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Blogs and Blogging

Discussion Networks in the French Blogosphere

The Friday at ICA 2010 starts with the first of two panels on online network mapping (I'll be presenting in the second one, later today). My brilliant PhD student Tim Highfield is the first presenter. His interest is in topical discussion networks in the French political blogosphere: such topical networks comprise sites commenting on specific events or issues, and the links between them. This observation comes out of a larger dataset collected over a longer period of time.

Studying Political Blogs in the Netherlands

Finally we move on to Tom Bakker in his ICA 2010 session, who has undertaken a content analysis of political blogs by citizens. Tom notes that there are a variety of terms to describe this citizen journalism, and that political Weblogs still tend to be seen as an archetype for this field; hence the focus on Weblogs. Who are the people who start such blogs, and what are they doing? Is it really 'everybody', as Clay Shirky has said?

In the first place, though: how do we find them? Tom began by using five blog search engines (Google Blogsearch, Technorati, Blogpulse, Icerocket, and Truthlaidbear) to find active Dutch blogs authored by citizens; these were narrowed down to political blogs by examining how the blogger or blog described themselves, and by checking whether at least two of the last five posts dealt with political topics. For the Netherlands, this ultimately resulted in a list of some 163 blogs - so, hardly 'everybody', but actually a fairly small group.

Attitudes towards Journalism Shield Laws amongst Journalists and Bloggers

The next speaker at ICA 2010 is C.W. Anderson, whose interest is in debates over the US shield law for journalists. Can we see a process of professional boundary maintenance in this (protecting definitions of who is and isn't a journalist)? The shield law debate emerged from questions about what legal protections were available to journalists who were suppoenaed to release information gathered from confidential sources; the law would protect journalists and their sources and grant them immunity from particular forms of prosecution.

Differences between Blog Comments and Letters to the Editor

OK, after my break from proceedings I'm back for my final ICA 2010 session today, which starts with Donna Stephens. She begins with the view that one of the functions of the media is the civic exchange of ideas - orchestrated for example through the letters to the editor pages. Today, blogs have taken over some of that role, and enabled a more instant form of feedback and conversation - however, they are also different: more anonymous, better controllable by the poster, and more immediate.

Also, few people write letters to the editor, while opinion exchange through blogs may happen at a greater volume or continue for longer than in the mainstream media. Blogs no longer follow the media agenda, too, but occasionally set it as well. But what is the difference in content between the two? This study compared letters to the editor to an Arkansas newspaper with comments on the general blog of another statewide newspaper, in each case relating to an (at first secret) $300,000 bonus payment for the University of Central Arkansas president Lu Hardin, and the events following these revelations through to Hardin's resignation.

Personal Bloggers' Perceptions of their Audiences

The final speaker in this ICA 2010 session is David Brake, who introduces a simple blogging communication model: the blogger is utilising their Weblog as a tool for reaching a global audience. However, this is likely to be too simplistic - especially for highly personal Weblogs -, and it is necessary to investigate more closely how bloggers themselves see their interaction with their readers. David conducted a range of surveys and interviews with some 150 bloggers in the UK to explore this.

In an interaction with others, we tend to be conscious of the effect of our communication on others so that we can refine it and enhance its effect. Bloggers could do so for example by looking at their site stats, but didn't appear to be very interested in doing so; indeed, bloggers in David's study tended to assume that nobody would read their posts anyway, and expressed surprise when they did receive reader responses.

The Effects of Reading Political Blogs

The next paper in this ICA 2010 session is by Aaron Veenstra, whose interest is in the cognitive processing of blog-based information. He begins by raising the problem with the term 'new media' - an idea which remains in flux, to which new communication tools are constantly added. There remain significant gaps in the blog literature, too - we still have only a general definition of what blogs are, indeed.

The readers of blogs, Aaron suggests from previous work, are more susceptible to framing effects than other media users; there is a constraint of attitudes and a set of responses to media content which is not found in users of other media. The focus here is on political blogs, whose technical definitions are workable but remain dynamic, and which are difficult to define from an informational perspective. Especially at the popular end, there are significant inconsistencies between blog formats and styles; at the bottom end, there is a similar fuzziness.

Political Participation by Active and Passive Blog Users

The next session at ICA 2010 starts with Sandra Hsu, whose interest is in the distinctions between active and passive blog use. What are the relationships between these uses? What is the impact of blogging, especially of political participation? How do users select the media they use? What is the role of interactivity, and how does blog-based discussion unfold?

The core hypothesis of this research was that active blog use will predict online and offline political participation, while passive use will not. This was tested using a Web-based survey with some 1,100 respondents. Participants were categorised for their online and offline participation, their level of discussion with people connected by weak ties, their reasoning strategies (backing up argumentswith facts) and their level of engagement with non-like-minded participants.

Political Blogs and Transparency

The second speaker in this EDEM 2010 session is Evgeniya Boklage, whose interest is in the impact of the political blogosphere on communicative transparency. Transparency is crucial for interpersonal communication; it is an existential prerequisite for deliberative processes, too. If we consider the public sphere as a communicative system, the key functions are transparency (input), validation (throughput), and orientation (output), and Evgeniya focusses on the first of these here.

Tracking Social Media Participation: New Approaches to Studying User-Generated Content (JMRC)

Journalism & Media Research Centre

Tracking Social Media Participation:
New Approaches to Studying User-Generated Content

Axel Bruns

  • 29 Oct. 2009, 11 a.m.-12.30 p.m. - PhD Seminar, Seminar Room, Journalism & Media Research Centre, 3-5 Eurimbla St (corner High St), Randwick, Sydney

The impact of user-generated content on a variety of media industries and practices is by now well understood from a conceptual perspective (e.g. Benkler 2006; Jenkins 2006; Bruns 2008). What remains less thoroughly explored is the possibility to utilise the affordances of Web 2.0 technologies themselves to generate large datasets that can be used to track and evaluate user participation practices in order to develop a solid evidence base for further research into social media, and further development of social media projects, technologies, and policies. This presentation outlines research possibilities across a number of social media spaces, and uses the example of a current research project studying the Australian political blogosphere to explore potential methodological approaches.

Fighting Gender Stereotypes in the Polish Blogosphere

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Katarzyna Chmielewska, whose focus is on Polish-language blogs, especially by Polish women. In 2006, an advertising agency created a controversial public service advertisement in Poland that was featuring a hospital delivery room with a birthing scene during which a vacuum cleaner is born, to suggest that too often consumer lifestyles are preferred to having children; this was highly controversial in Poland and was seen as emblematic of the then ruling coalition's ultra-conservative 'family values'.


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