By Diana Lee
August 1, 2006
As the recent report, “Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers,” put forth by Pew Internet and American Life Project trying to debunk the perception of blogs as having a significant impact on politics, technology and journalism with a detailed record based on two telephone questionnaires [7,012 adults, including 4,753 Internet users (Nov. ‘05 – Apr ‘06) and 233 bloggers (Jul ‘05 – Feb. ‘06)], the mainstream media quickly touted the findings as valid and cited experts who claimed the report as credible.
Upon a closer scrutiny, some forwarded assertions have raised questions on the conclusions reached by the analysts and experts. Although the surveys had a margin of error plus or minus 7 percent, general sweeping statements made on the project are evidently contrary to reality.
Amanda Lenhart, the senior research specialist for the project, stated: "Bloggers in general don't intend to have a lot of impact. The motivation comes from within; it tends to be very personal. They're not out to change the world."
In other words, according to Pew’s statistics above, 46 percent (5.5 million) of American adult bloggers (12 million) do post for an audience. The blog-tracking service Technorati Inc. listed about 50 million blogs now on the Web. Based on Pew’s statistics evaluation method, one could infer that 46 percent (23 million) of 50 million blogs worldwide also post for an audience.
In addition, the gist of blogging has been the forefront of personal freedom; thus, it’s not surprising that about half of bloggers wanted to share their personal creativity and experiences with others. As a community-based activity, blogging has tremendously changed the way people communicate, especially among young adults, for the research shows that 54 percent of American bloggers are under 30 years old, evenly divided between men and women. More importantly, the Perseus Development Corporation, a consulting firm that studies Internet trends, found that the blogosphere continues to double about every 5.5 months. With the rapidly growing number of bloggers “to connect with others” on the Internet, it’s hard to imagine how bloggers could not see themselves as having any impact on a global scale.
Washington Post cited Alexander Halavais, an assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, for saying that “the average blogger is a 14-year-old”. Interestingly, Pew’s report findings seem to contradict Halavais’ misleading claim.
In a separate Pew Internet Project, “Teen Content Creators and Consumers”, 19 percent of Internet users age 12-17 (4 million) keep a blog and 38 percent of online teens (8 million) read blogs.
In fact, adult Internet users are three times more than teen Internet users — the average blogger, obviously, IS NOT “a 14-year-old”.
Furthermore, Alexander Halavais was quoted for saying that “the typical bloggers are not ranting about politics or trying to be hard-core journalists”. Here are some of Pew’s figures:
Looking at the data above, one could see that the most popular blog topic is politics and government (11 percent - around 1.3 million blogs). In fact, Hitwise analyst LeeAnn Prescott’s top ten list of popular blogs by market share included these political blogs: The Huffington Post (10.92 percent), Daily Kos (6.31 percent), MichelleMalkin.com (3.36 percent) and Crooks and Liars (3.26 percent).
Out of 12 million adult bloggers, 4 million considered blogging a form of journalism and about 5.3 million had their writing published before. To put it in perspective of the number of political blogs versus news sources, Google News tracks 4,500 news sources daily, which amounts to only .03 percent of 1.3 million political blogs that exist on the Web.
Moreover, the number of people regularly reading blogs has doubled in the past two years. Pew reported that 39 percent of Internet users, around 57 million American adults, read blogs; and 95 percent of bloggers polled, compared with 73 percent of all Internet users, both groups get their news online.
In retrospect, political blogs didn’t have any clout until the mainstream media ultimately failed to represent their views in the aftermath of 9/11 and more so in the lead-up to the illegal Iraq War. All political bloggers, conservative or liberal, aligned themselves in opposition to the elite press corps — where the conservative blogosphere accuses journalists of ideological bias and aims to undermine the media’s legitimacy and watchdog role while the progressive blogosphere perceives them as corrupt and compromised and faults the media for not reporting hard news.
Over the last five and a half years, the blogosphere has indeed weakened the role of media by exposing the insufficient reporting, inadequate prognosticating, and pro-establishment slant in mainstream coverage. The role of the blogosphere has evolved from lightning-speed fact-checking on the accuracy of media coverage to acting as a “political noise machine”, pressuring mainstream to cover a story. Functioning like informants, blogs have provided diverse, multiple tidbits faster than any established mainstream circuits whose reports were often echoed by smaller and local news sources. More importantly, the "citizen journalists" uphold the essential principle of journalism — freedom of the press BELONGS to the people.
Perhaps the increasing skepticism of mainstream media as relevant news source is still debatable, one thing is clear — the rise of blogosphere’s influence on the media is definitely inevitable in the 21st century.
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