Monday, June 16, 2008

Are blogs elitist?

I am a chief investigator on a project team involved with the ARC Linkage project on Citizen Journalism in Australia. Our team put together the YouDecide 2007 citizen jounalism web site for the November 2007 Australian Federal election. I am currently preparing papers on this for the Creating Value: Between Commerce and Content conference to be held in Brisbane from 25-27 June 2008, and the Australia and New Zealand Communications Association conference in Wellington from 11-13 July 2008. My colleagues Axel Bruns, Barry Saunders and Jason Wilson have maintained a blog on the project called Gatewatching.

As a part of the project, we aim to have a monthly reading group to discuss relevant work in the field. One author whose work we have consdiered is Matthew Hindman from Arizona State University. Hindman is a sceptic about the democratising potential for political blogs, arguing that A-list bloggers are no less an elite than the political establishment, but are simply a different elite.

He has a book coming out soon called The Myth of Digital Democracy, but I have tracked one of his papers where the main arguments can be found.

Hindman's main arguments are:

First, just as in news traffic and in political traffic, blogs show a sharp divide between a small number of hyper-successful sites that get most of the visits, and a large number of barely-visited sites that get most of the remaining attention. Audience concentration among the most visited sites, and audience dispersion amongst the rest, is the general rule of blogging audiences. Second, the small set of bloggers who actually get read are not amateurs in any meaningful sense of the word. They are, to an extraordinary degree, elites of one form or an-


If the Internet provides novel mechanisms of political accountability, then, it is the
elite cast of online discourse that makes this possible. Whether a sharper divide between big and small outlets is good news for other democratic values—media diversity, a broad public sphere, and equal participation in civic debates—is a more doubtful prospect.
Axel Bruns has written a critique of Hindman's argument here, and I won't try to summarise them.

I am mulling this issue in my own head as I think about my conclusions on the YouDecide 2007 project and our impact. I will post the paper for comment shortly, but any thoguht on Hindman's argument would be much appreciated.


Tim said...

Hi Terry,

The link to the paper you quote from in this post seems to be incorrect...


Terry Flew said...


Try it now. Bit of a delay replying as I have gone from travel to conference.