I submitted my PR Diploma dissertation at long last this week. It examined whether political bloggers in the UK have an influence on the media agenda of broadsheet newspapers.
I won’t go into the findings in depth as I plan to upload a pdf of the full thesis in due course.
But the findings were interesting and I’ve summarised the main points below.
- The study undertook a longitudinal evaluation of three case studies where it appeared UK political bloggers had influenced the broadsheet’s media agenda. These findings were then compared with data from interviews carried out with key journalists writing about the case studies issues in the MSM.
- The case studies were: the Charity Commission investigation into the Smith Institute; the Labour Party auctioning a copy of the Hutton Report signed by Cherie Blair and Iraqi translators’ asylum status.
- Results suggested that all three case studies displayed some evidence of media agenda-setting. All three cases appeared to act as trigger events (Dear and Rogers, 1996). That is online media events that occurred before the issues in question were picked up by the MSM – thus triggering media coverage.
- It also appeared that in all the case studies influential, high-traffic blogs – or networks of lower-traffic ones – acted as framing devices (Drezner and Farrell, 2004) around the story, pulling together key information and interpreting/analysing issues. This was reinforced by one journalists who admitted in an interview that he used blogs as sources of “comment” and “insight” for stories.
- Despite the above findings, 100% of the journalists interviewed claimed they did not use material from blogs when writing stories, while 50% of journalists said they did not even read blogs.
- Interestingly of the remaining 50% that did read blogs, one journalist indicated that he used blogs for insight into political parties’ grassroots members while another admitted “cross-fertilisation” between an influential blog and his stories.
- The general conclusion was that although on paper there appears – at least – theoretical evidence for media agenda-setting by UK political blogs results from the newsdesk indicate that for the majority, blogs are not a trusted source of news.
- The conclusion speculates this could be either the journalists interviewed are not being entirely open in their answers and that blogs play a bigger role in the newsgathering process or that there is agenda-setting going on but that this agenda-setting process in not linear, direct from blogs to the newsdesk. Instead it may flow indirect to the media agenda through either the policy agenda or public agenda or perhaps through an entirely unknown channel being opened up by the networked world of the internet.
- The thesis suggests further research – particularly from the critical perspective of Two-Step Flow theory - is necessary to investigate these issues.
I’m hoping to tweak the thesis slightly and submit it as a conference paper in 2008, so if anyone has any feedback I’d love to hear it!