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April 14, 2005

Enter the Blogosphere

Chase Turner

      In case you've been locked in a basement for the last two years, here's a quick rundown on one of the latest Internet trends. A blog (web log) is a web application that is frequently updated with posts from a person or common group of people. From politics ("This Modern World") to porn ("FleshBot"), from cities ("Gothamist") to celebrities ("Gawker"), blogs can take on myriad forms. They range from personal online journals updated by individuals to large information resources run by corporations. There are a whole host of sites offering free space and software for individuals wishing to maintain a blog. Hundreds of thousands exist on the web. Like many Internet phenomena, few rules exist and anyone can participate. The only criteria for blogs are that they be available online and time-stamped.

Enter the Blogosphere

      Blogs that generate the most chatter are those of a political persuasion. Recently, bloggers have sought recognition as legitimate sources of information, but have been met with hesitancy by the mainstream news media. Given that any person with a computer can maintain a blog, reluctance is warranted; but like it or not, blogs are becoming increasingly integrated into many Americans' daily dose of information. Bloggers' first major blip on the radar screen occurred when Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) made racist remarks at a dinner party honoring the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Following research by bloggers, other racist quotes were uncovered and posted on various blogs in an attempt to discredit the Senator. The story caught on in the mainstream media and eventually put so much pressure on Lott that he resigned as majority leader of the Senate. The CBS News Dan Rather scandal was also catalyzed by the blog world.

      The danger in accepting blogs at face value is that, unlike much of mainstream news media, bloggers are not held up to journalistic standards. Not that the media in this country is a beacon of journalistic integrity, but many blogs do not fact-check their stories, and the possibility of a post being completely fabricated always exists. Instead, blogs are measured in a distinctly twenty-first century manner. The more hits a site generates, the more incentive it has for accuracy. Indeed, if a popular blog errs, other bloggers and individuals are quick to take notice. Many political blogs simply devote their resources to pointing out factual inaccuracies and discrepancies among the major news institutions. Some conduct investigative research. Others analyze the political climate. Bloggers are not shy about their personal political beliefs, and very few refrain from injecting their opinions into their blogs. Indeed, many blogs are simply outlets where political views are expressed.

      Many fear that blogs may take over as the major source of news in this country, running rampant on the Internet and spreading phony stories. It is unlikely that blogs will surpass other media any time soon. Computer use is widespread, but television and newspapers will continue to be the preferred news source. The blog world is slowly finding its niche, and will undoubtedly be a major player in the future of politics, poking fun at the system and keeping the standard news media in check.

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