Data & Methodology
“Determining the impact of the blog may prove to be difficult at best because it is not immediately obvious how one would show impact” (Simmons 2005, p. 1).
During the course of the twentieth century, numerous attempts have been made to explain the effects of the mass media on the political process (Stockwell 2005, p. 114). The findings that have emerged from these studies are exceedingly inconclusive. So inconclusive, claims Larry M. Bartels (1993, p. 267), that the state of research in the “media effects” area is “one of the most notable embarrassments of modern social science”. Over time theorists have gone from claiming that the media have a strong, almost hypodermic effect (Lasswell 1927) that can shape opinions and beliefs (McQuail in Stockwell 2005, p. 114), to suggesting that the media have only a minimal effect on citizens because they can not deliver political messages with any predictable effect (Lazarsfeld in Stockwell 2005, p. 115). In more recent times theorists have again been claiming that the media have a “relatively strong” effect on public opinion because they have the power to set the agenda and affect what people talk about (McCombs and Shaw in Stockwell 2005, p. 15). However, these are just a few examples of the work that have been done over time. Today we are still debating what effects the media have on the political process. If anything, we have come to realize the complexity of the issue itself, and that there is no simple answer to the question. Perhaps Berelson says it best when he muses about his own findings over the years and claims that: “some kinds of communication on some kinds of issues, brought to the attention of some kinds of people under some kinds of conditions, have some kinds of effects” (in Diamond & Bates 1984, p. 347). It is therefore not with the intention of revolutionising the area of “media effects” studies that this paper goes on to look at one of the newest and more exciting technologies within the area. Rather the intention is to explore new perspectives that can help us understand the opportunities that lie within the complexities of the modern media sphere for political campaigns to produce desirable effects on the political process.
Few scholars have so far attempted to identify how effective political messages can be communicated via blogs. The reason might be that many do not yet understand how the universe of blogs works. The author of this study believes that in order to understand how politicians can utilise blogs as a means to optimise successful electioneering, it is not just necessary to understand the nature and strategies of political campaigning, but also the cultural and sociological aspects that define the medium as a new communication phenomenon. This study therefore bases its findings mainly on ethnographic research and can be seen as a methodological critique seeking to test findings of previous studies exploring the subject. Unconventional methods and data gathering techniques have consequently been employed by the researcher in an attempt to view the subject from a new perspective.