The blogosphere started largely as a counteraction to what bloggers felt was a deficiency of “real news” being delivered by the mainstream media. But regardless of blogging’s iconoclastic nature, in order to have the issues it discusses gain any traction, it must still use the mainstream media. As a result, one of the blogosphere’s greatest challenges is influencing the mainstream media toward its agenda.
Oftentimes, this proves difficult. A study by Kevin Wallstein in 2007 showed that, many times there was a little to no correlation between the topics the blogosphere was mentioning and the agenda of the mainstream media. In fact, according to Wallstein, there might even be an reverse effect, wherein institutional media attempts to change the blogosphere’s dialogue by covering different events, thereby creating a new dialogue (579). This serves as a problem for the blogosphere because if the mainstream media does not pay mind to the blogosphere’s work, then it ultimately winds up not influencing policy.
An example of the disconnect comes with the example of Wikileaks. As Henry Farrell noted in a post for the Monkey Cage, Wikileaks initially dump of documents on Afghanistan was largely discussed on the blogosphere but failed to gain much dialogue and discussion in the mainstream media. While part of this was due to the relationships news organizations have with governments, had blogosphere dialogue alone been a factor in influencing the media, there could have been more dialogue. But instead, publication of Wikileaks documents was influenced more by the need to maintain relationships over discussion on the blogosphere.
In addition, a study by Shannon Meraz showed that in many ways, much of the blogosphere hyperlinks to the New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the largest institutional media organs (701). Similarly, it showed that the two “blog” websites that have larger influence–Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post and Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo–were started by figures who had traditional journalistic training (702.)
An example of this comes in the case of Andrew Sullivan, who runs the wildly popular blog the Dish. In early 2013, Sullivan announced his blog was leaving the Daily Beast, after being housed at the Atlantic and Time Magazine, to rely solely on revenue from subscriptions. Sullivan’s blog has remained influential, but his credibility is largely predicated on his legacy of being a former editor of the New Republic and working at the aforementioned media institutions. It would be much more difficult for Sullivan to have built the influence he has today (and the revenue stream) had he started as a blogger from the beginning.
Similarly, Meraz notes that instead of blogs posing a threat to mainstream media institutions, many media organizations have begun housing their own blogs, “to maintain internal elite, conversations within their network of other trusted media entities (702).” Such is the case with the Monkey Cage, which was an independent blog that got picked up by the Washington Post. By the Post picking up a popular blog like the Monkey Cage, it elevates the conversations on the blog into elite circles. But it also allows the Post to enter into the market that the Monkey Cage caters to, thereby guaranteeing it will have a voice and maintain its prominence in the new media dialogue.
Wallstein, Kevin. “Agenda Setting and the Blogosphere: An Analysis of the Relationship Between Mainstream Media and Political Blogs.” Review of Policy Research 24.6 (2007): 578-80. Google Scholar. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Meraz, Sharon. “Is There an Elite Hold? Traditional Media to Social Media Agenda Setting Influence in Blog Networks.”Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14.3 (2009). Google Scholar. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.