Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber and Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy discussed the role of blogs in today’s media landscape and the potential fragmenting role of blogs more specifically speaking on Chicago Public Radio yesterday. The site offers the segment archived in .ram format.
They did a good job in general. They nicely pointed out some of the particular aspects of blogs that give them the potential to be different from communication through other media (e.g. the importance of links). One of the issues that was discussed at length had to do with the potential fragmenting role of blogs especially with respect to political discussions. I would have addressed a couple of points somewhat differently (but I wasn’t the one live on the air). I note these points here not as criticism (as I said, they did a really nice job discussing various issues), but simply to move the discussion from the radio show into the blogosphere.
1) A listener asked whether there are blogs that aggregate different perspectives on an issue. Both Henry and Eugene suggested that this does not occur much in the blogosphere. Although it may be true that “blogs” per se do not do this often, there are Web sites out there that present the various sides of issues, they are just not necessarily called blogs. I realize the show was about blogs, but where/how do we draw the line? I’m thinking about sites like http://www.e-thepeople.org . There are also blog aggregators of sort that point to blogs of different stripes equally and at the same hierarchical level, so to speak, although I realize those pointers are not necessarily to posts on the same issue. Moreover, during campaign seasons there are sites that show you where different candidates come down on an issue (example: OnTheIssues). Again, not blogs per se, but online resources and in some cases also interactive.
2) Regarding the potential fragmenting role of blogs in the political realms both Henry and Eugene seemed to suggest that there is definitely potential for that. It is a tricky question. It is hard to say whether in this day and age of talk radio representing very particular sides blogs are really doing that much *more* to fragment people into isolated groups. Henry kindly mentioned the study with which I am involved regarding blogger ideological cross-linking to note that we do know of some interlinking among bloggers representing different perspectives although not that much. One of the challenges of that study and answering this question in general is that there is not that much “before” data on fragmentation so it is hard to say whether blogs are really *changing* things for the worse per se (“worse” depending on your take on the issue).
Overall, the radio show presents a very nice discussion of blogs, it is worth checking out if your machine accomodates .ram files. (NPR – Won’t you please expand the formats you support?!)