Monday, June 28, 2010

Reasons to study political blogging

I'm working like crazy on my dissertation prospectus. Data work, lit reviews, etc. To escape from early research purgatory, I plan to blog parts of the prospectus as I write them.

I'll kickoff today with introductory definitions and motivation. Feedback is much appreciated. Beware of dry, academic writing!

What is a blog?
Paraphrasing wikipedia, a blog is a website containing regular entries ("posts") of commentary, links, or other material such as photos or video. On most blogs, posts are displayed in reverse-chronological order -- the most recent post appears first. Although most blogs are maintained by individuals, some are run by small groups, and blogs speaking on behalf of corporations, churches, newspapers, political campaigns, etc. are increasingly common. Many blogs focus on a specific topic, ranging from broad to narrow: entertainment, cooking, astronomy,the Detroit Tigers, to cold fusion. For my dissertation, I plan to focus on political blogs.

Why study political blogs?
Here are five reasons to study political blogs.
  1. Blogs are public facing. Lots of people read them, including politicians and journalists. The extent to which blogs are replacing mainstream media is an open question, but it's certain that blogs have come to play an important role in public discourse, with real impact on politics.
  2. Bloggers span a wide variety of opinions. The blogosphere embraces everyone from conservative wingnuts to liberal moonbats to political moderates. Some political bloggers are politically omnivorous, writing about anything political. Others focus on specific issues and topics: foreign policy, Congress, feminism, etc.
  3. Bloggers include both experts and amateurs. Dividing the same pie in a different direction, many A-list bloggers (e.g. Andrew Sullivan, Ariana Huffington, Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin) clearly qualify as political elites: they are experts, immersed in politics, well-informed and well-connected. Other political bloggers are more obscure, casual -- closer to the average Joes who make up the "mass public."
  4. Blogs are updated frequently. This has two nice consequences. First, frequent posts allow us to replay bloggers' reactions to events as they unfold. Second, frequent posts mean we have a lot of posts to work with.
  5. Blogs are archived publicly. Unlike most forms of political speech and action, blogging leaves a permanent data trail.
The combination of these attributes creates a kind of perfect storm for social science. Understanding the flow of opinions and ideas has always been difficult for social scientists, because most of our data have come from surveys.

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