James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Blog “power”: exercises in self-delusion

Posted by James McPherson on August 3, 2008

There are all sorts of good reasons to blog, such as blowing off steam, exploring ideas, checking assumptions, sharing cool videos, correcting the mainstream media, communicating with a small group of like-minded individuals, and providing a bit of context on issues about which the blogger happens to be knowledgeable.

One apparent problem, however, is that too many bloggers believe that other people actually much care what they think. Political bloggers seem to be especially susceptible to such delusions of grandeur. The fact is, in most cases, we bloggers just don’t matter very much (and anonymous respondents to blogs matter even less).

A few blogs have become significant (inspiring hope among many others) but the vast majority of blogs and Web pages have limited appeal, limited range, and, most importantly, a very limited audience. Look closely (if you can stand to do so) at the comments of even blog posts with hundreds of responses and you’ll tend to see three to six people using the forum to talk to–are argue with–each other. The same three to six people, some of whom choose to stay happily misinformed about most issues, will be the ones most likely to comment on the next day’s post at the same site.

Mainstream media sometimes pay a bit of attention to a topic or organization that seems odd or out of the mainstream, occasionally giving issues or groups more credibility than they’re probably due, before skipping blithely on to something else. Pro-Hillary Clinton PUMAs are a recent example. Unfortunately, some of the PUMAs seem to be buying their own hype, regularly pointing out that there are more than 230 pro-PUMA sites.

I don’t dispute that number, but I also don’t find it particularly impressive. Consider this: If each of 240 sites has a hundred unique fans (that is, counting only folks not counted on similar like-thinking sites)–and based on my perusal of several such sites, I doubt there are that many unique visitors–that makes for a total of 24,000 total PUMAs committed enough to the cause to regularly participate in the process. For context, that’s a couple thousand fewer than live in Marshalltown, Iowa, or about the same as the number of people who work in the Pentagon.

Even if I’m way off, and each of those 240 sites has a thousand unique and committed fans, that adds up to 240,000 PUMAs. That number is probably lower than the number of people who this year will cast ballots for John McCain in and around three or four counties surrounding Spokane, Washington, the city in which I happen to live–and to the chagrin of many on the east side of this state, those McCain voters here won’t keep all of the state’s electoral votes from going for Obama.

I’m glad the PUMAs and various political sites are out there, providing the opportunity for those of us who care to learn some new things and giving the bloggers and their respondents an outlet for expression. But let’s not get carried away with thinking that more than a handful of bloggers–if any–will even remotely influence how most of us vote or live our lives.

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4 Responses to “Blog “power”: exercises in self-delusion”

  1. Joy said

    This was a big point of contention on the Jan. 07 Media Impact trip to New York and D.C. Pretty much everyone we met with agreed that the Internet was the forward motion of journalism, but honestly I was disappointed in many of the reactions of fear or just total ignorance. From a journalistic perspective, bloggers who write with the intent of supplementing or correcting mainstream media sources (as opposed to bloggers like me who write to stay connected to friends outside of my college circle) still have to research, fact check, and represent an idea accurately. Otherwise, they are no better than the sources they claim are biased or misinformed. I think blogs centered around celebrity gossip are really the leading edge as far as using the strengths of blogs and Internet “journalism” and actually attracting large audiences (perez hilton, etc). It would be nice to see topics of substance follow suite.

  2. James McPherson said

    I agree. Of course, it would also be nice to see the mainstream media devote much more energy to topics of substance, and less to celebrities and trivialities.

  3. […] blogging. But as I’ve noted previously, everybody seems to be blogging, while most blogs are exercises in vanity and […]

  4. […] Electronic Klansmen trying to make me famous Posted in Education, History, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics by James McPherson on December 7, 2009 As any regular here knows, I read a lot of stuff from throughout the political spectrum. I think all Americans should do so, for reasons I’ve expressed previously. As I’ve also mentioned before, I also occasionally try to point out an error and/or to engage in dialogue with a blogger with whom I disagree, even though most blogs are largely meaningless expressions of ego. […]

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