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What good are blogs?

An interesting question that is, and one that gets asked by a fair # of people, particularly in the media business, but also those folks who actually blog – some who are even rather cynical themselves about what value they bring.   I was actually asked a similar question a couple of days ago  from an Alberta publication which was doing a story on Alberta blogs (the question was worded to the effect of what do blogs add to their communities that newspapers don’t).  I gave my reply to what I thought they added (and if you’d like to know the reply, check the March 5 edition of Fast Forward Weekly’s, if they print the response), but I believe there are at least 2 better answers then what I gave.

The first answer to my question I’ve posed was given  by Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft: an American liberal blogging site:

The big rap against blogs is that they’re parasitic.  They don’t do any original reporting. Of course, the same exact thing can be said about most newspaper and magazine columnists.. But the unfortunate reality is that, on the really big stories, the traditional media doesn’t do much original reporting, either. The value of the blogosphere does not come down to any one thing, but one major factor certainly is to expose what the traditional media choses to ignore.  Most often this does not involve original reporting.

The article goes on to describe an example of this; bloggers were the ones who exposed Lousiana Republican governor Bobby Jindal’s tall tale in his response to Obama’s economic statement to Congress last week, which the media competely ignored or missed, until bloggers pointed it out:

There was almost universal blow-back against Jindal for his poor performance–mostly style, but also for the pathetic lack of credible substance. Yet, the fact that he lied garnered no attention whatsoever until it was ferreted out by the blogosphere–and then was picked up by the liberals on took a blogger to start the ball rolling on reporting the story–a story that should, quite properly, doom Jindal’s political career once and for all.

The other thing blogs can be good for is keeping the political establishment honest. At least, that’s the case in the US – witness the formation of a new liberal blogging and labour alliance to keep Democratic Party members on their toes, and to mount primary challenges to those whose incumbents have lost touch with their district:

Accountability Now, SEIU, Daily Kos, United Steelworkers of America, ColorOfChange, Working for Us PAC, Blog PAC and Political Action to Recruit Progressive Leaders for Primary Challenges

Washington, DC— Accountability Now PAC today announced they will partner with allies at SEIU, Daily Kos, United Steelworkers of America, ColorOfChange, Working for Us PAC, BlogPAC, and Political Action in a research project to find strong progressive leaders who want to mount primary challenges in 2010.

“Many Congressional incumbents are demonstrating that they are only interested in following the money, and have lost touch with their constituents. We want to help progressive leaders in their communities find the support they need to take them on,” said Jane Hamsher of “We want to identify viable challengers now for 2010, let them know we’re here and help them to find the resources they need to run successful campaigns.”

“The only thing that influences many Congressional incumbents is the fear of losing their seats, and having an organization that can recruit and support credible primary challengers is the most effective way, perhaps the only way, to make incumbents pay attention,” said Glenn Greenwald of

I think something like that is sorely needed up here, although it’s not quite the same setup here , and it would  be harder to do, because all parties reserve the right to shut down primaries and allow incumbents to be nominated unopposed –  Stephane Dion and his office did that for LPC incumbents,  and for appointing candidates to certain ridings, as an example.  The other problem is that party discipline is tighter under a Parliamentary system of government, and individual MP’s are often “whipped” into voting for the party position., whether they like it or not.  Still, if a local MP is doing things and supporting policies that his Liberal constituents and party members don’t like, there should be no restrictions on that MP receiving a primary challenge.

I had one conversation with a Liberal supporter who is living in the US and works in some capacity in the Obama administration tell me he finds blogs “troubling and aggravating”.  My response to that was, I’m sure some members of the upper echelons of parties do find blogs troublesome and aggravating,  but in my view  that’s not a bad thing.  I take great inspiration from Daily Kos  as an example of a blog with a lot of readers and committed grassroots Democrats who not only go after the Republicans, but keep their own party honest.  It’s a role I think blogs can also play up here a lot more – for all political parties.


11 comments to What good are blogs?

  • (Well, at least they get to select the leader.)

    (Oh. Wait. Riiiight.)

  • Good piece, Scott. And, yes, blogs really are having a major effect on the American landscape.

    But here’s a question. If the main vehicle by which the base makes itself heard is through candidate selection, and the party reserves the right to shut down the process of candidate selection, what does that say about the party?

  • Unfortunately the utility of blogs is severely curtailed by one problem; a lack of clear external forces which create an environment where integrity and journalistic ethics are encouraged.

  • @Chrystal Ocean – Not that I know of.. It was up a second ago 🙂

  • Is there a problem with PB? Am getting an error page.

  • Am a fairly new blogger as blogging goes so my perspective may be different due to that.

    Challenging the Commonplace has yet to reach its first year anniversary (March 27). However the blog’s stats and comments suggest that Daphne and I have begun to influence the opinions of others on certain issues. We’ve opened some eyes.

    With the demise of WISE and living at the bottom of the well, Daphne and I have had little opportunity to be heard. The rise of our reputations through our posting on the blog has meant more to us than words can express.

    Another point… While bloggers don’t usually uncover news stories, the fact that they often represent active or activist community members of the citizenry should be important to political parties. Our blog isn’t unique in being monitored by journalists and politicos, including offices of provincial and federal cabinet ministers.

  • I know it gets asked a lot, but it’s kind of a silly question; kind of like asking “What good is television?” You could easily say that it’s no good at all and in fact may even be detrimental. You most certainly call TV “troubling and aggravating.” But of course it’s a lot more complicated than that, depending on the specific programming, viewing habits and a number of other circumstantial factors involved.

  • As a blogger, I can share my views about the world with bloggers and internet readers. I belong to a cyber community where I can give and receive information with other people. I won’t state that blogging is better than getting information directly from television, radio, newspapers, and magazines. It’s not better than getting information from politicians who are featured in different media outlets. As a blogger, I can offer my interpretation of different political and social events without it being filtered by the media, politicians, and other socio-economic elites.

    I know that my own blog readership is about 30 unique people per day. A few of those might just click my link and click away within five secondds. I do hope that the other 25 people will understand my point-of-view while I get to understand theirs. I also visit other blogs where I do post comments that may be serious or whimsical.

    Some bloggers are members of different forums such as and the Blogging Tories forum where people can exchange thoughts in a semi-collective way. Topics of interest are displayed high on a message board. People can express their opinions and provide tidbits of factual information to share with others.

    Canadian bloggers were successful in exposing some of the weaknesses of a few of the federal candidates. In the future, politicians are going to need to find a way to neutralize their faults before some blogger finds them first.

    I will be blogging heavily during the BC-STV referendum campaign because I cannot physically campaign in British Columbia. I do hope that if I tell two friends the benefits of STV and the faults of the First-Past-the-Post voting system, two of my blogging friends will tell their two friends and so on. I may make a difference in changing a potential vote from 59.99% support for STV to 60.01% support. As a blogger, I think I make a difference, even if it is a small difference. Campaigning on the streets of BC will make a bigger difference. Unfortunately, I cannot be in BC during the referendum period. Blogging will work for me.

  • Good post. What I wrote had more to do with the relationship between the blogger himself and his blog, how it is a danger to himself. I don’t think you’re wrong about the influence of blogs on the American media.

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