Monday, February 20, 2006

Fame!

Alas, the fortune went to someone in Nebraska.

The Wichita Eagle surveys political blogs in Kansas, and declares "Josh Rosenau is one of Kansas' most popular political bloggers."

Tim Berger (occasional commenter here and blogging on economics at his blog, politics at the Grand New Party) and Nate Thames (also a commenter here, blogging at The Anti-Sam among many others) all say what I said, blogging is about community. We see it as a way to reach out to a broader community of more divergent mindsets.

I've said before that I seek out views from smart people I disagree with. I try to challenge myself and my readers, not just to drive people to the extremes. I don't know if I succeed, but compare Guth's line with what any of us said:

Berger: "When you start to write something out, you start to see the weaknesses," he said. "That feedback from others motivates me."

Thames: "I think it's a community-building exercise," he said. "I think it's about people being fed up with the one-way flow of dollars to politicians" and finding a place to debate their own views.

Me, a week ago: "What I love about blogs is that, while it's possible for people to build an isolated community of like-minded yokels, it's just as possible to increase the diversity of views weighing in on any issue, improving the quality of the debate and perhaps even improving the result."
Alan Guth, political scientist at KU, sees it differently,

Guth said bloggers' biases help build an audience of the converted, which is promising and dangerous. They build communities of like-minded readers, but they isolate those readers, he said.

"Mostly, bloggers are preaching to the choir," he said.
Well, j.d., berger, trolls, you are all "the choir." As am I, when I read conservative blogs.

Guth continues:
"Blogging is quickly becoming mainstream," he said. "General Motors is using it to sell cars. It may still be a way of getting people involved, but it's not so much a counterculture anymore."
What makes blogging powerful is that GM and I start off on the same foot when we start a blog. If people want GM's corporate spin, they can find it. If they want something that will subvert the culture, they can find that too. And they can find something in between. That itself is counter-cultural. Rather than having editorial decisions made by a small group, they're made by anyone. Blogging is a marketplace of ideas. The people whose editorial sense works for others get popular, the rest don't matter. GM's wealth only matters if they make good content. To stretch the metaphor, we can ask whether San Francisco stopped being countercultural when a GM dealership opened? Did that destroy Haight-Ashbury? Ask some on the right, and San Francisco is all counterculture still. They may even think all of California is, even though they know San Diego is plenty conservative.

The blogosphere is a big place, and however corporate one corner of it gets, that doesn't make the rest any more corporate.

One final note. Guth is paraphrased saying that "At their worst, [blogs] can spread unchecked gossip that misinforms and harms people."

Let's tell a story. A few months back, the Lawrence Journal World funded a poll on statewide views of evolution. They found, among other things, that women are less likely to support teaching evolution than men are. The paper contacted a professor of political science to explain this. He posited that women's tendency to be more religious, on average, explains the difference.

I, blogger, emailed him and pointed out that I, in my capacity as a blogger, had contacted the Pew Center for People and the Press to inquire about the striking differences in gender response in a national poll they ran on the same topic. I had reported the results and my speculation, and then posted the reply from Pew, in which they explain that even controlling for religion and education, women are more creationist than men. I sent the professor a nice note, he thanked me, and we moved on.

A professor spread unchecked gossip that misinformed people, a blogger checked the facts and correctly reported an intriguing fact.

That doesn't make blogs superior in general, it doesn't even make me superior. It's a warning about generalizing like this. Anyone can spread gossip, and people should take everything with a grain of salt. Good bloggers, like good journalists, cite their sources. Unsourced or anonymously sourced reporting is only as trustworthy as the person printing it. Did blogs in South Dakota lie about Tom Daschle and hurt him? Sure. Did Swift Boat Liars for Bush lie and hurt Kerry? Sure. The problem isn't blogs, it's the way lies can get amplified, regardless of source. In both cases, the target was not blog readers, it was the media. And CNN was only too glad to run with bogus allegations.

Indeed, in South Dakota, it wasn't even about the national media, nor about voters:

The blogging efforts on behalf of Thune's Senate campaign didn't cause greater civic participation or bring in piles of small donations. Instead nine bloggers -- two of whom were paid $35,000 by Thune's campaign -- formed an alliance that constantly attacked the election coverage of South Dakota's principal newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. More specifically, their postings were not primarily aimed at dissuading the general public from trusting the Argus' coverage. Rather, the work of these bloggers was focused on getting into the heads of the three journalists at the Argus who were primarily responsible for covering the Daschle/Thune race: chief political reporter David Kranz, state editor Patrick Lalley, and executive editor Randell Beck.
Maybe Nate, Tim and I should sit down with Prof. Guth and discuss all this.