Thursday, September 23, 2004

Inherit the media?

Bloggreen Aotearoa looks at the current influence of the blogosphere in US politics, and speculates that bloggers will inherit the media in New Zealand:

But what I'm looking forward to seeing is the local analysis of us political bloggers on the New Zealand political scene. There are a number of MPs who I know are regular readers of some blogs and a number of parliamentary staff or former staff members are running high profile blogs. It's also funny to see that a trend in Question Time is to table printed out copies of articles on Russel Brown's Hard News as a way of demonstrating 'coolness'.

I think the next election will be quite telling in terms of the influence of the blogosphere. If more and more people are turning to independent commentators for their political information, how much do we as bloggers have influence on a) general public opinion and b) politicians impressions of public opinion. It makes you think ;) or write more...

While it may be tempting to adopt a triumphalist tone ("history is on our side", and all that), realisticly I don't think we're a significant influence on general public opinion. Our combined readership is simply too small. From half-remembered stats published in stories about the kiwi blogosphere, Hard News gets around 15000 visitors a month. NZPundit I think claimed 50000 - but only about 20% of them are actually New Zealanders. I get 4000 going on 5, and from looking at those sites that make their stats public, most kiwi political blogs are smaller. Turning these monthly stats into daily figures (dividing by 25 should get an average weekday total), and we're talking daily readerships in the hundreds. And many of them will be regulars, or junkies who read more than one blog. The upshot is that the total number of eyeballs looking at the NZ political blogosphere is truly tiny - a few thousand people at most - so we're certainly not directly influencing the general public.

What about indirect influence? What gives the US political blogs their teeth are reliable transmission mechanisms to funnel stories to the general media. Journalists and political operatives watch the biggest sites, and are quick to propagate any interesting material. So wingnuttery about typewriters goes from PowerLine to Drudge to the mainstream media, and pointyness about "you bought it, you own it" goes from diaries on Kos to John Kerry's speeches. But apart from some bagging of Ticketek, I don't see a lot of that happening here. Partly that's because our news media doesn't suffer from ADD and isn't so driven to scoop the competition (because there really isn't much competition), but mostly it's because NZ political bloggers (and political bloggers in general) aren't exactly fountains of originality. Most of what we say is entirely predictable and fairly banal - the usual hype, namecalling, and "is not"/"is too" of everyday politics. There's plenty of sources for this, and the media don't need to turn to the net to find it. What gets picked up in the US is original material - the research that undercuts some claim, the devastating point that no-one else has noticed, the close reading of official reports which reveals some lie - or specialist knowledge. We don't really do very much of either.

Where I think we may have some influence is in politician's impressions of public opinion - blogs are like letters to the editor in tracking the public's reaction to political events, only faster. On the other hand, I'm sure that our politicians - or their advisors - know exactly how tiny we are (and if they didn't, they do now).

Overall, claims that NZ bloggers are going to "inherit the media" are almost certainly overstated. If we want influence, we're going to have to earn it. Producing better material that it is actually worth pillaging would be a good start.