November 17, 2007

Blogs and Political Transformation

Blogs Transforming Politics, Business, Culture, Says Journalist
David Kline discusses how Web logs provide forum for "voice of the people"
By Sara Feuerstein
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- “Nothing I have witnessed is as potentially transformative of media and politics as the emergence of blogging — or rather, the emergence of the ‘voice of the people through blogging,’” says journalist David Kline, who recently participated in a State Department-hosted webchat.

Kline, a journalist, blogger, and author of the book blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture, discussed the function of blogs in the political arena, how blogs fit in with mainstream news media, and the blogosphere’s evolution during a March 20-24 webchat.

Derived from the term “Web log,” blogs frequently are updated online journals where authors publish opinions and comments, and users can respond and interact with each other. Blogs exist for nearly every topic imaginable, from cooking to TV series, soccer to science. “I suppose you could say that whenever people are passionate about something—be it computers, sports or politics—that’s where you’ll find bloggers,” said Kline.


“My own theory is that political bloggers will make it more possible for previously unheard voices to be heard and attract an audience—and for streams of political opinion outside the traditional two-party [Republican and Democrat] rhetoric to gain a following” said Kline. Anyone with an Internet connection can maintain a blog, and the voices of ordinary people with something valuable to say are now being heard and having an impact, he added.

In addition to serving as vehicles for opinions and stirring rhetoric, “blogs are amazing ‘collective organizers’ … [that] can rally grassroots political activists, raise funds, mobilize people for common action” he said. Kline noted that U.S.-based blogs such as the liberal-leaning DailyKos and conservative-leaning Powerline have demonstrated tremendous skill at mobilizing like-minded people.

Although blogs wield the power to mobilize voters and activists, Kline believes Web logs have not yet been effective at reaching across the political divide. Political blogs, he said, tend to “preach to the choir,” spurring enthusiastic debate among those committed to firm ideological positions, but they remain unable to spark new, genuine dialog.

“I’d say that the influence of political blogs is still largely at the margins of power. Big money, big political party machines, still dominate. But as I noted before, they no longer have a total monopoly of power and influence. Political bloggers have upset the apple cart from time to time,” said Kline.


Blogs also have begun to “upset the apple cart” of media coverage and distribution, Kline said. Many have lost faith in the media’s fairness and dedication to the public interest and are turning to blogs as sources of information, analysis and truth. “The fact remains that no longer is public policy, news and information, and national and international discourse the exclusive domain of ‘professional editors, reporters, policymakers, and politicians,’” Kline said.

Conventional media such as newspapers, television news programs and weekly news magazines often quote the blogs that consistently offer credible facts and insightful commentary. Blogs now exert some influence over which stories national and world media choose to cover.

Even though blogs are gaining momentum, Kline said, blogging will complement and reshape mainstream media but never replace it. “In most cases, blogs cannot replace seasoned reporting by, for example, national security reporters with high-level contacts,” nor would they ever “acquire the trust and credibility” of major media, he said.


How are blogs evolving? According to Kline, 30 million blogs have been created. He believes that bloggers will sort themselves into three main categories: “Some bloggers will gain credibility equal to that enjoyed by mainstream journalists, and they will have to adhere to roughly similar codes of ethics. Others will be content to write passionately about their hobbies or interests, and will be viewed by their dedicated readers not as journalists, but as ‘experts’ in their chosen field. And then finally, of course, a great many bloggers will just spew a lot of hot air, and few will trust them or care what they say.”

Kline also hopes that blogs will bring people together and help them better to understand each other. “There is still a lot of ‘talking at’ rather than ‘communication with’ each other,” said Kline, who hopes that as blogging matures, it will foster “greater empathy and listening.”

Kline said he has high hopes for blogging’s future role in politics, media and the world. “This is not just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric,” he said. “I truly believe, as I say in my book, that blogging is helping to finally create the kind of world we were always taught was best—a world in which EVERYONE at last has a voice and a chance to have that voice heard…And that, to my mind, is real democracy.”

The transcript of this webchat and information about upcoming webchats are available on USINFO's Webchat Station. Kline’s biography is available on his blog,

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