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March 11, 2005

Gallup Poll on Blogs

My blogger status compels me to report as a "must read" a new survey on blogging released today by the Gallup Organization.  Under the headline "Bloggers Not Yet in the Big Leagues," Gallup's Lydia Saad concludes:

Relatively few Americans are generally familiar with the phenomenon of blogging...Three-quarters of the U.S. public uses the Internet at work, school, or home, but only one in four Americans are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs...More to the point, fewer than one in six Americans (15%) read blogs regularly (at least a few times a month). Just 12% of Americans read blogs dealing specifically with politics this often.

The analysis is worth reading in full, as Gallup's data will provide an important  benchmark for tracking the blogging phenomenon.   However, though Saad delivers a powerful rebuke to anyone who might confuse blogs with one of the "dominant sources of information for the American public," I fear she misses the point. 

MP has never been much of a believer in "blogger triumphalism," the notion that blogs will inexorably destroy or supplant the "mainstream media."   I tend to agree with this observation from former Salon.com managing editor Scott Rosenberg (as quoted by Jay Rosen):

Typically, the debate about blogs today is framed as a duel to the death between old and new journalism...This debate is stupidly reductive -- an inevitable byproduct of (I'll don my blogger-sympathizer hat here) the traditional media's insistent habit of framing all change in terms of a "who wins and who loses?" calculus. The rise of blogs does not equal the death of professional journalism. The media world is not a zero-sum game. Increasingly, in fact, the Internet is turning it into a symbiotic ecosystem -- in which the different parts feed off one another and the whole thing grows.

No, the collective reach of blogs is nowhere near that of television or print media, but focusing on the relatively small percentages misses the rapidly growing influence of the blog readership in absolute terms.  The 12% that say they read political blogs at least a few times a month amount to roughly 26 million Americans.  That may not make blogs a "dominant" news source, but one American in ten ads up to a lot of influence. 

The most remarkable finding is the pattern we would expect in blog readership by age that gets buried near the end of the report. According to Gallup, monthly readership of all blogs (not just political) is 15% overall, but much greater among younger Americans:   

Monthly-plus readership of blogs is 21% among 18- to 29-year olds, 16% among those 30 to 49, 14% among those 50 to 64 and just 7% among those 65 and older.... The age gap in blog reading is particularly noteworthy because it is a complete reversal of the typical age pattern gap for news consumption. Gallup finds Americans' use of all traditional news media to be positively correlated with age. (For instance, only 32% of 18- to 29-year-olds read a local paper every day, versus 61% of those 65 and older) [emphasis added].

Sounds like almost like something of a "revolution" to me. 

Related Entries - Polling & the Blogosphere

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on March 11, 2005 at 04:55 PM in Polling & the Blogosphere | Permalink

Comments

There is perfectly decent research that shows a) there is very little political news in the news on TV, and b) when people are "watching" the news, they aren't paying any attention.

My guess is (no stats, I'm afraid) is that people who read blogs for political content are paying a darn sight more attention than those who "watch" the news on TV.

Also, it would be of interest to see if the blogreaders are "cue givers" to others, or if they're among the politically knowledgeable. If they are (and I'm willing to concede that) then the numbers for young people are HUGE. If that 21% of young people who read blogs are also the 21% who are paying attention and voting (mostly) that is a blowout.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Mar 11, 2005 6:03:45 PM

The significane of blogging has to do with the much larger pool of well-informed people on any given subject, which might end in having profound consequences despiste their number remaining small as a percentage of the total population. E.g., ideas get critiqued faster, and the good ones that survive may find more early support, and thus, like seeds, may grow more readily than they might have as recently as ten years ago. Ideas over at Born Again Democrats for example. I guess we'll see.

Posted by: Luke Lea | Mar 11, 2005 8:28:48 PM

I've always thought it amazing that the old line opinion magazines could be so influential with circulations below 100,000. I guess it matters just who your readers are more than just how many.

Posted by: Rick Lee | Mar 11, 2005 11:37:27 PM

But what percentage read political blogs?

There are a lot of different kinds of blogs out there, and the political opinion blogs that everybody gets excited over are merely a subset.

Posted by: Steve Sailer | Mar 12, 2005 2:09:21 AM

This is a well-reasoned post. Except for one part.

It's good to know that MP has never believed in "blogger triumphalism," the notion that blogs will inexorably destroy or supplant the mainstream media. I have read hundreds of disclaimers like that, worded almost exactly like that.

Each writer does what you did-- informs us that he doesn't believe what so many others do: "that blogs will inexorably destroy or supplant the mainstream media." Each writer fails, as you did, to mention anyone who does believe it, or offer any quotes along the lines of "blogs will inexorably replace the major news media." Needless to say there is never a link to triumphalism of the "destory or supplant" variety.

The claim you and thousands of others like to argue against is a phantom claim. It's also a weird example of supply and demand. There is great demand out there for triumphalists to refute, but almost no supply. Thus: no names, no links, and most especially no quotes.

You're in good company, Mark. The new editor of Salon just did it the other day. Playing the realist, she wrote: "The blogosphere is unlikely to completely substitute for ambitious, muscular, well-funded news organizations going after the truth all over the globe day after day."

I wrote her a note asking if she had any names, quotes or links of people who thought likely what she said was unlikely. She wrote back and admitted the answer was no.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | Mar 12, 2005 7:46:01 AM

The "blogger triumphant meme", if tracked back to source, might turn out to be a product of the fearful id of the collective media (i.e., people working for free and making us look bad today will eventually steal our jobs). I appreciated also the observation that many watching, say, TV news are often actually focused on something else entirely. Newspaper readers are more engaged and better 'fed', but papers have space constraints. Blogs readers can get all the news they want from as many sources as they want. This suggests both a hunger for news and a discernment in content. They are anything but a captive audience, and may indeed be among the 'opinion leaders' that many suspect.

Certainly that's how I approach it, and I see the clues everywhere. Look at the reaction to Rather's departure. Rather was much better known than any blogger, yet his departure as CBS anchor barely caused a blip on the public radar. In contrast, Jon Stewart, a man much better tuned to 'blogger mentality' as it were, causes a far greater stir when he does almost anything. What does this mean? It might mean that much of MSM is mere background noise, while newer media (blogs) and less 'conventional' media practitioners (Stewart), though well down in Neilsen numbers, are leading-edge in shaping opinions.

So: Why do 'bloggers' have to 'take over' from MSM? Do they want larger numbers of people who aren't moved by what they say, or a passionate, loyal but small following? (Ask Stewart, who caused some head-scratching -in the MSM- when he signed a long term deal to do his 'fake news' on cable.) Do they want to 'destroy' MSM, or shame it into doing its job?

When you drill down to the details, it begins to seem that the wrong questions are being asked.

Posted by: Mr. Snitch | Mar 12, 2005 11:48:03 AM

Uh, sure... It's merely a "phantom claim." These "hundreds of disclaimers" regarding blogger triumphalism just organically sprung out of nowhere. A whole bunch of people suddenly invented this notion out of whole cloth, compelled by no real evidence.

I mean, how many giddy references to "dinosaurs" and "the buggy-whip industry of the 21st century" would it take to convince you that the "destroy or supplant" meme actually exists? Those very phrases have been so prevalent that they long ago hit cliche status -- and they're simply the shorthand version of a deeply held, widely propagated sentiment.

Those disclaimers about blogger triumphalism haven't mushroomed for no reason. You seem to think they're refuting a strawman, but anybody who's spent time lurking about the Web can tell you that blogger triumphalism is alive and well, and that fantasies of "MSM" extinction are thriving.

Posted by: SP | Mar 12, 2005 11:54:39 AM

To see the real buried lede here put together:

(a) blogs are this influential while still reaching such a small public
(b) blog readership and participation are still growing at explosive rates

My conclusion is, we're just at the beginning.

After all first newspapers, then radio then TV each exerted a huge political impact for decades, affecting both the content of the conversation and winners and losers. Why should we expect this new communication medium to be different?

Posted by: ZF | Mar 12, 2005 3:55:53 PM

Examples of "blogger triumphalism" SP? If there's "no reason" then you must have examples at hand, no?

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Mar 12, 2005 4:28:57 PM

Jay,

Thanks for the well reasoned critique. Except for one part.

I did not say that "so many others" had endorsed the comming destruction of the mainstream media by blogs. I simply described that idea as a "notion."

The Merriam-Webster Dicitionary defines notion as "an individual's conception or impression of something known, experienced, or imagined" (see: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?va=notion). Note that last word.

My choice of words was intentional, as in writing this post, I had stumbled on your response to Jack Shafer (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/webcred/?p=63). The point you raise is interesting, but it was not my focus, so I chose to sidestep it.

Nontheless, your critique made me reach for a book that has been sitting unread on my beside table for the last few weeks, Hugh Hewitt's "Blog." The cover describes blogging as an "information reformation." In his preface (pp. x-xi) he extends the analogy:

"[Dan] Rather in 2004 was a lot like Leo X in 1517. Leo was pope when Luther started hammering on the cathedral door. Leo did not react in time. His business -- the Roman Catholic Church -- was badly damaged by obtuseness...Most folks know who Luther is. Not many people know who Leo is. Because Luther overwhelmed Leo."

I have only read to page "xi" in search of examples. Should I look for more?

Posted by: Mark Blumenthal | Mar 13, 2005 7:29:09 AM

Mark: You should definitely look for more. Examine every case of triumphalism and if in the end Hewitt is one, fine.

But notice that now you are saying something different. Instead of arguing with a notion, you are arguing with Hewitt, and I can examine what he says myself, and decide if yours is a fair reading of his point. That's exactly why your post is weaker if you do not have quotes and people supporting your notion.

(I'm totally down for writing about "notions," by the way. My blog is called PressThink because that is what it tries to do: come up with notions.)

Let's be crude for a moment and quantify. If you come up with a good notion, I give you one point, as a reader. If you have notion plus quote where you can hear that notion, I give you two. If arguing against somebody who is actually arguing back, in favor of what you oppose-- again two points because you're replying to a view that can reply back. Arguing against what no one is really saying in the first place, minus a point. Defeating a phantom opponent, zero.

Now in the case of Hewitt's passage, "Rather in 2004 was a lot like Leo X in 1517..." I have written about this meme myself:

http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/12/26/tptn04_intro.html

It says blogs are to major news media as Protestant Reformation was to Catholic Church. Great notion. Helps us interpret, I think, where we are. But this parallel, while vivid, contains no support whatsoever for the "replace" or "destroy" hypothesis, since it is self evident that the Catholic Church was not replaced or destroyed by the Protestant newcomers. But it was changed. It was challenged. It lost authority, monoploy, power. And that is where we should be focusing smart weblogs like yours, on the sensuous details of that loss, not on refuting phantom holders of fantasy views.

It's a judgment call. You can go on slaying blogger triumphalism, if you choose. But make it an argument with a person, or an attitude with examples, and it starts to get interesting.

One thing I have noticed, though. Man is there big time demand for a seld-declared triumphalist to refute. I mean a stray quote is one thing. A spokesman another. This in itself needs to be explained-- the demand for it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen | Mar 13, 2005 12:09:03 PM

JorgXMcKie:

Well, you've got me! I have no examples to cite. I have no specific references to immediately summon for demonstrating blog triumphalism. I cannot back up my post with Real Live Evidence.

That's a product of two things:

-- I haven't saved such examples when I've encountered them.

-- I don't feel like diving into a labyrinthine Google treasure hunt at the moment. (This is a big basketball afternoon, ya know, even if the Tar Heels did lose yesterday.)

You don't know me personally, so it's presumptuous when I ask that you simply take me at my word. But I'll be presumptuous and ask that you simply take me at my word: I have come across countless instances of the Blogs-Will-Destroy-MSM assertion. I have seen them in blog posts, in essays about blogs and -- perhaps most frequently -- in blog comment threads.

As I noted in my above post, these assertions are often rendered with the aid of such metaphors as "dinosaurs" and "buggy-whip makers." If you're a regular blog reader, surely you've seen these cliches as often as I have. And surely you recognize that each is a metaphor about extinction.

These prophecies are also often accompanied by zealous modifiers such as "inevitable" and "overdue." In other words, many of these soothsayers not only predict that blogs (or "open-source journalism," as dubbed by some) will supplant the mainstream media -- they're quite excited by the prospect.

Now, not all blogger triumphalism has been presented so aggressively. Much of it has been more nuanced: Think Glenn Reynolds, Power Line, etc. These are the folks smart enough to avoid knee-jerk pronouncements or the appearance of blind-faith passion. But the sentiment is there nevertheless.

The bottom line is that those who disclaim blogger triumphalism are not merely attacking a strawman. Like me, they've seen the MSM death decrees riding shotgun with the blog-revolution rhetoric. Like me, they've encountered both the assertion in both its forms: swaggering and subtle. And like me, they find the whole notion -- and, yes, that's the ideal word -- to be a bit ridiculous.

Posted by: SP | Mar 13, 2005 1:11:04 PM

I think there are elements of blogger triumphalism out there. That is hardly surprising, since there are millions of blogs out there, and certainly some would be saying this. Which of course proves very little. I think you have to judge the blogosphere by what its main practicioners say, just as you have to judge the MSM (mainstream media) by what the NY Times, not the National Enquirer, says. I heard a talk by Jonah Goldberg, a bigwig at the influential National Review Online, the other night and he made it clear that in his opinion the blogosphere/internet is not going the destroy, or even replace, the MSM. He thought the b/i WILL influence the MSM to change their practices, and induce the MSM to join the b/i itself. He pointed out that the typical b/i website is created by a high school girl to talk about her boy problems and such, and thus is read by only a handful. The top b/i's (instapundit, for example; it's technically not a blog) sift through the lesser growth of what's on the b/i and link to only the best stuff out there. And these top blogs, being widely read and linked to, will have an influence. The b/i can be fast moving and immediate in a way the MSM never can. For example, on freerepublic and several other b/i's tonight is a critique of the Washington Post poll on social security for asking biased questions.

Posted by: CivilWarGuy | Mar 16, 2005 12:28:42 AM

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