Bloggers claim to be crucial providers of information in American elections and policy debates, usurping the role of mainstream media. This study coded more than 2,000 hypertext links to different sources on six widely read political blogs during seven consecutive days. Less than 15% of hyperlinks were to primary sources. Almost half were to mainstream media reports. Thus, political blogs may be comparable to a newspaper comprised of only op-ed pages and opinion columnists. The findings call into question the role of political blogging and raise concerns about how blog readers are learning about public policy and political debates.
The number and the influence of political bloggers have increased dramatically during the course of this decade, leading one observer to write: "Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite that they've undermined our sense of what is true and what is false. . . . These days, kids can't tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com."1 But the reading public disagrees. A February 2007 online poll of 5,384 Web users by Zogby International found that a majority of Americans (55%) consider bloggers "important to the future of American journalism."2 A Pew Internet & American Life Project survey in 2008 reported 24% of all American adults read blogs, and 9% of American adults reported creating and maintaining a blog.3 A 2006 survey by the same organization found 11 % of bloggers write about politics and government - the second most popular subject for blog authors after "personal."4 The most popular political blogs have far more readers than The Nation, National Review, or The New Republic.5
It has been argued that the presidential election year of 2004 was the first year in which bloggers played an "important" role in media coverage of electoral politics in the United States.6 Preliminary data suggest the Internet, on which bloggers are an important voice of political discussion, played an even more important role in the 2008 election. More respondents to a December 2008 Pew Research Center for People & the Press survey said they got most of their news from the Internet (40%) than from newspapers (35%) - a first in the survey's history.7
This study examines how top political blogs link their readers to different sources of information, and how often they direct readers to primary source material on the Web.
Political blogs organize their authences by using hyperlinks to link to other blogs, creatine a virtual community of shared interest and, often, opinion. Singer, in her study of 1,559 blog posts by mainstream media journalists in February and March 2004, found bloggers linked to other blogs about 11% of the time.8 Although no single perspective on the meaning of hyperlinks in computer-mediated communication has gained wide acceptance, there is an increasing body of literature that recognizes that hyperlinks are "meaningful, malleable and powerful" and that they "reflect deep social and cultural structures" in Web-based communication.9
Hyperlinks are the components of a social system,10 and social relations may be limned by analyzing the configurations hyperlinks create among Web sites. Hyperlinks bring Web sites - or, in this study, blogs - together in a way that demonstrates the priorities and agendas of the Web sites' authors." (Although, as Sunstein pointed out, hyperlinks in political blogs are often included to "show how dangerous, or how contemptible, competing views really are."12) Hyperlinking is the most important form of Internet gatekeeping.13
Hyperlinks direct a reader's attention to what the writer of a blog entry believes are important or credible sources of information and analysis and as such exist in a political and social context.14 The more hyperlinks spread out across the Web directing readers to a particular blog, the more credible or important that blog is deemed by other bloggers. …