Year of the blog

A basic, but interesting, article on the evolution of blog influence over the last year on BBC Online.

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a US-based “nonprofit think tank committed to building a better-informed society in a connected world,” points to the US presidential election as a turning point for the blogsphere:

“You could look at that as a moment when audiences exercised a new form of power, to choose among many more sources of information than they have never had before,” he says.

“And blogs were a key part of that transformation.”

Among them were blogs carrying picture messages, saying “we are sorry” for George W Bush’s victory and the responses from his supporters.

Mr Nachison argues blogs have become independent sources for images and ideas that circumvent traditional sources of news and information such as newspapers, TV and radio.

“We have to acknowledge that in all of these cases, mainstream media actually plays a role in the discussion and the distribution of these ideas,” he told the BBC News website.

“But they followed the story, they didn’t lead it.”

The example of the “we are sorry” picture blog is a very interesting example because it represents an entirely new form of symbolic politics. It may seem to lack any real political clout, certainly it will not change the way the new Bush administration implements its agenda, but at another level it is an important healing gesture that gives witness to another public sphere.

The term blogsphere is bandied about very freely but I don’t think we have even begun to come to terms with what it actually is and what it actually means. I am not only interested in the way blogging produces independent or alternative space, although this is vital, I am even more interested in what will eventually happen as the blogsphere begins to interact and transform other spheres of public discourse. This has certainly begun but it is an interaction that is still evolving in surprising and unpredictable ways. And I think it is the emergence of a preliminary understanding about this process that is the big news of blogging in 2004.

Talking about the conflicted relationship between blogging and journalism Nachison talks of transition rather than threat.

“I don’t think the mission and role of journalism is threatened. It is in transition, as society itself is in transition,” says Mr Nachison.

However, he agrees with other experts like the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, that mainstream media has lost the traditional role of news gatekeeper.

“The one-to-many road of traditional journalism, yes, it is threatened. And professional journalists need to acclimate themselves to an environment in which there are many more contributors to the discourse,” says Mr Nachison.

“The notion of a gatekeeper who filters and decides what’s acceptable for public consumption and what isn’t, that’s gone forever.”

“With people now walking around with information devices in their pockets, like camera or video phones, we are going to see more instances of ordinary citizens breaking stories.”

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