Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Weekly Podium: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Political Blogosphere

Cross-posted at The New Dominion.

Let’s face it, it seems like everyone and their mother has a blog of some kind. Whether it serves personal purposes, provides helpful tips for a variety of topics, or creates a forum for people to rant and rave…the blog has become a wonderful medium for expressing your thoughts.
This is especially true in the world of politics, both nationally and locally. Before I go any further, let me give some of you a quick history lesson on political blogs.

Long before the popularity of blogs in their current format, the internet had become a good source for instant information about politics. The Drudge Report became established in the mid-to-late 90’s, and news and op-ed’s were easier to access via the internet.

In the wake of the controversial presidential election in 2000, many people started to use “web logs” (which is where the term “blog” comes from) as a way of expressing their opinions and spreading news to the masses. This intensified further after 9/11, with even more emotions and opinions being stirred up due to the events of the time.

I’m not sure what the first official political blog was. However, it is safe to say that the mass popularity of the political blog begins in late 2001 into the year 2002. Around this time, as our nation was diving head-first into the War on Terror, several popular liberal blogs rose to fame. Among them were MyDD, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos, among others. A few conservative/libertarian blogs also came about, such as Instapundit and Little Green Footballs. It was also around this time that Ana Marie Cox founded Wonkette, which was notable for it’s uncensored takes on gossip in and around Capitol Hill.

With even more controversy surrounding the Iraq War and the 2004 elections, it seemed Americans turned to the internet even more. Since then, thousands upon thousands blogs have popped up on both sides of the Red State/Blue State divide. Some notable writers and political figures, like Michelle Malkin and Arianna Huffington, owe most (if not all) of their fame and notoriety to political blogging.

Most newspapers have their op-ed writers maintain a blog on the newspaper’s website. This allows some writers to further espouse their beliefs in a different medium, which can be accessed at any time. This means less trips to your local convenience store to grab a copy of the newspaper to get your favorite writer’s opinions.

While many would tend to agree that, on a national scale, liberals have an advantage in the “blogosphere”, but those same people know that conservatives are also doing well in getting web surfers to ride their digital waves. This has created an interesting atmosphere, especially with important elections looming.

The state of Virginia has one of the most active blogospheres in the nation, especially given both it’s close proximity to Washington, D.C. and it’s relatively even-mixture of conservatives, liberals, and moderates. In fact, it is widely thought that it was the exposure of George Allen’s “macaca” incident in the blogosphere that led to his spiraling downfall and defeat in the 2006 election.

On a more local note, part of the push for Scott Sayre’s nomination can be attributed to both the spread of Sayre’s platforms as well as sentiments against Emmett Hanger via the online coalition known as “Bloggers 4 Sayre.” While they’re not the sole reason for the competitiveness of the 24th District primary, the amount of noise (and subsequent influence) they have had amongst voters in the 24th has mostly benefited their cause.

Are bloggers to be taken as serious sources of news? Do they really hold as much influence as they think (and sometimes proclaim) they do, or are they simply beating their chests over providing a “helping hand” to causes that have other, more influential sources of support?

To be honest, both of those questions can be answered “yes” and “no” at the same time. The vast majority of blogs are opinionated, sometimes to an extreme level of bias. However, most bloggers also make it clear that they are coming from a certain point-of-view. To many, this is what makes a blog better than the mainstream media, as there is no attempt made to hide biased commentary or points-of-view under a cloak of neutrality.

At the same time, it is this admittance of bias that some feels discredits bloggers. There are many who feel that by admitting the bias, it lessens the reliability of the information the blogger is passing along to the general public.

If nothing else, the political blog act as an alternative to the old-fashioned “Letter to the Editor” in our local newspapers. They can also bring attention to news stories and personal viewpoints that may have otherwise gone unheard by the masses.

Whether or not you believe in the reliability and/or credibility of bloggers as a source of political influence, they can have a sizeable amount of impact on our political landscape. In Virginia, blogs like Raising Kaine not only espouse viewpoints that support the Democratic Party, but they also act as a political action committee that endorses particular Democratic candidates for various political offices, and raises funds for these candidates, as well. With an average of over 2,000 visitors a day, you can imagine that they probably have generated a decent amount of funds for the candidates they have backed.

There are a lot of great blogs in Virginia, and one can find information, news, and opinion of all types. However, attempting to jump into the blogosphere head-first can be a bit overwhelming, so here’s a few good starters for you.

The Democrats/liberals have a number of blogs that are well-recognized throughout Virginia. A few of the more notable blogs are Vivian J. Paige, who focuses on Tidewater area politics. Out of Charlottesville is Waldo Jaquith, who is one of the “elder statesmen“ in the world of Virginia political blogs. Democracy In Virginia describes itself as “a forum for progressives in the Shenandoah Valley." The Collette provides a lot of focus in Northern Virginia and DC politics (even though we never agree on anything). Finally, another good blog to start with is VB Dems, with a Virginia Beach and statewide focus.

Some sites, like Not Larry Sabato, provide more of an analytical approach with some point-of-view commentary, which does tend to lean left. However, you can find a wealth of information in regards to the various State Senate and House of Delegates races across Virginia. To track down all the information would take hours, which is why a site like “NLS” is popular with political junkies in Virginia.

Other blogs are a mixture of various political viewpoints, and sometimes they don’t necessarily focus on politics. One such blog is Daily Whackjob. The bunch over at Whackjob (which I am a part of) are more-or-less committed to talking about society, current events, and other topics. While some find the humor and commentary of some of the contributors to be crude and off-color, many people find the lack of political correctness and varied opinions to be one of the site’s more attractive features.

Conservatives are also represented in the Commonwealth in growing numbers.. Frequent New Dominion contributor Stephen Winslow has his Conservative Viewpoints blog. Republitarian focuses on Harrisonburg-area issues as well as some state and national issues. You also have The Mason Conservative, a Northern Virginia blogger who occasionally opines about hockey, as well. Dogwood Pundit hails from Hampton Roads, and has more of a focus on national politics. Spark It Up! is a blog by “Kilo“, one of the most vocal of the Sayre supporters. Bearing Drift is a generally conservative blog that features multiple contributors and collaborates with liberal bloggers as well to provide unique perspectives.

No matter which one of these blogs you go to, they will provide you with more links to other blogs that the writers themselves read. I hope that my article has provided you with some basics to the world of political blogs. Now, go out there and enjoy the opinions of some of the best Virginia has to offer.

Just be sure to check out the Now At The Podium blog before you read anything else, ok?

No comments: