Navel Gazing

Rich wrote up a nice piece about blogs in both the IL 18 and IL 3 race. It’s hard to think of a more supportive semi-traditional journalist than Rich is with blogs.

Lipinski has strong opposition from Mark Pera in the upcoming Democratic primary. Pera’s cause is being championed by liberal Democratic blogs all over the country, so every local story that trashes Lipinski is put in front of hundreds of thousands of eyeballs that otherwise wouldn’t see them.

As a result, Daily Southtown columnist Kristen McQueary now has a whole lot more fans than she did before the campaign season began. That coverage, in turn, has raised big campaign bucks for Pera when highlighted by the national blogs.

Congressional campaigns aren’t the only races being affected by blogs. A blogger in Lake County (“Team America”) was the first to report concerns about state Sen. Terry Link’s nominating petitions.

Apparently, a couple of dead people “signed” the petitions, as did one of Link’s former Republican opponents. Oops. The seriousness of the situation was overstated, but the local media picked up the story almost right away.

Bloggers in Illinois and nationally are expressing interest in Daniel Biss’ campaign for the Illinois House. Biss faces an uphill race in a district represented by popular Republican incumbent state Rep. Beth Coulson, but he’s raising a ton of cash because he has paid so much attention to online media.

I’m not a blog triumphalist, but I do think they matter and are generally positive.

One aspect of criticism that I find particularly irksome is the argument that blogs are just random people who you cannot trust. Any source of news and information should be viewed with healthy skepticism and blogs are especially susceptible to making errors since there is only one line of review. Me included. That said, many journalists do a very good job, but with the exception of maybe Rich Miller and Aaron Chambers, they cannot give you much on bureaucratic rule making. It’s a fairly detailed area and unless someone has followed a story through it, making heads nor tails of the process is difficult. And many who cover daily politics understand daily politics pretty well, but not so much when it comes down to questions of the State Constitution or federalism issues.

Those aren’t horrible characteristics, they are a natural outgrowth of what they have to specialize for in regards to reporting. On the other hand, I have a fairly good grasp of rule making and federalism at the state level because my area of interest academically is just that area.

In the same way, many reporters are good consumers of polls. Lynn Sweet is a good example as are the two others mentioned above. However, they don’t actually do polling or have the grasp of it that Charles Franklin does at Pollster.com and Politiccal Arithmetik (both linked in the blogroll. Charles is displaying specific work related to his area of research and it’s by far the best accessible way to understand how polls compare to each other and offer a good estimate of the underlying state of public opinion. I’m far less accomplished than Charles, but I do a lot of work on the wording of survey questions and especially a lot on internal validity of instruments. Not many reporters do that.

Obviously Charles and I run very different types of sites. Mine is more personal and aimed at activism, his is more a place to allow his professional work to be accessible. This is true of many types of people though with biologists populating a lot of the evolution blogosphere, economists of all stripes, and lawyers galore–that’s a bit more mixed of a group.
Not everyone with a blog has a particular expertise in what they are blogging about though and that’s okay. Not all reporters have a particular expertise in what they are reporting–I kid–I actually respect most of the Illinois press corps. Those that aren’t the Publisher’s relative at least.

The point being that more information and more views should enhance civic life, not be a danger to it. Sure, there will be bad information from time to time on blogs. Like the stuff that appeared in the NY Times that helped get us into Iraq. Or Bob Novak. Readers get a sense of reliability though and they can determine the quality of information over time. Some sites remain crap, but that crap audience was out there before the internets They even overlook really dumb decisions from time-to-time as long as the proper corrections and apologies take place and lessons learned. Trust me on that one–I know.

Nobody really knows where this is all leading, but it’s obvious that if you want to know the rest of the story about any issue, big or small, you have to go online.

And that’s true, but I think there is every reason to be positive about the future and blogging. Making information more accessible is a good thing and it ultimately means better coverage as more coverage is created and more perspectives come to reporting.