Blogs are a new medium of communication which is accessible to anyone with the ability to use the Internet. With the demonstrated power and reach of blogs it is important to examine this medium and the subsequent impact which it may have on mass media.
How are blogs impacting mass media?
Since the inception of online journal keeping in early 1994 we’ve seen the metamorphosis of online personal journalism into the global phenomenon that is known today as “blogging”. The term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger (1997) and was later shorted into the most commonly used term today, “blog”, by Peter Merholz (1999). In that time period the concept of blogging has moved from being static posts manually updated on a website or newsgroup to a system assisted by publishing solutions such as Movable Type or Blogger.
Doc Searls’, of the Linux Journal, explains that “Blogs are journals, not sites. They are written, not built. The best ones have a heart that beats daily or faster. The writing itself is more conversational than homiletic… That means its authors are speaking, and not just “creating content”. They speak to readers and other bloggers who speak back, through e-mails, comments or on blogs of their own. That means what each blogger says is often incomplete and provisional. Like all forms of life, blogging remains unfinished for the duration.” (Searls, 2005) As a manner of speaking, blogs have become a forum of interactive conversations focused on politics, world events, social commentary and meme. This collection of blogs in which authors post, comment, cite and trackback to others’ blogs form a social network or community which we now refer to as the “blogosphere” (Graham, 1999; Quick, 2001).
The leading blog search engine, Technorati.com, reports in their “The State of the Live Web” (April 2007) that they are tracking 70 million weblogs with approximately 120,000 new ones being created each day factoring out to about 1.4 new blogs every second. These blogs produce 1.5 million posts per day, or 17 posts per second. Perhaps most staggering is the growth rate from 35 million blogs to 75 million which only took 320 days, more than doubling the number of blogs in under a year’s time. (Sifry, 2007)
As “further evidence of the continuing maturation of the Blogosphere”, Technorati’s CEO, Dave Sifry, reports that 22 of the Top 100 Web sites are blogs, 9 of those being in the Top 50 (Q4 2007). He goes on to say that “Blogs continue to become more and more viable news and information outlets. For instance, â€¦the audience is less and less likely to distinguish a blog from, say, nytimes.com—for a growing base of users, these are all sites for news, information, entertainment, gossip, etc. and not a ‘blog’ or a ‘MSM [mainstream media] site’ (Sifry, 2007).”
So what is the significance of such publishing power as represented by these numbers?
In as much as many more people have access to Internet publishing as compared to print publishing the Internet has democratized free speech. Whether it’s a news report you disagree with or offering personal commentary on major world events, people can now speak up and offer their opinions and input through simple comments (such as on www.USAToday.com) and blogging.
That the Press is the “fourth estate” is a concept founded on the idea that the media’s function is to act as a sentinel of the public interest and a government watchdog. In as much as this is true, bloggers are the newly established “fifth estate”—those watching the watchdog.
In the case of “Rathergate” (September 8, 2004) Dan Rather of CBS’s 60 Minutes Wednesday reported on documents obtained by his producer from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett that “were taken from Colonel Killian’s personal files” and authenticated by experts retained by CBS. The documents included criticisms of Bush’s service in the Guard during his service in the 1970’s. Within hours bloggers, beginning with the FreeRepublic.com, challenged the authenticity of the documents, and for a two week period CBS denied allegations. While many may speculate on the effect this story might have influenced the 2004 Presidential Election we cannot be sure, however with the mass media coverage spawned by bloggers challenging this story we easily see bloggers step into the realm of mass media influence.
Rony Abovitz, a blogger made famous by his posting CNN executive Eason Jordan’s accusation at the World Economic Forum in 2005, acknowledges the influence and impact that blogs have stating, “The ability of blogs such as this one [www.forumblog.org] to influence and reach the mainstream media is a relatively new mode of the expression of free speech—truly free speech. The balance of power is being disrupted because the corporate media can no longer strongly control what a wide audience sees or hears. We need to continue this reclaiming of the freedom of speech away from corporate media, where revenues and market share will always balance with objectivity—a business is a business and has its own internal logic of building shareholder value. Voices who care primarily about the ethical and moral considerations of an issue are needed if the world is to become transparent and accountable. (Abovitz, 2005)”
As for the impact blogs have on business, consider events of the now historical day in which “AppleGate” (May 16, 2007) took place. The extremely popular technology blog, Engadget, reported that the iPhone and Mac’s new OS “Leopard” would both be delayed several months (Block, 2007). And with what affect? Within six minutes of the report Apple’s market capitalization suffered a devastating hit of four billion dollars where many investors lost staggering amounts of money (thanks in part to the automation now built into “playing the stock market game”).
Engadget is also known for exposing the ability to “hack” the Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U-Lock (September 14, 2004) with a simple Bic® pen (Torrone, 2004). Even as of May 2007 a search on Google.com for “bic pen” yields results of which numbers 5 and 6 are regarding this scandal.
In a case study “Measuring the Influence of Bloggers on Corporate Reputation” regarding “Dell Hell” (June 21, 2005) where influential blogger and US media veteran Jeff Jarvis blogged about his negative experiences with Dell’s customer service (Jarvis, 2005) the conclusion was made: “Blogs are influential and they can be highly negative in their impact. Bloggers do operate in packs which predominantly reference one anotherâ€¦ It is clear that one person’s perception of a brand, if it chimes with that of others, can materially damage that brand. Dell’s customer services now have a somewhat negative perception.” (Market Sentinel, Onalytica, Immediate Future, 2005)
Michael Arrington, of TechCrunch.com, sums up it up well speaking of the impact and future blogs in media and business—”the fact is that big blogs now have an incredible amount of power to move information quickly, and influence people more broadly than ever before. I’m not sure we (bloggers) understood quite how much influence we really had until yesterday [May 16, 2007]. “AppleGate” will become an important historical footnote for the development of blogs and the evolution of the news and editorial business more generally. With power comes responsibility.” (Arrington, 2007)
In conclusion, as noted, blogging is a very powerful form of communication having great impact on society, government, business and the mass media. Blogs have established their place at the media table, and proven a powerful platform in the democratization of media. And with nine blogs in the top 50 websites (Technorati, 2007) blogs have entered the realm of mass media. As such, the mainstream media must take regard blogs as an impact form of journalism, and as the watchdog’s watchdog (Cooper, 2006), both in government and the general public sphere.
Barger, J. (1997, December 17) Robot Wisdom WebLog for December 1997 robotwisdom.com http://www.robotwisdom.com/log1997m12.html (2007-05-30)
Merholz, P. (1999, April) For What It’s Worth peterme.com http://web.archive.org/web/19991013021124/http://peterme.com/index.html (2007-05-30)
Searls, D. (2005, October 31) Linux for Suits – The World Live Web linuxjournal.com
Graham, B. (1999, September 10) It’s Peter’s Fault bradlands.com
Quick, W. (2001, December 30) I Propose a Name Daily Pundit http://www.iw3p.com/DailyPundit/2001_12_30_dailypundit_archive.php#8315120 (2007-05-30)
Sifry, D. (2007, April 5) The State of the Live Web, April 2007 Sifry’s Alerts http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/000493.html (2007-05-30)
Seelye, K. & Blumenthal, R. (2004, September 9) Documents Suggest Special Treatment for Bush in Guard Free Republic http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1210662/posts (2007-05-30)
Abovitz, R. (2005, February 3) Journalists Killed in Iraq – The Core Issues forumblog.org
Block, R. (2007, May 16) iPhone delayed until October, Leopard delayed again until January Engadget.com http://www.engadget.com/2007/05/16/iphone-delayed-until-october-leopard-delayed-again-until-januar (2007-05-30)
Torrone, P. (2004, September 14) Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U- Lock hacked by a Bic pen Engadget.com http://gadgets.engadget.com/2004/09/14/kryptonite-evolution-2000-u-lock-hacked-by-a-bic-pen/ (2007-05-30)
Market Sentinel, Onalytica, Immediate Future. (2005, December) Measuring the influence of bloggers on corporate reputation marketsentiel.com http://www.marketsentinel.com/files/MeasuringBloggerInfluence61205.pdf (2007-05-30)
Jarvis, J. (2005, June 21) Dell lies. Dell sucks. Buzzmachine.com http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/cat_dell.html (2007-05-30)
Arrington, M. (2007, May 17) AppleGate techcrunch.com http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/05/17/applegate/ (2007-05-30)
Cooper, S. D. (2006). Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate. Spokane, Wash: Marquette Books.