3.3 Blogs in campaigns
Whilst political campaign blogs are only a few years of age, it is likely that politicians and campaign strategists started developing an interest in the medium in the beginning of the 21st century when a substantial online blog community rose to prominence in the United States (Bahnisch in Bruns & Jacobs 2006, p. 140). Political commentator blogs started gaining a widespread audience in 2001 and 2002 with Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish on the right, and Markos Moulitsas’ Daily Kos on the left (Bahnisch in Bruns & Jacobs 2006, p. 140). Assisted by the Iraq War and the U.S. presidential primaries and general election in 2004, the subsequent years saw the mainstreaming of the political blogosphere (Bahnisch in Bruns & Jacobs 2006, p. 141). The 2004 U.S. presidential election became the first election ever to see a campaign use a blog as an integral part of the campaign (Rice 2004, p. 1, Williams et al. 2005, p. 178).
Coggins (n.d.) argues that we can distinguish between three types of blogs found within political campaigns. These are: Official Candidate Blogs; “written and kept by politicians and their staff. These blogs are primarily used to report news, events and other information about a specific candidate's campaign trail” (Coggins n.d.); Candidate Supporter Blogs, “'unofficial' campaign blogs written and kept for particular candidates by individual or group supporters who are not officially part of that candidate's staff. Like Official Candidate Blogs, these blogs also contain news, events and other relevant information” (Coggins n.d.); and Political Commentary and News Blogs, which “do not typically support a particular candidate, even though specific bloggers/authors may have personal biases. The main purpose of these blogs is journalistic in nature: providing news and commentaries regarding different candidates' issues, events and platforms. These may be written and kept by individuals or by groups” (Coggins n.d.).
Although Coggins’ categories were coined in relation to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, they still remain useful as the main types of campaign blogs to play a role in elections. We should, however, add two new types of blogs to Coggins’ categories: Official Party Blogs and Party Supporter Blogs. Official Party Blogs basically serve the same functions as Official Candidate Blogs. Examples of party blogs are the U.S. Democratic Party’s official blog, Kicking Ass, and the official blog of the Republican National Committee. Surprisingly, few political parties in other western democracies have embraced blogs. The Germany Socialist party uses a platform or blog, Roteblogs, to encourage members to set up their own blogs in support of the party (Abold & Heltsche 2006, p. 6). In the UK we have lately seen the development of Party Supporter Blogs, like LabourHome and ConservativeHome, which have no official ties to the party they represent and basically serve the same functions as Candidate Supporter Blogs.
However, blogs are used in much more complex ways by campaigns today then they were in the 2004 election. Today, as opposed to the 2004 election, almost every campaign put elite bloggers on their campaign payroll (Armstrong 2007a, Glover 2006), “paying bloggers to write, develop Web sites, connect with energetic allies on the Internet, respond to online critics, and advise their employers about how to behave in the blogosphere” (Glover 2006). Bloggers have therefore, particularly in the U.S., become strategic advisors for campaigns. This might not come as a surprise considering the fact that the blogosphere today is 100 times as big as it was during the 2004 U.S. presidential election (Armstrong 2007a) and has a potential to reach a much larger audience. When blogs mainly relied on text to get their message across in the 2004 election, they have now become multimedia content producers. The creation of new social network sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. has made it easier for campaigns to embed videos, images and text and link to platforms that give them the potential to reach a much larger audience than before (Armstrong 2007a). Blogs therefore provide an arena and an environment that are constantly changing, so it is important to look at how previous literature has assessed the medium’s impact on campaigns and elections.