Originally posted Thursday, September 07, 2006I will in a two part series publish a personal op-ed on the academic approach to political blogging so far and the direction it needs to take in the future. Hopefully the piece will spark some discussion around the topic and help us understand how to approach the phenomenon from different perspectives.
What do politicians and campaigners know about blogs?
The topic was addressed in The Charlotte Observer Sunday August 03 and an answer to the question will probably vary depending on where it is asked. American media frequently report that blogs are being used in political campaigns, which is a sharp contrast to Australia where the phenomenon seldom receives attention. The natural explanation for this is that while the number of American political candidates and parties using blogs in their campaign is on the rise; the number of Australian candidates using blogs is barely even noticeable. A closer look into the Australian blogosphere however show that there is an increase in the number of candidates that adopt the tool but not significant enough to reach the attention of general media. Despite this growing interest the knowledge on this reasonably new communication tool is far from extensive.
Academic research on the topic is limited. The 2004 US presidential campaign was the first campaign to see the appearance of candidate blogs, and most of the research that was conducted around this campaign seeks to explore how the new medium was used by the different candidates: What was published on the blogs, who published it and was the content on the blogs related to the main message of the campaign. Others, like Australian Mark Bahnisch who contributed to the recently published 'The Uses of Blogs' and is the founder of Larvatus Prodeo, have tried to explore the place and influence of political blogs in an increasingly fragmented and dispersed political and informational culture.
Many studies are agreeing that many of the blogs in the 2004 US election and later in the 2006 Senatorial election had an impact on the campaign but few dare to draw a general conclusion about the direct impact this tool had on the outcome of the election. Of course it could be argued that if blogs influenced the election campaign, they must have also influenced the outcome of the election in some way – not necessarily by directly determining the voting process but by setting the political agenda and increasing candidate’s visibility.
Bahnisch concludes that there is no doubt blogs have shaped politics to date and have the potential to shape politics in the future. ‘However, further research is urgent needed, particularly in mapping the reach and influence of blogs, and also in a more rigours and empirical informed analysis of conversations and power relations internal to the blogosphere and their relationship to their environing context’.
I agree with this and I believe that Bahnisch has a crucial point. We need to take a more systematic approach to the phenomenon of political blogging from the perspective of both campaign strategists and bloggers to look at how the important components of a campaign - its different stages, the communication strategies it utilizes and the level of control it requires - can be synergised with blogs. At the same time we need to examine how bloggers understand themselves and how they view the importance of the work they do.
According to Stephen Stockwell, author of 'Political Campaign Strategy', it is significant that: ‘… [promotion of] the arguments necessary for democracy in a mass society requests not only a systematic approach to reach fellow citizens, but also the creativity to continually produce the open forums where the arguments can be placed’. I believe that blogs today have already established an open forum that the political arena has not realized or seen the full potential of.
So what do politicians and campaigners need to learn about the potential and influence of blogs in political campaigns and how should they approach this tool to realize its potential?