious. "The traditional form of journalism is not going to be replaced by blogs. It is just a different form of communication, and we have to learn to recognize that difference," said Howard I. Finberg, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a St. Petersburg, Florida, journalism school.

Old as the Internet

No one knows how many blogs are online today. One estimate places the number at 1 million, although Finberg and others suggest that could be a conservative guess.

For all the talk about blogs in the press today, they are not new. Some Internet historians cite the first Web site--created in the early 1990s by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee--as an example of a blog because it contained links to other sites and was updated regularly.

Matt Drudge's gossip site, introduced in the mid-1990s, is another example of an early blog. It set the tone for many politically oriented blogs by mixing opinion and commentary with links to stories published on newspaper and TV news Web sites.

Today, popular bloggers include Ana Marie Cox, an Arlington, Virginia, writer whose Wonkette.com blog skewers inside-the-Beltway politics, and journalist Andrew Sullivan, who dishes up commentary on the news of the day. In addition to Matthews of MSNBC, other journalists from mainstream news organizations have joined renegades such as Cox and Sullivan in the blogosphere.

The Democratic convention included self-published bloggers such as Cox, as well as reporters from established news organizations, including ABC News, CNN, Minnesota Public Radio, the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Washington Times.

Consumers are unlikely to abandon established newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs for bloggers as long as the mainstream press delivers "quality journalism," said Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts, group that tracks technology trends. "People want quality journalism, and that tends to exist in traditional institutions. That isn't to say bloggers don't do quality journalism, because some of them do," she said. …