Talking to ourselves

According to a media survey, blogs are now registering as a source of news, with 2% of people turning first to blogs for news of events in Australia, after scoring a ‘*’ last year. But TV (42%) and radio (21%) still dominate, reflecting their superior news gathering and delivery capacities. Slightly more people – 3% – turn to blogs for ‘political background’. I thought blogs might have done better on this question; this is one area in which I think some blogs do quite well.

But blogs have found their niche in providing ‘views and opinions of people like me’, with 7% of people turning first to blogs to have their prejudices reinforced. Talkback radio and ‘newspapers/magazines’ (an annoying blurring of quite different forms of media) also do better on this count than on providing ‘political background’. That this is blogs’ strength is not suprising. With low set-up and running costs, blogs can target niche viewpoints (such as classical liberalism:)) more effectively than media that require large audiences to be economically viable. Overall, though, these figures remind us that blogs have very limited capacity to influence how the public sees the world. Our audience is mostly people who agree with us already.

14 thoughts on “Talking to ourselves

  1. I think that’s right, Andrew. I rarely go to lefty sites these days, except when I’m feeling mischievous, to leave a stirring comment.

    On the other hand people can be very selective in what op-ed articles they read in newspapers and the sort of news/current affairs show they watch on TV or listen to on radio. Thus Virginia Trioli will attract quite a different audience than Alan Jones or John Laws.

    Unfortunately there aren’t many opinion pieces that actually advance knowledge. Even news stories are laced with the journalists’ opinions. Best to read serious magazines like The Economist for world-wide information, or a balanced range of opinion.

    When I start reading Alan Ramsay’s Saturday effort I tend to stop reading at the first outrageously stupid, grossly inaccurate or downright personally insulting sentence. Thus I don’t read much of his stuff.

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  2. “Our audience is mostly people who agree with us already.”

    Yes. Unfortunate. But maybe within a blog with a certain focus (eg classical liberalism) one may find ideas that one hasn’t considered, which may be interesting.

    It’s human nature to read material that one is likely to agree with (eg I think that Fox suspect so only occasionally watch it) but I reckon it’s important to read all sorts of different perspectives to get a more informed view. Maybe that’s just me.

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  3. Andrew, yes the “echo chamber” function of blogs is clear, but I have a theory that it is worse on the Left than the Right. This is because many on the modern Left (particularly the idealistic youth) consider opinions different from their own as both irrational and morally defective, and therefore spending much time reading such opinions in blogs is like dabbling in evil (if they believed in evil). It often just gets them so annoyed they cannot continue reading.

    Those on the Right tend more to consider Left wingers as (perhaps) well intentioned but in error, and can therefore read their opinions without the sense of outrage that the Left seems to have regularly. This makes it easier for conservatives to keep reading left-y blogs. Indeed, they can do it with a sense of fun at spotting really stupid arguments, because such differing opinion is not assumed to be evil.

    (I am talking generalities here, of course.)

    I think this also explains why Left wing satire of the Right is often nasty, snide and personal, and Right wing humour is more about deflating the seriousness and hyperbole of the Left. (There are exceptions on both sides, of course.)

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  4. “Our audience is mostly people who agree with us already.”

    Really? The situation at my blog is a little more complicated.

    I seem to attract young Americans (relatively educated, culturally aware) who agree with me and older Americans and Australians (of all backgrounds) who can’t stand me. Young Australians are generally content to bypass my specific arguments and send rather ‘hey, how you doing, what do you think of this?’ type feedback. I assume they agree with me unless they indicate otherwise.

    Women (especially mothers, but not all lesbians) are often supportive, while men are either devoted or else disgusted. Regardless, they tell me how they feel and I respond. When I allowed comments, they went nuts, at me, at each other.

    Conformist lesbians (i.e. want to get ‘married’) hate me and also often tell me why, while radical lesbians (i.e. no marriage for any woman) often think I am fun, funny or – somewhat enigmatically – on their side.

    That’s before we even get into the radical traditionalists versus ‘spirit of Vatican II’ Catholic types. Those guys love me one day and condemn me to hellfire (yes, the ‘liberals’ are often the nastiest) the next. Again, they always come back and they frequently send detailed feedback.

    I really don’t know who reads me and why but the idea that there is a closed loop doesn’t always fit all blogs (not that Andrew was claiming it did).

    I know that I usually read the sites/articles, etc. of those most likely to disagree with me before I look for common ground on more sympathetic sites. Half the fun of blogging is this dynamic interplay, and often despite the fact that someone is an immediate nut or a crank, the very fact that he operates under a different paradigm means his thinking and the conclusions he reaches are worth studying.

    If bloggers are forgetting this – and it is one of the reasons why blogging is so sparky and creative, ideas are thrust up against ideas, ego versus ego – we might be in trouble.

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  5. John – While you have controversial political views, overall you don’t fit into any of the usual boxes, which possibly helps give it a broader appeal. It’s like reading a blog by a Green who is also a passionate supporter of capitalism; or a classical liberal who advocates living in hippy collectives. Also, your blog is partly about sexual attraction, an even more primordial instinct than the tribal mentality that makes people prefer blogs they agree with.

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  6. What garbage, Steve. Try leaving a dissenting comment at, say, Tim Blair’s site and see if you are treated as “well inentioned but in error”.

    I still remember the calls of “traitor”, “objectively pro-Saddam”, “Islamofascist”, etc directed at anybody who ventured to suggest that perhaps the case for Iraqi WMDs was not quite a “slam dunk”, or that plans for Iraq were not quite fully thought through.

    I often comment at Catallaxy (in any thread where GMB is absent), at Kalimna and at several other conservative or libertarian sites. But I won’t go near the abundant RWDB sites. Too many crazies.

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  7. Bannerman rarely reads opinions which don’t confirm his own prejudices. Norton is one of those rarities, having amusement value in it’s rather pompous presentation. Let’s be honest with ourselves, as opposed to pud-pulling in the virtually public domain. Who reads Tim Blair for fun, other than those who think like Tim Blair?

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  8. Derrida: I made it clear I was speaking in “broad brush” terms, and the issue of how people are treated in comments is a bit different from the point I was making. Certainly both sides can be, and frequently are, rude to each other, especially on the really contentious political issues such as Iraq. But I stand by my basic idea that ideological earnestness on the part of the Left probably makes it less likely that they will visit Right wing blogs to see what the opposition’s take on events are. I think the big success (in terms of visits) of the likes of Daily Kos in American over right wing or more centrist sites might support my theory too.

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