Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Political Blogosphere--How Useful?

An interesting comment made by anonymous blogger x4mr is buried down at the bottom of an 87-comment thread to the June 23 Data Port. I’ve brought it up here because I think it’s well worth our discussing. Here ‘tis:

"I may be out of my depth here, and if so, apologies in advance.

How many people are we really talking to here? How many people are really reading/listening? How much do these blogs really influence elections? Who does this discussion really serve?

Make no mistake, I enjoy doing this and actually TDP is my favorite place.

If we are 50 people, or even 100, that perhaps get watched by another 100, we mean what?! This is over 80 comments deep and I am really not trying to start anything, but I think these blogs serve the bloggers, all 200 of us (or whatever) that might actually vote in CD8.

I think campaigns need to watch what is happening, but blogging is not an effective way to get votes."


What do the Data Port political junkies think?

23 comments:

Self Appointed Opinion Leader said...

Its a great place for lazy reporters, campaign wonks, and activists.

Blogs influence votes, but not directly.

Now DailyKos can get a few thousand reads, rather than a few hundred.

Which explains why Patty Weiss cross posts on both her site, and DailyKos.

The Willcox debate/video began on blogs and is now a mainstream story on the Arizona Star, with other mentions in the Tucson Citizen.

That story has legs, thanks to the blogs.

Gabby will not accept Patty's debate challenge, because she thinks no neutral party could conduct it fairly.

So much for Gabby's debate challenge in the near future about campaign financing.

This is an example of mainstream press informing blogs, and vice versa.

Dogma said...

I think both x4mr and SAOL are correct, and that their points are not mutually exclusive.

x4mr’s bottom-line being that “campaigns need to watch what is happening, but blogging is not an effective way to get votes." I think that’s true in the sense that blogging isn’t a way to ‘directly’ access/influence the vast majority of voters. Just us junkies…

SAOL’s point that blogs influence campaign coverage in the mainstream media, and visa versa, is also true. So to the extent that blogs do influence the debate in the mainstream media, one could argue blogs can have an effect well beyond their immediate, limited readerships.

Liza said...

Art,

I think that political blogs are slowly becoming more influential, but only within a very narrow segment of the electorate. First, you need internet access. Then you need time and motivation. You’ve just eliminated most of the electorate. However, I’m seeing where some of the political blogs are gaining in credibility as more professional writers become attracted to this part of the non-corporate media. I most definitely believe that is the direction we are going, and inevitably there will be more issues in the mainstream, corporate media that originated on the blogs.

Anyhow, Giffords Fans, now its time for some “tough love.” Your endless discussions about Giffords are BORING. Not only that, they are circular. They never go anywhere. If you want to be politically influential, you need to branch out and discuss other political issues. There’s a whole sea of them out there.

If you’re just entertaining each other, that’s fine, but you can pretty much rest assured that your political influence is close to zero.

Art Jacobson said...

Liza...

I have never tried to control what commenters have said, or wanted to talk about. That being said, the "endless discussions" about Giffords have been generated not only by her fans but by her critics.

I have become very sceptical about the influence of blog commentary.
Many of the blogs themselves, however, are very useful, particularly when they bring to light new information... think Rum,Romanism,Rebellion and Arizona 8th for instance.

I'll try to post on this topic later today. Perhaps some of the commenters should start their own blogs

'gards

Art

x4mr said...

Thanks, Art, for this post. Obviously I agree that the subject is worth discussing. I’ve not had much luck getting thoughts on this in the past.

I could not agree more with what you point to in terms of comments that provide value and those that do not. I think new information can consist not only of reports on events, etc., but also fresh perspectives or ways of looking at things, as well as questions that are worth exploring.

Before I go into what I want to post here, will just remark that I don’t get why Liza thinks it is Giffords supporters that “keep going on and on.” It takes two to play tennis or the volley is very short.

What follows is a little different from my other questions, but I think it is very pertinent to this conversation.

I found classifying commentators somewhat interesting:

Group One. Campaign Blog Squads (election specific)—nothing wrong with this. These folks post to support/defend their candidate and “attack” their opponents. They may be campaign staff or volunteers/supporters operating inside/outside of campaign control. They can operate with a degree of integrity, as I assert for Roger (Giffords), George (Latas), and crushie (Patty), or they can be malicious, contemptuous, mean spirited liars. Naturally there is a spectrum between the extremes.

These squads can descend on a story and post 100 comments in 48 hours, “talking to walls” and making little difference. Some of these shoot outs, as you know, contain heated exchanges and a lot of crap.

Troop Strengths? Well, the June 23 TDP Story attracted 88 comments from 14 individuals. The June 27 TDP Story attracted 73 comments from 14 individuals. They are almost the same people, 17-18 total involved. Over at kos the Giffords must be stopped! shootout attracted 68 comments from 17 individuals, and Patty’s Clean Elections Story attracted 151 comments from 22 individuals, all total at both, about 25.

Group Two: “Professional” Political Bloggers (not campaign specific)—I’m not saying these people are paid, but operate as if they are. This includes folks like Art, Tedski, Michael Bryon, and others that were blogging well before Kolbe’s retirement announcement. Some have their own blogs and some just comment. This group maintains a degree of professionalism, long term perspective, and quality writing. Not all, but some are gaining recognition, reputation, and perhaps influence. IMHO they deserve respect for the service they are providing. They won’t go away on 11/8.

At most maybe a dozen or so of these folks truly into CD 8 election.

Group Three: Election Specific Visitors—I became involved out of interest in CD 8 election, and most of what I read and post is CD 8 election related. Don’t know what happens on 11/8, but I’m probably hooked. Those in this category may join a squad (some may feel I already have) once they decide who they support. At least originally, their visit was out of political interest, internet geek factor, whatever, not devotion or service to a campaign or candidate.

Not many in this group either.

Group 4: OTFB (Out of the F Blue) visitors that show up and feel compelled to post their two cents. Clearly this happens, but very seldom.

Correct me by all means, but I’m getting there’s about 50 of us or so regarding CD 8 oriented activity, and that includes TDP, Gilamonsterville, BlogAZ, AZWatch, Tedski’s R3, Arizona Eighth, and the CD 8 postings at kos. Mind you, I am restricting to CD 8 comments.

With this information in hand, my conviction is stronger that blogs serve bloggers, and that we are own audience. I agree with remarks above that mainstream news relationship to blogs will be a major factor. There’s a little chicken/egg to this, but when they consider blogs something to report on, they will report, and this will send visitors our way, and there will be more to report. When Daily Star starts mentioning what happens at R3 or TDP and lists the links, it could really get crazy. Next thing we know, Art’s on ABC News, or, perhaps, 60 Minutes!

Sorry for the long post. This election is not going to be won or lost with any blog activity.

What other people think about all of this is most welcome.

x4mr said...

Clarification--Groups are not mutually exclusive, and please don't anyone think I'm saying there is something wrong with Group #1. Everyone has a right to blog for their candidate, and please chill on the word "attack."

I hope folks can understand the gist of it. There are good people supporting good candidates, ok?

It would be nice if campaigns could buy their Blog Squads' cool T-shirts.

FEDUP said...

I like the t-shirt idea. What if you are with no campaign? Can you get a t-shirt from each? Maybe they can buy my influence in perks. :)

Good analysis x4mr. I tend to agree with you. What you didn't address was the people who read and never comment. I would imagine that is the largest number.

Who is "crushie" for Patty? I haven't seen that name here or on R3.

Dogma said...

Liza,

This thread is all about ruminating on the political influence, if any, of blogs and blogging. It mystifies me why you would bring up “Giffords fans” in a derogatory manner (my interpretation) when you’re the only one here writing about any particular candidate. So, apparently, you're boring yourself ;-) I do agree, however, that broadening the conversation to the actual issues of the day would be a good thing!

x4mr,

Very nice analysis.

The total numbers of different individuals participating was especially powerful, in that it serves to illustrate just what a small bubble this world of blogging really is relative to democratic politics in Arizona.

Art Jacobson said...

The Curse of Anonymity

Almost without exception most of the people commenting here are anonymous. Although we may learn something about them from their posts we are barred from knowing who they are in their roles as our fellow citizens. This is the way of the web and I have long since stopped kicking at that net, but I continue to regret it.

As a practical matter I think it reduces the possible influence of the comment. Surely the reader who stumbles on these comment threads must ask, “Well, who are these folks and what are they afraid of?” Is our faith in the First Amendment so decayed, is our defense of it so threadbare, that citizens no longer feel secure in exercising the right of free speech?

Of course we must be ever vigilant that we don’t fall into the trap of ad hominem argument. The value of a comment, the validity of its argument, its good sense, does not depend on the speaker but on what is spoken. That being said the curse of anonymity is that it imposes no need for care on the part of the writer.

My guess is that Letters to the Editor have more influence. The writers are identified, along with where they live and, sometimes, what their professions are or have been.

Regards to all

Art

anonymous said...

The corporate veil does much more harm to our country than anonymous postings.

We need more disclosure from governments and businesses, and openness and transparency at all levels if our democracy is to survive.

Google has the names and IPs of everyone here, so that if our government achieved total information dominance (a current goal and policy) then anyone not 'approved' would be subject to Chinese style oppression, merely for posting on these political blogs.

Anonymity preserves more freedom than it takes away.

An open society would be very different than America during its War on Terrorism, and others it doesn't like.

Even Mexico has an appreciation for the human rights that are under continuous assault in the USA.

Liza said...

I think that Art has brought up something here that is very important, whether he intended to or not. To be honest, I’m very excited about this discussion because it dovetails perfectly with a discussion we had yesterday at my legislative district meeting.

First, please understand that I do not refer to you as “Giffords Fans” in a derogatory manner. I am a huge fan of freedom of speech as well as the rest of the First Amendment and the only thing that irritates me on any of the blog commentaries is when people become vitriolic. I certainly haven’t seen that here, at least not the kind of vitriol I am referring to. Actually, I use “Giffords Fans” with some degree of fondness, or at least as much fondness as one can have for anonymous bloggers (smile). Anyhow, all I’ve said is that the discussions about Giffords can get boring, which they often do. I’ll come back to this.

I think that the larger issue is how we use independent media. We all know how extremely difficult it is for anyone to disseminate a message that is not acceptable to the corporate media. We also know how few options there are to disseminate any message at all when you don’t have the money. So, we have two separate but overlapping issues - access and money.

Let’s think about the 2006 election without focusing on the CD8 house seat. Think about all the Democratic candidates who are running for other offices at lower levels of government, and who are getting very little attention. Here’s an example. Yesterday, at my legislative district meeting, Democratic candidate Richard Boyer gave a brief presentation. As political junkies, you probably know that Richard is running for the Arizona Corporation Commission. Now, using your imagination, try to get your mind around how difficult it is to get people interested in the ACC, even though their decisions have a profound effect on our quality of life. It’s an uphill battle, folks, that’s all I can tell you. Richard is running as a “clean elections” candidate, so he has some funding, and that’s not really the major issue here. Richard’s issue is, “How can I get people interested in something that hardly anyone is paying attention to?”

Candidates like Richard speak at legislative district meetings, various club meetings, and the rest of the usual circuit doing what they can to get their message out there and round up some support. As you might suspect, they end up speaking to many of the same people over and over. At the LD meeting, we had a brief discussion about how best to take advantage of low cost media resources such as editorials in the newspapers and whatever. The fact is, for most of these candidates, it has to be low cost. The money just isn’t there, in most cases.

Interestingly enough, no one mentioned the “blogosphere”. But, I’ve been thinking about this for some time, thanks to the Giffords Fans and a few others. Why not the blogosphere? I agree that it’s not a large community right now but the full extent of it is unknown to us. We know there are people who only read, we just don’t know how many. We also see where an increasing number of really good writers are using the blogs.

Well, I talked to Richard about this and suggested that he post on Kos for starters. If he’s going to write an editorial for a newspaper, he may as well post it and see where it goes. He has a website, but it's never occurred to him to try the blogs.

Here’s my point, so I hope you’re still reading. Many of these candidates for the not so glamorous offices really are in need of new ways to generate interest in their campaigns and their issues. And, for the greatest majority of these candidates, money is an issue as well. I would like to see the political blogs become a resource that these candidates readily turn to to disseminate their message. I think it could level the playing field a little bit, because its low cost, and anyone can do it. I know this is already happening to some degree, obviously, and the CD8 house seat race is a good example. However, what I am talking about goes way past the “shootouts” and boring commentaries that are circular, redundant, and unresolved. I am talking about educating the electorate in that drop your jaw, “Geez, I didn’t know THAT was happening” manner that is absolutely essential to increasing voter turnout in your favor.

There’s something else I would like to clarify before turning it over to you guys. I’m talking about educating a small part of the electorate, the part that is somewhat engaged, thinks about issues, and votes. I fully understand that about 80% are disengaged most of the time, no matter what you do.

So, do you agree with me? Can this happen in our local community? If so, how do we get there?

Art Jacobson said...

Liza...

Your long, thoughtful, post needs attention paid by all the Data Port commenters.

Nearly ten years ago...on a website called "Election '96"...I suggested the formation of "virtual precincts." The idea would be for each person to nominate himself/herself as the 'precinct chief' of a list of ten or fifteen people to whom to send regular e-mails.

The subject matter of these e-mails would be just the sort of information
you rightly suggest isn't given in the newspapers.

My warning is that you take care not to preach to the choir. Write to people you know who may not be the junkies we are. Write to older friends, parents' friends, people at work.

Send them informative posts from the blogs and news sources that you read.

Liza...

Start your own blog...The Virtual Precinct...and point us all in the right direction.

'gards

Art

x4mr said...

Good questions, Liza, but first I also want to address Art after two very quick remarks to Fedup: 1) can’t claim originality about "Blog Squad" (started at azwatch) nor even the T-shirts (started by Giffords squad member at kos). Crushie is a Patty squad member at kos.

Art’s thoughts on Anonymity point to very interesting ideas, and I have thought about blog identity. First, totally appreciate Art’s hunger for full disclosure, and if they don’t already exist, perhaps a time will come when a blog can be created that requires full disclosure (and evidence) of real name, town and state of residence, profession, and maybe even party affiliation. Everyone can visit, but to post as much as a sentence, you must say who you are truthfully and completely, and some process verifies this.

That would be a very different kind of blog.

So with full disclosure at one end of the spectrum, and utter non-identity on the other end, I do think there is stratification of identity in between. I would argue that although he is anonymous, Roger Kralmajales has a strong blog identity due to his prolific activity and let’s face it, whether you agree with him or not, the man is intelligent. When George posted a story suggesting Roger submitted a ridiculous remark to the Citizen, Roger objected. George retracted his story at once. Why retract so swiftly? Because in the blogosphere, George “knows” Roger.

I knew the ridiculous remark was not Roger’s at once. The language was wrong, i.e., I “knew” something about Roger that caused me to reject the assertion at once. So long as people select a certain “name” and then consistently use it, I think we get to know each other to a particular extent in a particular way. Over time, I think it’s possible for two bloggers to end up knowing each other quite well. I know Art likes Martini’s and if he remembers, he knows I like Laphroaig and a good cigar.

Regarding the value of anonymous comments, I would say an anonymous comment is valuable if it is valuable. Does it forward the conversation, provide an insight, make a useful observation or report? But I don’t want to lose sight of something important in what Art said. Maybe Roger comes close, but none of us behind created names can comment with the gravity, legitimacy, and newsworthiness of the “real” people like Art, Tedski, George, and the rest.

I really do appreciate his frustration with “the curse”, especially when he is posting stories with the goal of producing valuable discourse and the exchange of ideas, and these wackos with no accountability storm in with utter nonsense, or worse, when they come in and try to hold him to blame for the comments made (huh?!) or how the threads proceed. By the way, Art, don’t let’em get you down. The good news is that I believe the majority of folks posting comments do care, and that’s why TDP has some great stuff.

This is already too long. I do have thoughts about candidate blogging and campaign use of blogs, Liza. Back later.

CD8Dem said...

In case you missed it:

Gabby Gabby Gabby..............

See Patty Weiss call Gabby on her hypocrisy..... (Gabby talks the talk but she doesn’t walk the walk)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL2hDffM7TM

Liza said...

cd8dem,
No one is talking about that on this thread, in case you missed it.

x4mr said...

Liza,

My two cents on actually using the blogosphere (and that might be about what this is worth):

Jeff Latas has a diary at kos, and this is certainly an option to try to do what you are talking about, but I think a website is just as effective, with one exception—the website does not allow folks to post and respond to each other with the power/usability of a blog.

What I think we will see soon is the implementation of a website and a blog that have the same “look and feel,” i.e. when you visit either, they create the experience that they are the same place or at least very related. Using similar color schemes, the same posted links in the margins of both that heavily link to each other, the blog and the campaign website feel like one big site. One uses the website to do all of that stuff, and then the original blog posts become discussion forums wide open to the public with the ability to attract comments and respond.

You wouldn’t have to even call it a “blog.” You could have the Liza campaign website link to a blog called, “Liza’s Town Hall Meetings” and each original post is “calling a meeting” and the comments come (or not).

It’s the “or not” that is tough. There are the usual ways of pointing people to the website (plug it during speeches, on literature, mailings, net stuff like search engines, etc.) and the website plugs the blog. Also, there is visiting blogs and posting comments in support of your cause, but I think caution is warranted there.

Also (and interested in what others think), I have definitely noted a “contempt” that exists for blogs and bloggers. One politically active person said, “I don’t read those freaks” with a tone that dismissed any possibility that anything of value ever gets posted. But guess what? I think he is lying.

I can see the guy sneaking home, grabbing a Snickers bar and a beer, looking over his shoulder to make sure the wife isn't watching, and then blogging away to see who is saying what about who he likes and doesn’t, with the lights out and no one watching.

Not sure if I am the first to coin the expression, but I think we have a growing population of "closet bloggers."

Respect and acknowledgement are inevitable as this evolves. Famous people are starting to create their own blogs (Robert Reich). I think these are tools for a democracy like we’ve never seen.

Unless, of course, the dark side of the force prevails, and the jury’s definitely out.

sirocco said...

I definitely agree having blogs incorporated more seamlessly into a candidates website, as x4mr describes, is likely the next step, probably for 2008. I suspect there are campaigns out there somewhere in the country which already do this, actually, just none I am aware of.

The problem, though, from the cadidates perspective is the probability of each post getting overrun with comments by both supporters and opponents, such that the original message gets lost (or, at least, dimmed) by the noise. It would be nice if there was some way to develop a level of interactivity, even with opponents, that didn't get so wrapped up in argument and accusation instead of reasoned give-and-take, but I have no real concept of how that might be done.

Art Jacobson said...

Sirocco...
Of the three candidates we've been discussing only Latas has a blog in the fullest sense of the word. That is, a site where he posts and others my post responses.

Patty has what she calls a blog on her web site, but you can't post a public comment to it. Hence it lacks what I would consider an essential feature of a true blog.

Giffords has no blog, contenting herself with occasioal position statements and inviting comments that the rest of us cannot read.

Happy Fourth to All

Art

x4mr said...

Thanks and happy 4th!

This might be splitting hairs, but I would distinguish between a blog like TDP, R3, etc., and a diary set up at kos that invites responses, but yes, Latas referring to his diary as a blog has a degree of “reasonable.” Patty’s “blog” seems to misunderstand the meaning of the word.

I actually stumbled into one, Ellen Simon’s Blog which does very much what I was talking about, i.e. color scheme and left navigation column consistent with her website, but note the blog url is not her domain. I think this is the “primitive” (or maybe not so primitive) start of what is coming. Instead of starting original posts, she grants visitors the ability to do so.

I think the “internet policy” of each campaign reflects its view of how the internet is a factor in this election. I see a huge distinction between websites and blogs. With blogs, clearly Jeff and Patty are making efforts.
Another shootout has been started at kos by a Latas supporter, with members of the Weiss squad jumping in. Giffords squad may still be enjoying hot dogs, watching shuttle coverage, or perhaps considers this one unworthy of their time.

Agree with you, Art, that it appears Giffords campaign has little or no interest in the blogosphere, and that they feel resources are better spent on the campaign website. I can understand why. That desert in DC campaign raised over eleven grand in three or four days.

x4mr said...

OK, those web people are doing something fancy, so the link above takes you to their page, not her blog. To get to her blog, you have to go through her site and then click on the blog link.

Liza said...

Thanks for the comments.

Blogs that are integrated with a candidate’s website will work really well for those candidates in high profile races. Candidates who are struggling for recognition in the more obscure races are probably better served by one or two blogs that are well known and respected in the local community. The same is true for initiatives and other voter related issues.

Commentaries that degenerate into arguments or name calling can be a problem if you’re going for credibility, but I believe that there are ways to set higher standards. Its like any other argument, you have to know when it’s over and just move on. In other words, the bloggers themselves must have a vested interest in creating and preserving the integrity of the blog.

x4mr said...

As a result of this thread, did a little more looking around, and found quite a bit. Growth of blogs is perhaps exponential, but don't know enough to make that claim technically.

By the way, the Ellen Simon blog is probably a joke. I posted there many hours ago, and it didn't take. Interesting that every post there is glowing support.

Mike Caccioppoli appears to be doing the real thing, and John McCain has posted at a blog.

What I think campaigns are doing is creating blogs with control mechanisms, which may be necessary. My opinion: If they are going to screen content, they should say they are and publish the screening policy.

My post at Ellen's site was quite benign, and they didn't let it through. It is misleading to present that as an open forum, and aggressively screened content will not produce worthwhile dialog.

Liza said...

x4mr,
High profile candidates have to have a "gatekeeper" function on the blog commentaries. Otherwise, they will get overrun by hecklers and morons. It does kind of change the spirit of the whole thing, as blogs are generally democratic. I guess there's a tradeoff.

I would think that local political blogs for low profile candidates and voter issues are more apt to appeal to people who want real discussion or information. Hopefully, they can be unedited or minimally edited.