Blogs’ role growing in coverage of ’08 election

By Paolo Cisneros

When the Internet news organization Politico reported Friday that, “Hillary Clinton has virtually no chance of winning,” people listened.

Talk show hosts nationwide covered the story on their weekend broadcasts, making it the most recent incident of Internet reporting closely watched by news media.

What remains to be seen, however, is the effect that smaller, independent blogs will have on the presidential election. Experts disagree about whether blogging constitutes journalism, how influential blogs are in American politics and how reliable they are as news sources, but they agree blogs are changing the way Americans get their news.

While thousands of politically themed blogs exist, far fewer are read by extremely large audiences, said Michael Cheney, senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. He believes those select blogs have the potential to shape national races.

“A lot of blogs now are written by people who have a real interest in the subject matter they’re covering,” he said. “Candidates regularly read the leading blogs, trying to determine which are the hot-button issues, so they’re not blindsided by them when they come up.”

Brian Johnson, professor of journalism at the University, separates blogs into two categories; those that are maintained by reputable journalists and those that are maintained by political pundits.

“What separates the journalist blog from the pundit blog is that the newspaper blog almost has a contract with the reader — that it’s objective as it can be and that the facts have been checked out,” he said. “Pundit blogs don’t have that.”

Two recently launched Chicago-based blogs fall under Johnson’s pundit category. Conservablogs.com and TheOinkReport.com are the projects of Fresh Vision Media, an Internet company that develops virtual networks. They provide conservatives with space to post news.

“(These blogs are) really important because blogs are the content producers of the day,” said Juliana Johnson, spokeswoman for Fresh Vision Media. “People don’t sit down to watch the 5 p.m. news anymore. They go online to get their news.”

Louis Liebovich, professor of journalism at the University, has authored five books on the relationship between the press and the presidency. The effect blogs will have on the presidential election is a largely unknown entity, he said.

“Young people are becoming more involved because of the Internet, but the information they get from blogs is usually biased and from a source they already agree with, so it’s hard to say how much impact that has,” he said.

Cheney contends that, although many blogs are in no way credible, others have the potential to reshape the way Americans consume political news.

“I think the future is yet to be decided,” he said. “It’s an area that’s ripe with opportunity.”