Friday, May 04, 2007

British Blogging Power (Part 3)

In the final instalment of our assessment of political blogging, we will attempt to answer the last remaining question which is why blogs are able to influence the MSM. In part 1 we examined the ability of blogs to directly influence people. The conclusion was that (relative to population) British blogs had a greater ability to directly influence than American ones.

In part 2, though, we showed that the blogs wielded their power by influencing the MSM. In America the MSM is quote open in quoting from blogs whereas in the UK they are not. It is likely that even in Britain blogs do indeed influence the MSM but since no recognition is actually given to them it becomes hard to measure successes. This analysis raised the question of why MSM journalists read blogs and become influenced by them. This is what this part will deal with.

There are three reasons that could explain this. The first is that some blogs are essentially single-issue. This means that the blog becomes a store-house for more specialised information on a particular issue and also means that the author/s may be more knowledgeable in that field. For a journalist who cannot know everything in detail these resources provide an easy way to access information and do some background research into an issue.

Another key reason is the structure of the blogosphere. There are a plethora of small blogs and a small number of large blogs. When a small blog uncovers an important piece of information it will normally be passed up the chain to the bigger blogs. This movement happens very quickly and so this information, uncovered by one individual somewhere, can quickly be told to many thousands. And, since it reaches prominence quite quickly, the MSM can pick up on it and report it while it is still relevant. In this way the blogosphere acts as an investigative organisation that can uncover information and bring it to the attention of the MSM. It is in this capacity that the blogs are hailed for their ability to scrutinise everything, because it only takes one person to spot a mistake and there are thousands looking.

The last reason also stems from the structure of the blogosphere. In the blogosphere, some stories can be kept on the front page. The MSM might lose interest in a story very quickly because they feel it to be unimportant. However, if the story remains strong on the blogosphere then this is an indication that the public consider it important. Thus the MSM can use blogs to gauge public interest.

Based on this, blogs are only useful if they can fulfil one of these three criteria. They must either be specialised, investigative or large.

There is one exception; the blog written by an already well known commentator. This type of blog has influence because the person who writes it has influence. If the author were to pick up the phone he could directly influence the MSM that way, but instead complements that form of influence with a blog. In the case of MPs the blog is designed purely to be a PR exercise and acts as a steady release of press statements.