Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, July 22, 2004  

New Media

Blogs have been around at least five years (depending on how you calculate, you could go back to the birth of the internet), but they've only been relevant since December 2002, when Paul Krugman cited Josh Marshall in a column in the New York Times. They've experienced exponential growth in the past 18 months (both in numbers and readership) and there's reason to believe blogs may emerge as a new medium. You read blogs, so you're hip to that idea, right? Okay: so what is the medium?

Readers intuit their importance, but defining them isn't as easy as it looks. Are they news? Are they commentary? Are they something in between? What need do they serve? How do they from existing media? I've recently been working on launching a blog about local politics called BlueOregon, and the process has got me thinking about the place of blogs and their future. I believe they are an important element in the media landscape, but I wonder--have they finished evolving?

Let's start with a provisional definition. There are five elements I think characterize blogs--or anyway could characterize blogs if they evolve into something more than a massive chatroom. They are:

Immediacy The virtue of blogs is that they respond more quickly than any medium (other than TV--which only covers 2% of news).

Interconnectivity Blogs are also unique because, instead of working only with the network of their own reporters and bureaus, bloggers sift through the entire mediascape for news. Together, it forms a kind of "community brain" of information.

Interactivity Through this interconnectivity emerges a dialogue between bloggers; with comments, you include another dimension--now readers are joining the discussion with bloggers.

Individuality In a completely standardized, corporatized world, the human voice has been lost. Blogs restore that with their own brand of individuality.

Advocacy In the mainstream press, there's no place for advocacy. You've got advertisers to please on the one hand, and the (mostly outdated) notion of objectivity on the other. But blogs can be vibrant advocates for their interests. Taken together, a network of bloggers can have a profound organizing effect--witness the Howard Dean phenomenon.

In Oregon, we are blessed with an enormously rich blogging community. A site called ORblogs catalogues Oregon bloggers--currently there are 262 listed. More importantly, they've started to evolve. A blogger who goes by the modest handle "the one true B!x" is a full-time reporter for his site Portland Communique. He doesn't just comment on the news, he reports it and occasionally scoops the mainstream press. Over the past year, his site has become a must-read for Portland pols and reporters.

When we launched BlueOregon, we hoped it would become "the water cooler around which progressive Oregonians will gather to share news, commentary, and gossip." (Credit to co-founder Kari Chisholm for that fine langauge.) Although it's a group blog, we're really hoping to start a virtual community center. We've assembled bloggers, politicians, activists, and regular citizens (and even a poet!) to try to start a dialogue that maximizes the characteristics of the medium.

In the late 1970s, conservatives gathered around coffeepots in the basements of Baptist churches and started building connections. They were very far from the beltway, and their political stirrings were unsophisticated. They collected fives and tens and put people on school boards and county commissions. Four years ago they elected a President, and in 2002 they retained both houses of Congress. Depending on the election this year, conservatives may finally secure a rock-solid majority on the Supreme Court. All of this happened because of successful organization.

In the next couple years, the blog medium will begin to solidify. Either they will be yet another sorta interesting--but ultimately failed--internet application (remember how Rocket Books were going to change the world?), or they will emerge as something distinct and necessary. Given the current media landscape, here's one person who's really hoping for the latter.

posted by Jeff | 4:39 PM |
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