Vanity Fair’s Blogopticon of Huffington Post/Off the Bus (OTB) and Instapundit matches very well my impression of the blogs. (Vanity Fair ranks Huffington Post and not OTB). The blogs are not scurrilous or earnest, but something in between. Neither of them are pure neither news nor opinion. I am not sure what criteria Vanity Fair has used, but I might have ranked Instapundit a bit more opinionated than Vanity Fair does. No doubt, OTB is very opinionated. However, it has been a blessing reading two so different blogs. It took forever to dig into the long, op-ed-style entries on OTB, and it was quick but fun reading Glenn Reynolds comments on the daily news (check also his photo section).
Progressives or Democrats read OTB and Republicans read Instapundit because “we” tend to get the news that fits our political view. I guess, progressives enjoy reading the “slandering” or critique of Republicans and McCain on OTB, and Republican enjoy reading Reynolds’ ironical comments on Obama. But do the two groups engage in a unified debate?
Garrett Graff mentioned in class on Monday that the public discourse – as we know it from, for instance, Habermas, is suffering from the divided blogosphere. Graff mentioned a study from Maryland University showing a tendency that Republicans, watching Fox News, saw it as fact that there were weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and Democrats, listening to National Public Radio (NPR), saw it as a fact that there were no WMD. It is essential to democracies having public discourses. Social media is not the only force segmenting public discourse into several arenas. Habermas has analyzed this and pointed to the decline of a public discourse since the 1840s.
In public relations, I have worked with the assumption that “public opinion is more than the collected views held by a particular category of individuals at one point in time. Public opinion is not adequately defined as simply state of individual cognition. Instead, it reflects a dynamic process in which ideas are expressed, adjusted, and compromised en route to collective determination of a course of action” (Effective Public Relations by Cutlip, Center, and Broom, 2006, p.207). This means that like-minded people constitutes one public discourse and might act together. One thing is to handle this in marketing, another is to engage different public discourses in democracies or engaging voters in the same discourse.
Social media is part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution. Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003 and 2004 showed that “ordinary people were hungry to get involved in party politics again” (Graff, 2007, p.70). The mid-term election in November 2006 showed that it is easier today to hold politicians accountable for their actions, messages, and words. For instance, Senator George Allen, VA seemed to be unbeatable until his “Macaca-quote“ surfed YouTube, the blogosphere, and mainstream media in September 2006.
Furthermore, social media leads to a new way of campaigning: two-way campaigning. Social media is a tool for (re-)establishing the dialogue between elected officials and voters. “This means….where the views and opinions of the American people have an impact on the leadership, so leaders are with the people instead of seeking to lead folks that aren’t interested in being led by them” (Graff, 2007, p.283). However, the challenge is not only for Republicans or Democrats respectively to engage each party’s voter base. The challenge is to connect the two (or different) views debating the future of this great country especially when the election is over and the politicians (including the new President) roll up their sleeves and get the job done.