A refreshing article by Linda Jean Kenix from the University of Canterbury – just published in JCMC – tries to set the record straight about “the state of the blogosphere” – that is, can we refer to that as some kind of alternative media?
Not really, if we define “alternative media” along the lines suggested by Atton or Atkinson: in opposition to the mainstream. Where the mainstream is profit-oriented, hierarchical, exclusive, manipulative and conformist, there alternative should be just the opposite.
But a look at some popular and not-so popular blogs does not seem to confirm that the blogosphere would be anything like that. Results of the content analysis of four blogs offering political commentary – in bullet points:
- binary and reductive analysis, instead of in-depth, extensive analysis of issues
- dependent reporting – that is, dependent on the mainstream media, with virtually no evidence of original reporting (cf. my own results about social news sites recycling mainstream material)
- one-way communication between bloggers and audience (the comment area is not the place to interact with the author of the blog)
- caustic commentary and childish communicative practices – like some kind of sandbox for the kids, away from the ears of adults
- coded language and partisan tone – often seemingly elitist, and being just as hierarchical as the mainstream media
- highly personalized though, and
- fostering only apathetic online “participation”
So it makes more sense to think of the blogosphere as somewhere on the border between mainstream and alternative, extending and drawing upon practices (and, I might add, resources) of the mainstream; and adding a personalized touch to it.
It’s good to see a paper that tries to question the optimism in the “networked public sphere of blogs” by empirically analyzing them. But much as I like Kenix’s work, I wonder why she doesn’t offer a clear conceptualization of blogs. She describes at great length what “blogs” as such usually are like, but she then takes the variety as a given. Sure, this makes sense from a certain point of view, but what I’m trying to say is that saying that “blogs are like this” needs to be, by definition, so broad as not to be able to offer any firm, precise point of orientation.
SOME blogs are like this, and SOME blogs are like that; SOME are undoubtedly part of the alternative media, while SOME are by definition part of the mainstream; and unless these distinctions are made, and the two categories separated, I don’t think there is much point in an overall analysis.
From the point of view of communication studies, the blogosphere is not one thing. Or at least it shouldn’t be one analytical unit. FTW!
Kenix, Linda Jean (2009): “Blogs as Alternative” in JCMC 14, 790-822.