July 08, 2003
Blogs and radio

O-Dub points to this column by Ron Brownstein which suggests that blogs are (or are about to be) to liberals as talk radio is to conservatives.

It's difficult to compare the audience of talk radio and the Internet. The largest talk-radio shows, like Rush Limbaugh's, almost certainly still reach more people every day than any Internet site dedicated to political persuasion. And the Internet still isn't available as widely as radio, which is present in nearly every American home.

But the Internet has also become a genuine mass medium. A recent study by Arbitron, the commercial rating service, found that three-fourths of Americans have access to it, nearly two-thirds in their homes.

Surprisingly, it appears about the same number of Americans regularly obtain information from the Internet and talk radio. The best data on this come from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, an independent polling organization. Its latest surveys show that 17% of Americans listen regularly to talk radio, while 15% go online every day for news.


Whatever the cause, there's no question the talk audience leans sharply right; Pew found that almost half of regular talk-radio listeners consider themselves conservatives, compared to just 18% who call themselves liberals.

But those who regularly seek news on the Internet divide more evenly between moderates (39%), conservatives (35%) and liberals (23%). That balance reflects a broader realignment in political attitudes: Voters with more education have been trending Democratic (largely around social issues) for years, and a much higher percentage of regular Internet users than talk-radio fans have college degrees.

Brownstein cites Howard Dean and MoveOn as his prime evidence. Though I think it's a little early to pop open the champagne - the numbers he cites show that conservatives outnumber liberals online, after all - the trend is there, and it's getting noticed. Never underestimate the snowball effect.

It's been my opinion all along that if liberals are to have any real success in using the Internet as a megaphone, then we need to network like crazy. By that I mean we need to be linking to each other and driving traffic to each other's sites. Look at what a success story TAPPED is, with over 300 blog links to them. How many of you had even heard of The American Prospect a year or two ago? I submit that blogging has been the best thing that's ever happened to them. That's why I've made fun of the Heritage Foundation, which chose to spam bloggers with announcements of their latest works instead of starting their own blog, for which they have a total of one article and three links to it to show for their efforts.

If the moneyed folks who are out there now forming think tanks and contemplating liberal talk radio and Al Gore TV are smart, they'll leverage this for their benefit. Every one of these ventures needs to seriously think about starting their own blog, especially the think tanks. Doing so will give them instant publicity via dozens if not hundreds of blog links, and the promise of regular new content gives their audience a reason to visit their web page several times a week. Once you've got folks on your web page via your blog, you can then tout your main content - again, look at TAPPED, which links to Prospect articles nearly every day. It's zero cost publicity, and if it's done right it propagates itself.

There's another benefit to plugging into this kind of network. Bloggers are not just a potential audience for your words of wisdom, they're also many pairs of eyes and ears that will sniff out and pursue ideas that you might have missed, which serves as a finger on the pulse for talk shows and a jumping off point for writers. That's why it's important for these newcomers to link back to their favorite bloggers and to keep up on what's being blogged about. (Spreading the link wealth also generates considerable no-cost goodwill, which never hurts.) Further, bloggers (many of whom are already in media and politics in some form) can serve as a farm system for developing new talent for the talk show circuit. I know that I'm far from the only liberal who's tired of seeing the same old faces (*cough*Phil Donahue*cough*) and gutless wonders (*cough*Alan Colmes*cough*) as the only representatives we have on the airwaves.

I started writing all this up a few weeks ago as a response to Kos' conversation with Terry McAuliffe, in which Kos is asked how Democrats can harness what blogs have to offer. I got off on some tangents and never got it into something coherent, so here it is now. I'll say this - Terry McAuliffe and the DNC could make a lot of what I'm suggesting happen if they wanted to, and of course they could get the same sort of benefit for themselves and for their candidates this way. Honestly, given that the first thing every candidate in the world does (not to mention quite a few undeclared candidates) is register a domain name and set up a web page, there's no good reason not to go the next step and set up a blog. (Yes, this means I officially take back all of the things I was worried about back in April.)

One last thing, just to be clear: I do not now, nor do I expect to in the future, see blogging as a replacement for other forms of mass media. Something may usurp TV, radio, and newspapers someday, but until everyone's got a computer and high-speed Net access, it ain't gonna be blogging. It's clear to me, though, as I hope I've expressed here, that blogging is a cost-effective supplement to mass media, and that it's as good a way for an obscure person to become known as any I can think of. That's still an awful lot, and if we're smart, we'll take advantage of that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 08, 2003 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

interesting post :)

Posted by: hope on July 8, 2003 2:27 PM

What, I don't count as "in media"? Signed, Chopped Liver.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on July 8, 2003 9:59 PM

sigh...I knew I'd forget someone. My apologies, Patrick.

Memo to self: make apologies in advance the next time you give a list that may not be exhaustive.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 8, 2003 10:22 PM