A fresh article by Sharon Meraz studies the agenda-setting power of “elite traditional media” (more specifically, the New York Times and the Washington Post) on the blogosphere, through various issues, and distinguishing between right-leaning, moderate and left-leaning independent blogs.
The results confirm what my own tentative research about social news sites hinted at: that traditional media are still very important, an “A-list force” in setting the agenda of citizen media; but the former no longer hold a monopoly over agenda setting.
Meraz sees agenda-setting power of citizen media as a power residing “in the long tail”; that is, individually few independent websites can exert a powerful influence on the media agenda, but given the networked nature of blogs, together they are able to alter what’s regarded as topical – and they are able to do this while introducing a degree of variety (in sources and points of view) that, naturally, easily surpasses that found in the mainstream media.
Further, she claims that shared status homophily theory might explain this state of things. Elite media organs consider themselves as elite media organs, which results in them linking to few independent sources, whom they see being of lower status (as far as journalistic credentials are concerned). Conversely, the perceived outsider status of independent blogs helps them form many and stronger ties among each other.
Another well-made point of the article is how silence can be important in agenda setting (as the networked nature of blogs magnifies the effects of both the presence and the absence of a particular post on a blog).
Meraz, Sharon (2009): Is There an Elite Hold? Traditional Media to Social Media Agenda Setting Influence in Blog Networks, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 682 – 707.