May 21, 2005

Not Blogged Down

A study finds weblogs have not replaced the mass media as the public’s main source of information

By Ellen Wulfhorst

New York: Weblogs, or blogs, may be a powerful new force in US politics, but they have not displaced the traditional media in terms of information and influence, a study revealed on Monday. Charting the discussion of issues during the 2004 presidential campaign, the study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and consultants BuzzMetrics found that political blogs—online opinion and information sites—played a similar, but not greater role, as the mainstream media and the candidates’ campaigns in creating “buzz”. The study dispels the notion that blogs are replacing the media as the public’s primary source of information, said Michael Cornfield, a researcher at Pew. “Bloggers follow buzz as much as they make it,” said Cornfield. “Our research uncovered a complicated dynamic in which a hot topic of conversation could originate with the blogs or it could originate with the media or it could originate with the campaigns. We can say that if people still have that idea that the bloggers are the new fifth estate, that the bloggers are the new kingmakers, that’s not the case.” Echoing that finding, a University of Connecticut poll released on Monday showed eight in 10 journalists read blogs. But while 85% of news professionals believe bloggers should have constitutional protections of free speech, the poll said 75% think bloggers are not real journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards”. One of the newest players in the blogosphere, syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, said on Monday that bloggers can be more relentless in pursuing stories. “We need that kind of persistence to break through the static,” she said. “It’s quite amazing to me how many stories die on the front page of The New York Times,” she said. “It’s not that stories are not covered. It’s that they’re not covered with the relentlessness that the blogosphere can bring to it.” The Pew Internet study showed blogging functions alongside the traditional media, said David Sifry, a software developer at a blogging forum in New York where the results were released. “It’s not about ‘either/or’. It’s about ‘and,’ ” Sifry said. “That’s why I still read The New York Times.” The Connecticut survey also showed 43% of the public said the press has too much freedom, 60% felt the media is biased and a fifth said the government should be allowed to censor the press.

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