The rise of blogs

by Henry Farrell on January 21, 2006

“Danny Glover”: at the _National Journal_ has written one of the best summary articles on blogs and their consequences for US politics that I’ve seen. It picks up on something that’s under-reported and under-studied – how blogs change politics through reframing political and policy issues. Most assessments of blogs and politics focus on how bloggers have successfully demanded the heads of Trent Lott, Eason Jordan etc on platters. This is the most visible consequence of blogs – but not the most important. The more fundamental (albeit much more difficult to measure) impact of blogs has been in reframing political issues such as Social Security for the media and other elite political actors, thus helping to change (sometimes in quite fundamental ways) the basis of political conversations. As Dan Drezner and I “claimed”: the year before last, blogs’ primary impact on politics is through this kind of indirect influence. The Corey Maye case is a good example of a case where blogs have failed to have an impact, as Mark Kleiman (his site seems to be down; hence no direct link) suggested some weeks ago. Even though it created a massive “spike of attention”: on both the left and right of the blogosphere, it hasn’t had wider repercussions – because other political elites (journalists, policy-makers) haven’t picked up on it. But where other political elites do have an incentive to pick up on what bloggers are saying (as was true in the Social Security debate, where journalists desperately needed ways of framing and simplifying a complex and highly salient political issue for their readers) the political effects can be very substantial indeed.



california_reality_check 01.21.06 at 1:14 pm

WaPo – Some Howell comments are back.


John Emerson 01.21.06 at 1:21 pm

The biggest things blogs do are:

1) Reduce the power of anonymous editors and layout people. They can stick things on page 16, but Atrios will pull it out. There are lots of IF Stones now, and their work is almost instantaneous. I think that this is the most important single change caused by the internet, and few seem to realize how important it is.

1) Make most pundits irrelevant, unless they’re very good (e.g. Krugman). The positional advantage of being a NYT / WAPO pundit is almost entirely gone. The policy-wonk people most likely to read Richard Cohen or Nicholas Kristoff are the same ones who are most likely to prefer internet commentators.

3.) Changes in fundraising are real but not revolutionary. It’s easier to form grass-roots movements, though, and rumor-spreading and lych-mob organization are (for better or worse) easier and quicker.

What the internet does not do: produce news content. The bloggers who do mostly are run by print journalists (Robert Parry, Josh Micah Marshall).


DonBoy 01.21.06 at 1:46 pm

Kleiman’s blog is now officially a group blog and the url has been changed:


california_reality_check 01.21.06 at 2:12 pm

John Emerson – True. But there is a mutation happening now with Josh Micah Marshall. He has his own muckraker staff. Hope it works. I like his style even though I’ve been banned from his site.


asg 01.21.06 at 3:43 pm

I think it is premature to say blogs have had no effect on the Maye case. To say otherwise is to imply that his upgrade in attorney and other forward progress in getting a new trial is coincidence (and maybe it is, but it seems unlikely). The fact that his new attorney, who was public defender in the county, has been fired from that position, almost certainly as retaliation for representing Maye, also suggests that there was an effect from the publicity.


Seth Finkelstein 01.21.06 at 6:49 pm

Sigh. Same old fallacy – “blogger” and “professional pundit” are not disjoint categories. The general class of people is exactly the same – think-tankers, policy-wonks, media talking heads, etc.

And I wish someday someone in that small circle of friends would do an examination regarding how much the CBS memos / Dan Rather story was publicized by an institutional right-wing coalition, instead of the standard mythology of it being a grassroots triumph of these entirely strange news creatures who are unlike anything ever seen in the world before.


JohnLopresti 01.22.06 at 5:42 am

There are blog strata. The Crooked Timber paradigm is a useful way to share openly what more personalized and specialized commentless blogs protect and develop as one would one’s own journal, syllabus, and course notes.
Some wide portal blogs serve to introduce nascent thinkers to colloquy; next some escalate to thinking outside of the mere coterie.
The cryptic lexicons of specialized blogs are intriguing, and interchanging concepts on those sites hastens learning.
The most abstruse writers often are best read, studied, and observed as if a copious tome one tries to digest in a mere weekend of late nite reading by the favorite reading light.
I find one of my favorite approaches to bookish study very bloglike: some of the deepest researchers are publishing their interim papers, yet affording readers an alcove in which to speak thoughtfully to one another as well as to address the author, all the while respecting the auspicious silence of the most cavernous reading room.
Sites like Crooked Timber’s additionally offer the vast blogroll linked sites. It may present as a neural networks puzzle, a kind of stereotyped guesswork as to which door contains the hidden rabbit of knowledge, if you will pardon the mixed and diffused metaphor; but the effort, time willing, is well worth the transit.
A neat effect I am observing is the weeding pressure upon standard journalism; indeed, other media forms recognize this and are rechannelling their study and output. I agree with many commenters here that the best thinkers and writers are fairly evident. When the first time you email Josh Marshall, he launches a multiple email interchange, you know you have contacted a responsive person.
Prawfsblog occasionally launches questions like the one you state, Henry. CT has the advantage of many strong principals who build the site.


california_reality_check 01.22.06 at 11:28 am


Neil Sroka 01.23.06 at 4:43 pm

Thanks to Henry for bringing this article to the attention of CT readers. It methodically lays out many of the interactions that have occurred between the political blogosphere and MS politics over the past few years. In short, its a great article to file away for later preening.

One thing that does leap out, however, is just how much research about blogging seems to be going on over at GW? While I was well aware of Henry’s work and that of a few others, it seems like GW may THE place for the study of politics and the new media phenomenon.

(Full disclosure: I’m currently a student at GW and working on project on blogging and politics. So, feel free to call me a little biased.)

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