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Bloggers get set for State of the Union

Read it here and read it now: Blogs give instant feedback

By Michael Coren
CNN

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State of the Union address

(CNN) -- In the time that it takes to read this story, many blogs will be born.

The popular Web journals have become the hottest tool in the political word war. A new blog -- short for Web log -- is created every 7.4 seconds, according to Technorati, a search engine tracking blogs.

Last year's presidential election fueled blogs on either side of the electoral divide and the commentary will continue tonight during President Bush's State of the Union address.

"[Blogs] are a further evolution of media generally," said Nick Schulz, editor of the online magazine TechCentralStation, which serves as a gateway for bloggers analyzing the president's speech.

"There are certain limitations to media-- print or TV. One thing I think blogs do is to provide an intelligent, shorthand way of quickly getting into issues more deeply." TechCentralStation says it will provide a "one-stop shop" of links to live bloggers posting on their Web sites.

CNN.com will carry blogs by CNN political commentators Paul Begala and Robert Novak. Tens of thousands of other political bloggers will take up their keyboard to comment, criticize and defend partisan politics.

By most accounts, blogs are more popular and powerful than ever. The number of blogs rose to 8 million, reaching about one-quarter of Internet users, reports The Pew Internet and American Life Project. Pew estimates 32 million people read blogs last year, up 58 percent from 2003.

Their influence springs from a devoted following of Internet users and the endlessly interconnected network of blogs sharing stories and speculation.

"I think the election demonstrates that blogs have grass-roots power," Glenn Reynolds, author of Instapundit.com, a popular blog, wrote by e-mail.

Blog fans specialized bunch

But the reach of blogs is constrained by Internet demographics. Although the number of people posting and reading blogs is rising, 62 percent of online Americans say they don't know what the word 'blog' means, according to Pew.

The political allegiance of the most active online citizens also differs from the country as a whole.

The George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet found that Democrats outnumber Republicans online almost 2 to 1 (49 percent to 27 percent) among the 15 to 20 million people it calls "online political citizens" who are "Internet-oriented and politically energized." Independents (16 percent) and other political affiliations accounted for the rest.

Although this fuels criticism that blogs selectively focus on subjects such as White House politics and the Iraq war, the unregulated and uncensored nature of blogs has made them an attractive source for unvarnished -- and usually unverified -- news outside the mainstream media.

Skeptical view

Many bloggers see themselves as gadflies, subjecting mainstream media figures to public scrutiny and informing the public about perceived bias.

"I think the relation is more symbiotic than parasitic," Reynolds wrote. "Bloggers are more like the fish that protect sharks from parasites."

Of course, they thrive on controversy and criticism.

"Bloggers love to kick mainstream media around," said Howard Kurtz, Media Notes columnist for The Washington Post. "I have no problem with them doing it, although it's always nicer when their indictments stick to the facts."

Bloggers have celebrated their victory over so-called Big Media after CBS admitted to using unverified documents in its story about President Bush's National Guard service.

Bloggers first pointed out the forged documents following the broadcast. Their lightning-fast response evolved into widespread media coverage, a CBS investigation and an apology from network anchor Dan Rather in September.

Although the influence of blogs among political journalists is growing, reporters are still wary of claims spreading through the vast cyberworld known as the blogosphere. There are no editors or fact-checkers on most blogs.

"I think mainstream journalists increasingly have come to read and respect some bloggers, while at the same time, resenting what they see as unfair or partisan attacks by other bloggers," said Kurtz, who also hosts CNN's weekly program "Reliable Sources" examining the performance of the media.

Growing influence

The political muscle of blogs is undeniable. Carlos Watson, a political contributor for CNN, said the 80,000 political blogs on the Web are moving from national politics to local races.

Last September, Virginia's Edward Schrock, a conservative member of the House of Representatives, dropped his re-election bid after allegations about homosexuality circulated on a blog.

A sex scandal also recently erupted on Capitol Hill after a Senate staffer divulged sexual encounters with several officials on her now-defunct Washingtonienne blog.

Watson said mayoral races in New York, Los Angeles and Virginia promise rich material for Internet commentary. Blogs are endorsing candidates, raising money for their campaigns and offering commentary on the races.

"Blogs are a real force," said Watson. "They're not just for geeks anymore."


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