Foreign Policy: blogs ‘an elaborate network with agenda-setting power’
Saturday, November 6th, 2004
Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell in Foreign Policy
Every day, millions of online diarists, or ‘bloggers,’ share their opinions with a global audience. Drawing upon the content of the international media and the World Wide Web, they weave together an elaborate network with agenda-setting power on issues ranging from human rights in China to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. What began as a hobby is evolving into a new medium that is changing the landscape for journalists and policymakers alike.
The media only need to look at elite blogs to obtain a summary of the distribution of opinions on a given political issue. The mainstream political media can therefore act as a conduit between the blogosphere and politically powerful actors. The comparative advantage of blogs in political discourse, as compared to traditional media, is their low cost of real-time publication. Bloggers can post their immediate reactions to important political events before other forms of media can respond. Speed also helps bloggers overcome their own inaccuracies. When confronted with a factual error, they can quickly correct or update their post. Through these interactions, the blogosphere distills complex issues into key themes, providing cues for how the media should frame and report a foreign-policy question.
Small surprise, then, that a growing number of media leaders’editors, publishers, reporters, and columnists’consume political blogs. New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a November 2003 interview, ‘Sometimes I read something on a blog that makes me feel we screwed up.’ Howard Kurtz, one of the most prominent media commentators in the United States, regularly quotes elite bloggers in his ‘Media Notes Extra’ feature for the Washington Post’s Web site. Many influential foreign affairs columnists, including Paul Krugman and Fareed Zakaria, have said that blogs form a part of their information-gathering activities.
…the blogosphere serves both as an amplifier and as a remixer of media coverage. For the traditional media’and ultimately, policymakers’this makes the blogosphere difficult to ignore as a filter through which the public considers foreign-policy questions.
…as more Web diarists come online, the blogosphere’s influence will more likely grow than collapse. Ultimately, the greatest advantage of the blogosphere is its accessibility. A recent poll commissioned by the public relations firm Edelman revealed that Americans and Europeans trust the opinions of ‘average people’ more than most authorities. Most bloggers are ordinary citizens, reading and reacting to those experts, and to the media. As Andrew Sullivan has observed in the online magazine Slate, ‘We’re writing for free for anybody just because we love it’. That’s a refreshing spur to write stuff that actually matters, because you can, and say things you believe in without too many worries.’