Blogs, Traditional Media, and Following Politics


John Podhoretz draws a distinction, in his New York Post column, between those who get their information from the awkwardly-named “Mainstream Media” (I prefer traditional media) and those who follow (or follow, in addition to newspaper and television) political blogs and Web sites, and hypothesizes that the latter are getting a much different election picture than the former. Those on “Blog Time,” Podhoretz argues, are more attuned to subtle or even significant shifts of voter zeitgeist: Rep. Harold Ford had a bad week; Republicans have put the worst of the ongoing Foley mess behind them; this district’s latest poll looks good for the incumbent, and so on so forth. Those on “Mainstream Media Time,” by contrast, are getting fed a steady diet of one way stories suggesting that Republicans are in trouble, according to Podhoretz.

For what it’s worth, my impression of the tenor of stories in papers and television versus what blogs are saying squares pretty well with Podhoretz, but I think the difference is better explained by the audience each is trying to reach–people who follow politics more closely will be far more interested in the ups and downs week-to-week than people who (apologies for putting it this way) have better things to do with their time. So while I might suddenly find it fascinating that new polls show challenger Eric Dickerson has pulled ahead of Rep. Julia Carson (and further, that that poll may well be inaccurate due to limitations in polling techniques for House races), I wouldn’t expect, say, someone who’s not obsessed with politics or who doesn’t live in Indiana’s seventh district to find this all that fascinating.

One thing I’d fault traditional media for is the extent to which, once again, its coverage is poll driven rather than substantive, and it seems like a lot of the blogs are following suit. Polls are interesting as far as they go, but the only poll that matters, of course, is the one on election day; to win that one, the campaigns and parties are raising and spending obscene amounts of campaign cash. I’m far more interested in who’s giving that money than anything in the latest poll results.

I’m also getting more and more interested in how campaigns are spending that money (and what they’re spending it on). Is there a channel of communication we’re missing, a microtargeting effort that lets a campaign (or rather, its volunteers) speak directly to voters, making pre-determined pitches on the basis of voter preferences to get people to the polls on Nov. 7? To me, that’s a much more interesting question than whether people who closely follow political blogs are much more up to speed on nuances in political races than those who don’t.