Blogs Ain’t the New Journalism…Yet

Web logs, or blogs, may be a powerful new force in U.S. politics but they have not displaced traditional media in terms of information and influence, a study revealed on Monday.

Charting the discussion of issues during the 2004 presidential campaign, the study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and consultants BuzzMetrics found political blogs — online opinion and information sites — played a similar, but not greater role, as did the mainstream media and the candidates’ campaigns in creating “buzz.”

The study dispels the notion that blogs are replacing traditional media as the public’s primary source of information, said Michael Cornfield, a senior research consultant at Pew.

“Bloggers follow buzz as much as they make it,” said Cornfield. “Our research uncovered a complicated dynamic in which a hot topic of conversation could originate with the blogs or it could originate with the media or it could originate with the campaigns.

“We can say that if people still have that idea that the bloggers are the new fifth estate, that the bloggers are the new kingmakers, that’s not the case.”

The study charted topics on blogs, online message boards and campaign information sites as well as newspapers and television in the last two months of the race between Republican President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

It found the Bush campaign paid more attention to an Osama bin Laden tape than did the blogs, while the Kerry campaign made more mention of missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than the blogs. The mainstream media made more mention of Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter than either the blogs or the campaigns.

The study also found bloggers act as guides for the mainstream media to the rest of the Internet.

Echoing that finding, a University of Connecticut poll released on Monday showed eight in 10 journalists read blogs.

But while 85 percent of news professionals believe bloggers should have constitutional protections of free speech, the poll said 75 percent think bloggers are not real journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards.”

One of the newest players in the blogosphere, syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, said on Monday that bloggers can be more relentless in pursuing stories.

“We need that kind of persistence to break through the static,” she said.

“It’s quite amazing to me how many stories die on the front page of The New York Times,” she said. “It’s not that stories are not covered. It’s that they’re not covered with the relentlessness that the blogosphere can bring to it.”

The Pew study showed blogging functions alongside traditional media, said David Sifry, a software developer at a blogging forum in New York where the results were released.

“It’s not about ‘either/or.’ It’s about ‘and,”‘ he said. “That’s why I still read ‘The New York Times.”‘

The Connecticut survey also showed 43 percent of the public says the press has too much freedom. Six in ten people feel the media shows bias in reporting the news, and a fifth said the government should be allowed to censor the press.

© 2005 Reuters