I was on the Odyssey show on Chicago NPR yesterday, debating blogs with Eugene Volokh, and got a question that floored me in the opening minutes of the discussion (audio link here). I was asked by the radio host what we knew about bloggers – and responded that there were a lot of them, and that while we didn’t know much about the profile of bloggers in general, we did know that the “big” political bloggers tend to be overwhelmingly male, white and well educated. She then asked me how I knew that these bloggers were white, and I floundered for some seconds before saying that many had pictures up on the WWW. This wasn’t really a satisfactory answer, as many don’t have pictures, and even those that do might in theory be putting fake pictures up for the hell of it. Probably the more accurate answer is that I infer it from the way that Technorati 100 bloggers overwhelmingly tend to discuss the kinds of things that white well educated guys with mildly-to-very geeky interests in technology, pop culture and science fiction like to talk about. At a later point in the interview, we were both asked whether this was a problem. Eugene thought not so much – there’s a lot of political diversity among well educated males. I disagreed – there are some real issues with, say, the way that politics is defined. Certain issues get discussed to death; others are systematically overlooked. If a different crew of people had been there at the outset of the blogosphere, and able to take advantage of the massive network effects/path dependence, the blogosphere could have been a very different place indeed. On the one hand, the blogosphere does seem to me to have made a real contribution to diversity in the media as a whole. Some voices that tend systematically to get shut out, say, from the op-ed pages of the major dailies, play a real role. The left is a lot stronger and diverse in the blogosphere than it is in the mainstream media. But that doesn’t mean that we should think that the blogosphere itself is a level playing field for all forms of opinion; it isn’t.
My floundering aside, I should note that Gretchen Helfrich who hosts Odyssey, did far better at asking interesting and searching questions about the blogosphere than anyone else who has interviewed me on the topic before (or who I’ve heard interviewing other people). That’s in part a function of the hour long format, which allows for more expansive discussion, but only in part.