There are no shortage of political bloggers, most of them partisan hacks without any credentials or writing ability. There are many, however, who have lent their voices to election campaigns and daily political life in a positive way, providing arguments for different positions, and keeping their readers informed. In general, political bloggers are by their nature partisan, particularly in a nation where politics are as fractured as in the United States. But partisanship need not be stupid, and thankfully there are a few bloggers with a political bent who genuinely create meaningful content. This paper will examine three of these. The first is Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and current professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who blogs at the Huffington Post. The second is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who blogs at the New York Times, lending economic analysis to a heavy political slant. The third will be LZ Granderson, a political blogger for CNN, who blogs about politics from an LGBT perspective. These three bloggers will be evaluated for their output, and their contribution to political blogging and the political process in general.
All three bloggers are generally considered to be left wing, though only Reich has overt ties to the Democratic Party. They each bring their perspective to their work, which allows them to have a unique voice. Reich's posts tend towards offering the left wing perspective on a wide range of issues. He is particularly focused on the middle class, penning posts advocating a rise in real wages, explaining how economic downturns hurt the middle class more than the wealthy and about education. Reich's views on the middle class are clearly drawn from his experience as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, and this is the primary focus of the blog. As with most political bloggers, however, he also writes about other topics of the day, most recently about the hysteria surrounding Ebola, and why it is hysteria. Reich is also able to discuss issues directly related to political power, as a former insider who understands how politics work.
Krugman has a clear political agenda with his blog, but there is a strong focus on economic issues, and in particular serving as a counter to right-wing economic arguments. He will often use data and economic analysis, sometimes at a high level, in order to demonstrate logical fallacies and other errors in right wing arguments. Not all of his posts relate to economics, however, and he has elaborated on his political views in prior works. Thus, while he has clear political views that transcend economic analysis, it can make for a challenge to separate where one ends and the other begins -- does the analysis flow from his opinions, or his opinions flow from his analysis? There are few better equipped, however, to handle the economic side of politics and as such his blog has become highly influential.
Granderson has a big stage at CNN, and while his blog is not specifically tied to a political perspective, his writing shows strong support for left wing issues. He is more of a professional media personality than the other two, and gains credence from his status as a gay black man, providing a voice not often heard in mainstream political discourse. He is able to therefore espouse views from the perspective of both of those constituencies, and does so frequently. This tends to be his bread-and-butter, as he otherwise lacks professional credentials. Yet, with his unique perspective, he is able to distinguish himself from many other media personalities, who have little to offer than cannot be found elsewhere.
As most people are aware, blogging is seldom a profitable endeavor, at least in terms of providing a full-time living. Indeed, none of the bloggers here would consider blogging their primary source of income. Granderson, as a media professional, comes closest, as his income is primarily from media appearances and writing gigs, including the one at CNN. It is CNN that provides him with the most visibility, though he has done work with ESPN as well. To this point, he does not have a book, though he might appear occasionally on the speaking circuit. In general, his media work reflects his career, and thus he comes the closest of the three to being a...
His blog work complements his other media appearances, as he is a regular commentator on television in particular. Reich has written 14 books as well, typically focused on political themes. He has also developed a film in order to further push his views on the middle class and inequality in America. The blog is as much a means to further his political agenda and themes as it is anything else. He likely is paid for his contribution, but it would not likely be much relative to his other income, so it appears that publicizing his political views is a primary motivator for the blog.
The same can be said of Krugman. A professor like Reich, this time at Princeton, Krugman has over 20 books, and is also on the New York Times payroll as a columnist. The blog complements the column, and serves as a platform for developing or clarifying ideas. Krugman also does television appearances as well. His blogging is most certainly not his main source of income, and like Reich he appears to use blogging to complement his other activities and to espouse his personal views.
It is worth noting that influencing the public, and the political process, are motivations for at least Reich and Krugman. All three believe that they are doing a public good. These findings are in line with studies that show political bloggers do tend towards being motivated to improve society by wielding their influence, and that this motivation grows stronger the longer they blog, and presumably the bigger audience they reach (Ekdale et al., 2010).
Effective Political Blogging
There is significant room for disagreement with what is considered to be effective political blogging. All three of the bloggers in this paper seek to promote their viewpoints, so success would be reflected in the degree to which they are able to do that. Krugman in particular has been effective. Part of this is the size of the stage, which at the New York Times is substantial. Readership levels are very high, and his work often spurs significant debate, to the point where Krugman is a household name amongst the politically literate. The high quality of his academic work also lends weight to the blog, even when he is not writing about economic issues, or when writing about economic issues outside of his particular field of expertise. He rose to prominence in particular, however, when the Great Recession hit, since that circumstance was one of his strong areas.
There can be little doubt that Krugman is an effective blogger. He is erudite, and has the rare ability to convey complex concepts with simplicity. Economic discourse that could masters or doctoral level is made understandable to the layman, which enhances the power and credibility of his work. Only where there is question about the degree to which his political biases cloud his economic work is there much room to debate his influence. The only other constraint on that influence is that he is generally considered to be preaching to the choir, as his pointed assaults on myriad conservatives have alienated the right wing almost entirely.
Reich is an interesting case in terms of effectiveness. He has considerable weight as the result of his work in the Clinton Administration, because that relates directly to the primary subject of his blogging work. Yet, HuffPo is not the biggest stage, and his readership is quite possibly the smallest of the three. He also seems to spend the least amount of effort at being topical. Thus, while Reich does produce some good material, the blog itself serves more as a sounding board for his ideas than something of influence. The caveat is that with his credentials, he can have the President's ear, something most political bloggers cannot do; if Reich wants to genuinely influence policy, his blog is not how he would do it. The blog is to help him move the needle on the issue of wage inequality among the general public.
Granderson has a huge stage on CNN, and this lends him the opportunity to be influential. His point-of-view is generally quite broad and accessible -- he tends to stay clear of niche issues. This allows for some influence, but there is little doubt that he will not appeal to many conservative readers, being both black and gay. Further, he has no professional credentials that would lend authority -- he mostly contributes a voice to political discussion that is a niche voice, one that would not normally be given such a large stage. In that, he has…
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