2.2 The data gathering process During an eight month research period, stretching from August 2006 to April 2007, the author actively searched blogs and online publications in an effort to locate theoretical views and statements spoken by authoritative bloggers and experts on online communication reflecting on how blogs impact on political campaigns. The research period was especially interesting because of two major political campaigns commencing at the time: The 2006 U.S. midterm election was held in November 2006, and in December 2006, the research saw the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign kick off as one of the earliest presidential campaigns ever to be launched.
To help locate data the study employed a simple word search on Google Alerts ; a search engine searching specific words or word combinations in online newspapers and blogs. The word combinations searched for were ‘political blogging’ and ‘blogging as a campaign tool’.
The author did not rely on conventional ethnographic research techniques such as informal interviews. Instead, to engage in conversations with bloggers, the author explicitly created a blog, BlogCampaigning (thank you for reading), that reflected on the subject of the research and encouraged bloggers to discuss its content. The aim was to involve the subjects of the study in a constant dialogue. All the data collected during the research process was therefore channelled through the blog in an attempt to produce response and to test the significance of the material. This form of retrieving data is often referred to as action research:
“[…] a process of research in which the application of findings and an evaluation of their impact on practice become part of a cycle of research. This process, further, has become associated with a trend towards involving those affected by the research in the design and implementation of the research - to encourage them to participate as collaborators in the research rather then being subjects of it (Denscombe 2003, p. 57).
Action research is seen as “a strategy for social research rather than a specific method” and “does not specify any constraints when it comes to the means for data collection that might be adopted by the researcher” (Denscombe 2003, p. 58). The advantage of using action research is that it allows for the researcher to involve himself in the study and learn more about different aspects of the phenomenon and the objects being studied. As a consequence, structured self-reflection becomes a key part of the research process (Denscombe 2003, p. 58).
The author marketed the blog by submitting comments on other blogs sharing topics similar to the research and by linking to these blogs and their posts in daily entries. Additionally, specific individuals holding an authoritative status within political blog communities were notified of the blog’s existence. This active marketing process gradually increased the blog’s readership and incoming links. From August 2006 when the blog was launched, to the end of April 2007 when the research was ended, the blog had received 5,704 hits (not unique), 112 comments and ranked 193,562 on Technorati’s blog ranking list with 27 incoming links from 23 different blogs.
A result of the author’s effort to enhance the blog’s visibility by engaging with political blog communities was that it made the research and writing process more reflexive. The active engagement with other bloggers allowed for the author to gain a better understanding of political blogs and their context within the democratic election process. A similar research technique has also been employed in a previous study of blogs. In 2004 Schiano et al. (2004, p. 1144) conducted an ethnographic study aiming to understand blogs as a forum of personal expression from a blogger’s point of view. The team used conversational interviews to understand bloggers’ thoughts and habits, and in an attempt to better familiarise themselves with blogging, the team created a class blog within which they discussed their own research (Schiano et al. 2004, p. 1144). The difference and strength of the research-blog employed by the current study was that it encouraged feedback from other bloggers and therefore allowed for the researcher to engage with the subjects of the study in their natural settings. This technique represents a unique and innovative attempt to gain insight into the world of politics experienced by bloggers.