New Book Hails Rise of Blogs as Mostly Beneficial

Posted March 10, 2008 at 4:08pm

From doctors to students to politicians, it seems everybody is blogging these days.

And the frenzy is not about to abate, according to David Perlmutter.

“In politics and media technology, although the future is uncertain, it will not go unblogged,” Perlmutter, a professor at the University of Kansas’ journalism school, concludes in his new book, “Blogwars.”

Although he doesn’t gloss over the shortcomings and vulgarities that plague some blogs, Perlmutter mostly praises the rise of blogs as a positive development in politics. They have gotten people interested in government and public affairs and have led to a more educated society, he says.

“It is a socially useful war of ideas that, despite its more distasteful projections, is improving rather than detracting from democracy in America,” Perlmutter writes.

Perlmutter has been studying political communication for more than 20 years, and in 1996 (a year he characterizes as part of “the dinosaur days”) he co-wrote a paper about the Web sites of presidential candidates.

What seemed far-fetched then — that campaigns would raise money over the Internet and John Q. Public would promote his candidates on blogs — is a given now.

“People call blogs ‘new media,’ but they’re no more new to my 20-year-old students than fire and the wheel,” Perlmutter said. “They grew up with it. They speak in blog and organize their life on Facebook.”

So Perlmutter only sees the Internet as continuing to grow in campaigns.

Today’s college students “are very tech-savvy,” he said. “When they grow up to be campaign managers and chiefs of staff, and ultimately Congressmen and the president, they’ll continue to use” blogs and the Internet.

Perlmutter acknowledges the scary part of blogs. He recalls a female blogger asking of him: “Is the price of expressing myself on Iraq [that I get] e-mails describing how I should be raped and burned?”

Such passionate rhetoric should not come as a surprise, Perlmutter writes, because “only those who really cared about what they were doing would work so hard or endure such trouble, almost always for little monetary reward.”

But the author also celebrates blogs as watchdogs that catch the mainstream media’s mistakes and fill in news that other journalists miss.

He refers to bloggers in Portland, Ore., and Cleveland that cover city hall better than their daily newspapers.

“A lot of interesting stuff going on is local blogging,” Perlmutter said. “Local papers have cut back on their city desks, and bloggers are [picking up] the slack.”

Perlmutter is not to be confused with a political expert — he refers to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as a Senator and to “former” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — but he provides a helpful analysis of which candidates have successfully engaged the blogging world.

He said former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) gained the respect of bloggers by hosting a lunch and briefing them before he even announced his campaign for president in 2007. Perlmutter credited Edwards’ outreach to bloggers with helping to focus on then- Democratic frontrunner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) initial support for the Iraq War.

Although things didn’t turn out well for Edwards electorally — proof that “blogging has an influence but is not going to determine who’s elected president” — Perlmutter believes bloggers still have an important role to play.

“In sum, we need blogs and bloggers out there,” he writes, “prowling around, in person or Web searching, coming back and telling us what they found, saw, or heard.”