Two significant events occurred overnight to add weight to the growing reputation of the blogosphere. The US State Department has launched a blog named “Dipnote” (short for ‘diplomatic note’) as an internet forum to shed light on some of the workings on American foreign policy. Meanwhile, as the political crisis grows in Burma, bloggers are getting around the news ban and posting descriptions and photographs of protests in defiance of the military authorities.
The two apparently unrelated events show that the growth of the blogging industry has not yet peaked in terms of influence. It certainly continues to increase in terms of quantity. In the last state of the Blogosphere update in April 2007, Technorati was tracking over 70 million weblogs worldwide with 120,000 new ones created every day. That equates to a new blog every one and half seconds. Bloggers were posting an average of 1.5 million new entries every day, about 16 for every second of the day.
According to University of Wollongong’s Marcus O’Donnell, blogs are not just an isolated phenomenon, they are part of a new set of cybercultural practices that offer a new way of doing and thinking. O’Donnell believes blogs are too often judged by what they do but not enough by how people think. O’Donnell states that the conversational nature of blogs is distinctive from both literate and oral forms of communication. He also believes blogs are a form of personal publishing that simultaneously involves a conversation with ones self as well as with others.
But American TV news anchor Morris Jones says that tangible evidence of blogs’ impact on mainstream journalism remains scarce. He questions the assumption that blogging is a means of bypassing traditional gatekeeping of the mass media in order to create a more democratic form. Instead Jones believes that the blogosphere will merely remain as an information source that mainstream journalists need to monitor on a regular basis.
Australian journalist Frank Devine is equally sceptical of the blogosphere’s ability to create impact. Devine harked back to the 2004 “Rathergate” story where a blog broke a story that cast doubt on CBS’s Sixty Minutes’ claim about George W Bush’s dodgy war record due to a font type it believed did not exist at the time of the story. Devine claims that the counter-cultural blogosphere is “almost preordained” to acquire a conservative tilt in opposition to what he called the “anchored on” Leftist status quo.
While Devine may be guilty of wishful thinking, the Dan Rather story shows blogs are become an increasingly important news site, especially in the US (CBS were eventually forced to apologise for the fact it could not prove its documents were authentic and Rather himself retired). Salam Pax became an important news outlet during the Iraqi war among those that disputed official accounts of the conduct of the war. His blog was read by over 100,000 people and translated into 14 languages only a few days after the outbreak of the war.
The Pew Centre in the US estimated in 2005 that 32 million Americans read blogs. That is equivalent to two-thirds of the number that read a daily newspaper during the week. Two of the breakthrough points for blogs were the coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 London Bombings. The continuous mode of coverage from blogs has led to a change in the way news unfolds. The internet has begun to replace the broadcast media for short news grabs. Newspapers such as the New York Times have been forced to respond with a “continuous news desk”.
Dan Bigman of that newspaper said the continuous newsdesk has changed journalists’ opinions of online and vice versa. What newspapers and bloggers alike need to evolve now is the ability to use the full range of facilities offered by the internet. Wikis, RSS feeds, Podcasts and video blogs remain under-utilised tools in the new industry. Bigman, the editor for business news at the Times' Web site believes that blogs are obliterating the news cycle and he recalls how one story “went straight out to the world from the back of a taxi somewhere near Frankfurt.”