Diversity in the Blogosphere

by Henry on June 10, 2005

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.



Ben Alpers 06.10.05 at 10:36 am

Interesting that you should be having this conversation about the importance (or non-importance) of the gender of political bloggers during the week of the pie-fight fight on dKos, Booman Tribune, and a variety of other related websites.

FWIW, I agree wholeheartedly with you, Henry. The status of female political bloggers (and it’s not their absence…there are plenty of excellent female political bloggers) is a matter of great importance. Related to it, of course, is the definition of what constitutes political blogging.


Eszter 06.10.05 at 10:53 am

[Is there some rule as to what is an inappropriately long comment to a post? I apologize if this is a bit much.]

First, I think you guys did a really nice job. It was interesting to listen to the discussion and you made some good observations about why blogs do offer the potential for something not possible using other communication media.

I would have addressed a couple of points somewhat differently (but I wasn’t the one live on the air). I note these points here not as criticism (as I said, you did a really nice job discussing various issues), but simply to move the discussion from the radio show into the blogosphere.

1) A listener asked whether there are blogs that aggregate different perspectives on an issue. Both Henry and Eugene suggested that this does not occur much in the blogosphere. Although it may be true that “blogs” per se do not do this often, there are Web sites out there that present the various sides of issues, they are just not necessarily called blogs. I realize the show was about blogs, but where/how do we draw the line? I’m thinking about sites like http://www.e-thepeople.org . There are also blog aggregators of sort that point to blogs of different stripes equally and at the same hierarchical level, so to speak, although I realize those pointers are not necessarily to posts on the same issue. Moreover, during campaign seasons there are sites that show you where different candidates come down on an issue (example: issues2000.org). Again, not blogs per se, but online resources and in some cases also interactive.

2) Regarding the potential fragmenting role of blogs in the political realms both of you seemed to suggest that there is definitely potential for that. It is a tricky question. It is hard to say whether in this day and age of talk radio representing very particular sides blogs are really doing that much *more* to fragment people into isolated groups. One of the challenges of answering this question is that there is not that much “before” data on fragmentation so it is hard to say whether blogs are really *changing* things for the worse per se (”worse” depending on your take on the issue).

Overall, both of you (or all three of you may be more appropriate:) did a very nice job, good show!


dsquared 06.10.05 at 11:00 am

I think that the answer to the “killer question” and also to Eugene’s comment, would be:

“We know that the majority of political bloggers are white men, because whenever questions of sexism or racism get discussed in the blogosphere, they talk about it in such an amazingly clueless, stilted and defensive way”.

myself included in this, particularly on the subject of sexism. But it is true.


nick 06.10.05 at 11:02 am

The first-mover advantage doesn’t seem to me something that established bloggers should lament. Nor does “a level playing field for all forms of opinion” sound like a worthy ideal. Should evil ideas be given the same credence and attention as constructive ones? The blogosphere, as I see it, is a fluid crucible of argumentation. Bloggers help sort out the credible from the nonsense. Barriers to entry into this marketplace of ideas are INCREDIBLY low. If certain demographic groups feel/are underrepresented, there is nothing to stop them from becoming part of the process. Whether anyone cares is another subject altogether.

“Certain issues get discussed to death; others are systematically overlooked.” How could this not be so?


ab 06.10.05 at 11:02 am

Well, it wouldn’t be surprising if bloggers were overwhelmingly white. After all, bloggers (and most of their readers) remain relatively elitist — much more well-educated and well-off than the average. And since America’s elite is overwhelmingly white, the blogosphere is probably white too. The real question is what bloggers do in the face of this elitism: So bloggers should try to think more about what kinds of topics they discuss.


Matt Weiner 06.10.05 at 11:08 am



Henry 06.10.05 at 11:31 am

Eszter – you’re right on the talk radio issue – I’d meant to bring that in, but didn’t. It’s hard to make the case that blogs are any worse than, say, Fox News or Rush Limbaugh in creating self-segmenting universes – and to the extent that blogs are doing this, they are only one aspect of a larger social phenomenon.


catfish 06.10.05 at 12:00 pm

I have to take issue with the idea that blogs are fragmenting political opinion. Because I do not subscribe to right wing publications, watch television, or listen to talk radio, blogs are my main source for right wing opinion. Visiting Volokh, Bainbridge, Southern Appeal, Jane Galt, et al is quick and easy. You get the intelligent conservative/libertarian take on a lot of issues without having to wade through hours of nonsense on FOX News or Limbaugh. Without blogs most of my information would be mainstream media or leftist sources with an ocassional browsing through the National Review at the public library. I think most people do the same. I’m guessing that the bloggers at Crooked Timber engage right wing opinions to a much greater extent than before they began blogging.


pedro 06.10.05 at 12:20 pm

Gretchen Helfrich is one heck of a smart woman, and Odyssey is my favorite radio program.

Btw, dsquared is absolutely right. And Henry’s observation that SF points to male-whiteness is interesting. The literary academic side of the blogosphere (with the exception of The Valve) is very different from Crooked Timber. That gender dynamics are at play is undeniable.


dsx 06.10.05 at 12:38 pm

There needs to be less anonymity in the blogosphere. I want to know whether I’m reading a second rate academic that no one would pay attention to but for the internet, or a self educated know it all dilettante :>)


GlennBridgman 06.10.05 at 12:48 pm

With comments like that, d^2, is it any wonder that people are defensive?

Anyway, saying that or anything similar to it would have gotten Henry reamed thouroghly by Volokh.


Steve 06.10.05 at 12:54 pm

Two Thoughts:
1) Worrying about whether popular bloggers are overwhelmingly white/male seems to me a bit about worrying about whether popular ice cream is vanilla or chocolate (or whether model railroaders are white, female, male, or anything else). Popular bloggers are popular because people like to read them, and people like to read blogs because they enjoy it (just like other people like to play with model trains). Suggesting that it is ‘problematic’ that people like certain things (vanilla ice cream, white bloggers, model railroads, whatever) strikes me as absurd, and subject to extremely dangerous solutions (obligate blogg readers to read certain things? Obligate people to like reading black female political statements?)
2) Your response is, no doubt, that political blogs are different from ice cream, or model railroading, because they have a political impact on society. But alot of things have a political impact on society. Is it a ‘problem’ that book best-sellers tend to be written by people of a certain color or gender? Or is it simply that readers tend to read what they want to read, and the writers that provide popular writing tend to succeed? Is it a ‘problem’ that people tend to vote for the people they want to vote for, or watch the commentary that they want to watch, or listen to the radio broadcasters that they want to listen to? The only ‘problem’ I can think of is if people want to listen to broadcasters other than the ones you would choose if you could force them to choose. In essence, a problem for the little dictator.
The entire question presupposes some kind of centralized management that, if it were only changed, would allow for a different (better) racial/gender makeup of the blogosphere and thus society wouldn’t be as fragmented/divisive or something. As someone else said, starting a blog is frighteningly easy. Blog readers tend to be ‘voting with their feet’ and reading what they want to read. I’m just not sure why, amongst adults, this is even an issue.



des von bladet 06.10.05 at 1:02 pm

Is it a ‘problem’ that book best-sellers tend to be written by people of a certain color or gender?

That men mostly read books by men while wimmins read books by men and wimmins was certainly the subject of recent hand-wringing in Blighty, for instance.

It is perfectly normal to discuss the means by which “natural orders of things” perpetuate themselves and whether we should attempt to intervene in them, at least outside of the Free State of Libertoonia, and long may it stay so.


Scott Ferguson 06.10.05 at 1:41 pm

The question, “Are most bloggers white males?” isn’t the real question that’s being asked — it’s: “Are most bloggers THAT WE CARE ABOUT white males?” — “we” being the dominant media.

There are perhaps 10 million people who keep weblogs on the internet. Many thousands are published, for example, by Asians who don’t write in English. Their blogs are unreadable by most American radio program hosts. There are several associations of black American bloggers — and a number of prominent ones (Ambra Nykol, La Shawn Barber, Baldilocks) are women. Most blogs have nothing to do with public policy. Go to xanga.com, see thousands of blogs written by teenagers about, well, teenager stuff.

But the very small fraction of a percent of the blogosphere that the media pays attention to are published by a tight little cluster of mostly conservative white males, or another tight little cluster of liberal activists — all of whom link to each other.

The question posed by host reeks of hubris.


Rebecca 06.10.05 at 1:55 pm

For statistical info on bloggers from a study that uses a random sample, read this article:

For more data on blogs by Herring, et al, check out:


Nils gilman 06.10.05 at 2:06 pm

I’m not sure that path-dependence applies to the topical predilections of bloggers to the degree that you suggest. If someone emerges with a fresh, original voice on a topic of broad interest, there’s no reason they cannot get heard and attract an audience. This is especially the case if they not only blog on a topic that is currently underserved by the elite blogosphere, but also on topics that are central to the elite blogosphere. In other words, draw people in by talking about Iraq or Social Security, and then talk about (e.g. Andrew Sullivan) Catholic theology, or gay rights, or whatever other topics you consider underserved.


Daniel 06.10.05 at 2:55 pm

I would also add that I solved the problem of “why are the blogs dominated by white male middle class professionals” too; it’s because more or less everything is.

Haha, only serious. I mean really, it does seem a bit odd, given the world we live in, to have a special and particular theory of white male domination of weblogs. One would have thought that it’s more likely to be an instance of the solution to the general case.


Silent E 06.10.05 at 3:12 pm

“The question posed by host reeks of hubris.”

Actually, the dialogue as described does not indicate this. Gretchen asked what “we” knew about bloggers – and that could easily have been answered by either guest with some general statistics about bloggers such as you cite. If those statistics were not at hand for the interviewees, too bad. Evidently, Henry punted on the subject.

But *Henry* described the “‘big’ political bloggers” as being white and male. How “big” is defined is a different issue. Most hits? Most links? Most money raised for candidates? Most mentions on CNN Inside Blogs?

The “biggest” bloggers could mean group blogs.

OR simply the tallest and heaviest – which is more likely to be male.


des von bladet 06.10.05 at 3:15 pm

Daniel: Yebbut nobbut, weblogs are free and anarchic and outside the corporate mind-control power grid of The Man, isn’t it?

So, as contestant #12 pointed out (or at least exemplified), there are in principle no structural reasons why the playing field should be other than magnificently even. Yet the White Males are (allegedly) still calling the shots even so.

Some paranoid half-crazed leftistes (like me and apparently you, Henry and Eszter) are reduced to blaming Society (man); others (Volokh and Steve von 12) deduce that in fact the dominance of white males is either unimportant or simply reflects the One True Natural Order of Things.

Personally, I’m off to weave some macrobiotic yoghurt, grow my beard and write a whiny letter to the Guardian (which I am confident Harold Pinter will co-sign) — what are the rest of you planning to do about it, eh?


donna 06.10.05 at 5:00 pm

I link to lots of great female political bloggers who I don’t know the color of, although most of them are probably a bit pinkish-beige. Anyway, if there aren’t enough women on your blogrolls, just look around.

What She Said! found lots and lotsa female blogs – over 500 last time they counted.


Progressive Women’s web ring is here (178 listed):

Belle blogs has 38 listed:

There’s Time Goes By, who blogs on ageism and social security:


Helena Cobban’s Just World News:


There’s pinko feminist hellcat:

Lauren’s feministe:

Ellen at TBOP:

Greek goddess Echidne:

A snarky cat:

The women of feminist blogs (aggregate of posts):

And here’s a nice transexual blogger:

So, is that enough diversity for y’all? Seek and ye shall find, you don’t have to just read the “Big Boys”.


joejoejoe 06.10.05 at 5:07 pm

I don’t understand why the “overwhelmingly white male blogosphere” debate continues. There is no scarcity of bandwith and thousands of women and people of every race and backround blog. These diverse blogs are there for any reader. Why is it important to focus on the aggregate? I find more diversity in blogs than in any other media.

This site is hardly a white male bastion. I read Kos, Body and Soul, War and Piece, Steve Gilliard, Juan Cole and Riverbend on a regular basis. If you have other tastes you can read Michelle Malkin and Jane Galt. Why the focus on the white maleness of blogs? Traffic?

If I visit my local ice cream shop I expect they have 20 tubs of Vanilla in the freezer and only one of Rum Raisin. But as long as I can get my scoop of Rum Raisin I don’t much care how much volume they do on Vanilla. If Atrios is moving millions of scoops of Vanilla then more power to him. Other blogs have any flavor you like. No barriers exist to finding your favorites. So where’s the debate?


Jayanne 06.10.05 at 7:32 pm

C. 12 “1) Worrying about whether popular bloggers are overwhelmingly white/male seems to me a bit about worrying about whether popular ice cream is vanilla or chocolate”

C. 21 “If I visit my local ice cream shop I expect they have 20 tubs of Vanilla in the freezer and only one of Rum Raisin.”

The word these two commenters omit (or are unaware of) is *power*. The reasons ethnic majority women and members of ethnic minority groups are radically underrepresented in “elite” groups have little to do with the reasons why there are more vanilla tubs in the freezer (I am not prepared to say there is no relation at all, as in both cases, moulded preferences are involved). There’s a massive scholarly literature on all this but I accept that people who hold to the Ice-Cream Model of Political Representation and Power won’t be interested in it


fifi 06.10.05 at 7:45 pm

Bloggers have an aura of solemn self-importance about them that says “white male, but with an explanation.”


Seth Finkelstein 06.10.05 at 7:51 pm

Note many of the top power-bloggers are not unknown, anonymous, entities of cyberspace. They show up at conventions (both blog and political), and people meet them in various contexts. Anyone who is not White Male, stands out noticeably (Oliver Willis, who is a prominent leftist political blogger, and also a black male, talks about this occasionally).

The reason the discussion is important is because there’s a lot of propaganda about blogging being a pure meritocracy. Thus, some pundits conclude that if there are large power imbalances, along gender and racial lines, well, that just proves that white males are naturally more meritorious (paging Lawrence Summers at Harvard …).

To show that the power in the blogosphere is very similar to elsewhere is important social discussion, even if perhaps it’s obvious to most commentors here.


joejoejoe 06.10.05 at 9:07 pm

Jayanne – Thanks for the “Ice-Cream Model of Political Representation” remark. I don’t know if that was a slam or not but I enjoyed it. Next week is I will share my “Breakfast-Pastry Model of Political Economics”. Stay tuned.

Instead of studying why blog “power” is predominately white and male (power defined as what exactly?) why not focus on institutions that DON’T turn out white and male and see what makes them tick? Blogs are mostly white and male but then so is Congress. And so is just about every corporate board. Many institutions are white and male – it’s not suprising to me that blogs would duplicate this pattern, technology and anonymity be damned.

Power is an ill defined concept in blogs. If you wanted to track the various torture scandals related to US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo I doubt you could do better than read Jeanne @ Body and Soul. But how much traffic does she generate, how much media coverage? Is she “powerful”? The Senate Foreign Relations committee is “powerful” but ignores the issue. As does the leadership of the Pentagon. But Jeanne is on the record for all time and may at some point be considered the most “powerful” voice on the subject. All this bean counting of gender and race obscures the relative value of the writing. Powerline gets plenty of hits but is it truly “powerful”? It’s an echo chamber with ideas that last as long as they are welcome by those in real power. Is that something to aspire to for other blogs?


Billings 06.10.05 at 10:52 pm

“The left is a lot stronger and diverse in the blogosphere than it is in the mainstream media.”

The MSM is saturated with leftist views. That’s why its numbers are dropping in all of the polls measuring public trust.


PersonFromPorlock 06.11.05 at 12:02 am

Maybe the reason White males dominate blogging is because they get on with the job instead of agonizing over who ought to be doing it?


Seth Finkelstein 06.11.05 at 1:08 am

Note to any reader of this thread who is inclined to react “Yes, of course, hierarchy, inequality, oligarchy, ho-hum”. It’s not that this is new – rather, it’s ongoing, here THE SAME AS everywhere else.

Some of the comments are all the proof you should need.


engels 06.11.05 at 3:55 am

I mean really, it does seem a bit odd, given the world we live in, to have a special and particular theory of white male [middle class] domination of weblogs.

The reason for this is, if you discuss the white male middle class domination of everything you quickly get shouted down as a loony anti-capitalist or “old-fashioned” class warrior. However, if you pick on something sufficiently marginal and a la mode as weblogs a certain amount of breast-beating can be tolerated.


moni 06.11.05 at 4:30 am

I think Scott Ferguson nailed it. There’s a whole lot of people who keep blogs or journals in other languages than English, write from other countries than the US, wether they’re in Asia or Latin America or Europe or Arab countries or anywhere else, and even those who write more about politics, strictly or loosely defined, write about things that either have little to do with the internal US political debate or are not easily fitted into how that political debate is framed.

Then, there’s all the people who really do not feel any urge to keep a weblog or journal online.

Yet, whenever these demographic/sociological questions about “the blogosphere” are raised on the “big” US weblogs, the implied assumptions are always:
– the “blogosphere” we’re interested in is exclusively anglophone
– within it, we really only pay attention to US bloggers
– within that group, we really only pay attention to US bloggers who blog about politics
– within that category, we really only pay attention to those who write about politics in the way the political debate is framed at institutional or mainstream level in the US
– within that category, we really only pay attention to those bloggers who participate in debate by citing the media or other bloggers and engage in back-and-forth so that circles of discussion on common grounds are created, blogrolls replenished, awards given, media mentions, and so on.

Is it any surprise it all boils down to white, male, American, wealthy, educated?

That’s the same people you have “at the top” in any other area, politics, work, media, etc.

(This, regardless of the actual quality of content and interest of the different discussions in that blogosphere.)

Whenever something is already implicitely defined in such narrow terms, it’s a bit blind to wonder why it’s not more inclusive. It doesn’t have to be inclusive, of course. (If “inclusive” is even the right word). But then, you shouldn’t use excessively generic terms like “blogosphere” either, at least not without qualifying it as English-speaking, predominantly US-based, political, popular, mainstream, etc.. Because that is most definitely not taken for granted.


Billings 06.11.05 at 7:50 am

I get what this is all about. Blogs can be a new way for white males to feel guilt. It’s brilliant. Let’s get the government involved and established quotas and set-aside programs.


Jon H 06.11.05 at 9:15 pm

“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.”

It’s because most shows aren’t geared towards actual discussion, but are more about helping the guests convey their talking points.

Thus, Talk of the Nation might invite someone from Club For Growth and someone from AARP, and lets each lay out their predictable established cases without actually discussing anything or informing the listener.

Odyssey, on the other hand, tends to invite people who aren’t actively involved in pushing something or lobbying Congress, and chooses topics which don’t help do that. The discussions are at a higher level which also helps cut down on guests trying to move their political ball or sell something.


Jon H 06.11.05 at 9:17 pm

And I want Odyssey to do more April Fools’ shows.

The one with a guest who wrote “Chewbacca’s Purse: Androgyny and Sexual Dissonance in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” was great.


Amardeep 06.12.05 at 8:15 am

It’s funny, I thought the blogosphere was dominated by middle-class Indian men and pseudonymous white female English professors who all seem to call themselves “[Something] Girl” or “[Something]PhD.”

Where are all these white male bloggers everyone is referring to? Kos? I thought Kos was Latino? Anyway, I’m having trouble finding these reported white male bloggers via google. Do they really get much traffic?

[Small joke… I’m with Joejoejoe: the diversity is there, if you’re willing to look for it.]


Jayanne 06.12.05 at 1:53 pm

“Jayanne – Thanks for the “Ice-Cream Model of Political Representation” remark. I don’t know if that was a slam or not but I enjoyed it.”

Hi joejoejoe, yes it was a slam — but I don’t mind your enjoying it!

“Instead of studying why blog “power” is predominately white and male (power defined as what exactly?) why not focus on institutions that DON’T turn out white and male and see what makes them tick?”

Because we’d find they were powerless? :) — actually, it’s interesting to look at the reasons why there are so few women in Congress then at why most top bloggers are male, because prima facie, different factors are at work (in fact I think Seth’s right, the same ones are), so, absent the barriers to women’s greater presence in Congress, why is the blogelite so very male and white?

“Power is an ill defined concept in blogs.”

I thought about that after I posted, and went on thinking about it. Atrios, Kos, etc. seem to be the top bloggers, but does that make them a power elite? I only know what I’ve read about this on US blogs… but if I accept that then I’d say these men are gatekeepers, they do have power. You might want to call that power “influence”, but I think that would go against your point about Jeanne @ Body and Soul, who does, I think, have influence but does not (I’d say) have the power A & K etc. have to promote or demote other bloggers (I am not suggesting they do that unfairly, still, I would call it power).

But thank you for your reply — I thought you’d take offence!


Laura 06.12.05 at 8:12 pm

Henry – the paper we did for APSA last year found that the bloggers with the highest rankings were indeed mostly white, male, and highly educated.

But that might be changing. The Large Mammal category of bloggers are quickly rising in popularity and are much more diverse.


Functional 06.13.05 at 9:12 am

Joe said: This site is hardly a white male bastion. I read Kos, Body and Soul, War and Piece, Steve Gilliard, Juan Cole and Riverbend on a regular basis.

The above was a bit weird. John “Juan” Cole is obviously a quintessential white male. He even has his picture on his blog.


Scott Ferguson 06.13.05 at 12:23 pm

John “Juan” Cole is obviously a quintessential white male. He even has his picture on his blog.

functional, he’s a white hispanic male, so he doesn’t count. ;-)


Functional 06.13.05 at 3:16 pm

Who says he’s Hispanic? According to his own personal webpage, his original name was “John,” and he is descended from German immigrants. Not that I care, but if people are going to give themselves points for reading “non-white-males,” they can’t count Juan Cole in that category.


Anthony 06.13.05 at 9:59 pm

Y’all are missing a big part of the picture: economics. How does a blog get to be “big”? It has to discuss something interesting, in an interesting way, and there need to be lots of posts. Preferrably several a day.

Poor people in the US, and more so outside the US, are less likely to have a computer or internet access at all, so the blog population skews slightly richer than the US population at large, and significantly richer than the population of other countries where there are “big” bloggers.

The more important factors, at least in the US, is the need to write well and post frequently. Poor people in the US often go to atrocious schools, and don’t learn to write in a way which anyone else would voluntarily read. (They’re also frequently less confident in their writing abilities, and thus are less likely to start to blog.)

But much more important than that is the ability to spend time reading a lot of other articles, and spend a significant time thinking about and writing about what one reads. Having the sort of on-job leisure time, particularly with an internet connection and incurious supervisors, which make frequent posting possible, is a preserve of the office-professional class, which includes academia. That class is significantly wealthier than the American population as a whole, and skews whiter.

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