jan2006Main Street Journal
January 2006
pp 9-10

After Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans, members of the mainstream media began to receive praise in places where they had often been the subject of ridicule: on political blogs (blogs, or web logs, are online news and opinion diaries). The mainstream media provided immediate, 24-hour video coverage, and some bloggers considered the limits of their own medium.

That self-doubt proved to be unwarranted. Blogs later revealed how the mainstream media had largely downplayed advance evacuation warnings, skewed their coverage of the disaster by focusing only on certain areas of the Gulf coast, grossly inflated the casualty estimates and incorrectly attributed the victims’ plight to racism and economic insensitivity (not to mention global warming). Blogs also exposed the spread of instant urban legends and countered uneven criticism, which too often placed all the blame at the federal level while absolving state and local officials.

Not only did the blogs fact-check these reports, but they also raised thousands of dollars for Katrina’s victims, offered first-hand reporting, and launched into a series of discussions that continue to ripple across the political landscape. Perhaps their most influential effort after Katrina was the creation of “Porkbusters,” a campaign against pork barrel spending. Blogs supporting Porkbusters argued that funding for Katrina relief should be obtained by eliminating “earmarks.” The result was a joint effort by blogs and members of Congress called “Operation Offset.”

So who blogs? Well really, anyone can blog. Bloggers come from all walks of life and all around the world; the blogosphere’s collective strength comes from its diversity and the individual expertise of bloggers, a force that is multiplied as posts are linked together. Bloggers are aided by powerful engines such as Google and LexisNexis. Blog posts usually include text and images, but they can also incorporate audio (podcasts) and video (vlogs).

In addition, most bloggers don’t have deadlines to meet, space restrictions to heed, editors to satisfy or advertisers to please. As “old media” struggles to maintain its audience, blogs are gaining readers, and ordinary citizens have found their voices online.

The current race for Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat has already been tagged as one of the “most blogged” Senate contests ever. Republican primary front-runners Ed Bryant, Bob Corker and Van Hillary do not have official blogs, but you can follow their campaigns at unofficial blogs called “Blogging for Bryant,” “Conservatives for Corker” and “The Van Wagon,” respectively. There are also blogs touting Democratic candidates Harold Ford, Jr. and Rosalind Kurita. Lakeland’s dark horse Republican candidate Jeff Moder runs an Internet-based campaign; he hopes that his blog will bring him the recognition he couldn’t otherwise attract.

If you’re new to blogs and would like to find out more, a good reference is syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt’s book titled Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World. Better yet, go online and find some blogs you like, starting perhaps with the new Main Street Journal blog, which we launched this month at mainstreetj.com.