Commentary

Are ''We The People'' Bloggers or Just Readers?

Do bloggers represent the people? Do they give us a more accurate read of how the nation reacts to events than say The New York Times or the L.A. Times?

It is not unusual now to see print journalists use blog copy or interview bloggers to help justify their point of view in stories. Increasingly, all traditional media reporters are using blogs to take the nation's temperature. But is this a good or a bad thing? Maybe it's a little of both.

During each of the Presidential debates, I read conservative and liberal blogs (by refreshing the page, I got new comments posted on nearly every candidate utterance) and was pleased to get some perspectives that I didn't get from the broadcast network post-debate analysis.

As I navigated from blog to blog, I wondered if most visitors to each were there because the viewpoint of the blogger simply reinforced their own take on the candidates or if anyone else was reading them simply to get a broader spectrum of opinion? Time will tell what the true impact of bloggers was on the election.

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Anyone with the time, energy, and software can opine about nearly anything. But I think the better ones, with intelligent content, will build enough audience to rival traditional media. Already, bloggers with credentials (such as being a journalist in a prior life or the head of a college or university department) seem to be building audiences sufficient to attract advertising.

Advertisers can reach a blog niche audience for as little as $10 a week. One blog, which receives 15 million page views a month, gets $9,000 a week for advertising and is sold out for weeks in advance.

I envision a time, when television becomes more interactive (or your computer screen becomes your TV), when you can choose to see blogger commentary posted on your screen during an important event such as the Presidential debates or a Senate hearing.  At that point, you could not only get nearly instantaneous insight, you can choose whose commentary you want to read. Perhaps your own posting will show up on someone else's screen.

We may be overstating the bloggers ability to effect change today because we cannot be sure that our favorite bloggers are, in fact, credible. But because they are an independent source of information, often delivered with a fresh new voice, some individual bloggers will break through to become household names. Hopefully they won't sell out in the process.

Although RSS technology enables readers to compile blogs to easily sample individual perspectives and weave their various threads into a whole cloth that can be considered side by side with traditional sources of offline opinion, I doubt if the casual Internet user does this. When Doonesbury offers up a blogger address and the subsequent traffic crashes the site, you know that lots of people are seeing a blog for the first time.

When someone navigates to a Web log, at this nescient stage of blogging, there are no warning signs that what the reader is about to access is highly biased, highly opinioned stuff.

With a visit to the opinion page of say, the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, you have some sense of where you are and what to expect. Not so with blogs. You are pretty much on your own to figure out if there is any credibility in what you read.

The other side of the coin is that blogs allow readers access to point of views that would never make it into the mainstream press. Not all bloggers are raving lunatics. Many have credentials surpassing CBS reporters. Others are experts in what they are writing about.

It is usually these folks who are tracked and sampled by the offline press in their effort to "read" public opinion. But I would argue these folks are in no way representative of most of the population. They are unique individuals (who in fairness usually post reactions from all sorts of their readers who could be considered "the people").

There is something special about anyone who takes the time and energy and often money to maintain a blog. They clearly have an urgent personal need to be heard or perhaps they feel some sort of public service calling to provide their own perspective.

In either case, I don't think they are representative of most Americans. And while I enjoy having these many and varied voices added to the national debate on (gosh, nearly everything) I am worried that the mainstream offline media maybe overstating their influence and creditability.

Maybe I should start a blog on all this.

Adam Guild is the president of Interep Interactive/Winstar Interactive, an online ad sales company.

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