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Blogs as the New Media on the Internet
Hyunwoo Kim
a
a
Departmentof Communication, Indiana State University. 281 North Sixth Street,
Terre Haute, IN 47809-9889. USA
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/15358590500296914
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Blogs as the New Media on the
Internet
Hyunwoo Kim
Blood, R. (2002). The weblog handbook: Practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog.
Danvers, MA: Perseus Publishing. 195 pp. ISBN 073820756X. $11.20 (paperback).
Hewitt, H. (2005). Blog: Understanding the information reformation thats changing your world.
Nashville, TN: Nelson. 225 pp. ISBN 078521187X. $13.99 (hardcover).
Serfaty, V. (2004). The mirror and the veil: An overview of American online diaries and blogs.
New York, NY: Rodopi. 144 pp. ISBN 9042018038. $34.00 (paperback).
Blog Communication
The world applauded the advent of innovative communication technology when the
Internet network spread abroad. The effect of the Internet on human communication
systems was amazing and naturally contributed to a change in lifestyles. Today, the
Internet is responsible for countless advantages in terms of human activities in social,
cultural, economic, and political spheres. Depending on its use, with virtually
unlimited storage, the Internet allows anyone to access all kinds of information as well
as being a convenient communication tool for transmitting the information to others.
Accordingly, the Internet has been accepted as an innovative, newalthough perhaps
alternativemedia for over a decade now.
In another context, the various Web pages on the Internet can function
simultaneously as both personal media and mass media. However, the Internet is now
also occupied by commercial businesses, and traditional mass media companies have
enforced their own vast capital power, even creating new interactive space. In some
respects, the commercial orientation of the Internet has weakened the personal media
contacts on the Internet. For some, given the apparently overwhelming commercial
emphasis of the Internet, personal Web pages might be viewed as nothing special, even
in virtual space.
ISSN 1535-8593 (online) q 2005 National Communication Association
DOI: 10.1080/15358590500296914
Hyunwoo Kim (B.A., Dong-AUniversity, Busan, South Korea, 2002) is a graduate student in the masters program
in the Department of Communication at Indiana State University. Correspondence to: Department
of Communication, Indiana State University, 281 North Sixth Street, Terre Haute, IN 47809-9889, USA.
Email: hkim30@mymail.indstate.edu
Review of Communication
Vol. 5, Nos. 23, April July 2005, pp. 100108
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But the blog, a new personal media of the Internet, has been born. Indeed, with the
appearance of the blog, the Internet itself must now be reconceived. Blogs constitute a
new form of personal media. In fact, blogs dont look much different from personal
Web sites, but they are based on some unique functions in terms of technological
conguration. Unlike personal web pages, blogs are easy to create and consist
predominantly of the content created and provided by specic individual participants;
these blogs can easily be linked to all other blogs. This system of blogs ultimately
constitutes a supporting, if not strong, online community. This community of blogs
explains, in part, why blogs have massively exploded in popularity and why the
number of bloggers has been continuously increasing. As matter of fact, according to
the blog search rm Technorati.com (Zeller, 2005), the number of blogs is currently
around 10 million. Indeed, blogs became a major political issue in the world in 2004.
In particular, the U.S. media was overwhelmed by this new kind of online media
during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. The phenomenon seemed to announce the
renaissance of personal media power by virtue of the development and use of
interactive media technology.
This review explores three books dealing with blogs, which are viewed in all three of
these books as an Internet boom especially in terms of online personal media in the
United States. The rst book reviewed here is Rebecca Bloods The Weblog Handbook.
This volume is a collection of various and diverse essays by seven authors. This rst
volume serves as a convenient rst step for understanding what weblogs are as well as a
practical guide to the blogging world. This review concentrates on the rst two
chapters of this book, Blood and Uelands essays explaining the value of weblogs in
terms of a communication study, although the book has some other practical essays
guiding the creation and maintenance of ones own blogs. The second volume
reviewed here is Hewitts Blog. Hewitt explains the advent of blogs as information
reformation, suggesting how blogs actually impacted the United States media society,
with some specic illustrative stories. Third and nally, Serfatys The Mirror and the
Veil is reviewed. This volume reveals the telling and unique insights that a European
author, employing literary criticism, has been able to generate regarding the blog
culture in the United States. Serfaty digs into the American history of self-
representational writing to explain todays blog phenomenon in American society
through a psychoanalytical perspective.
What is a Blog?
Bloods The Weblog Handbook is one of the rst analyses dealing with weblogs. Hence,
it is natural that it should introduce the history of weblogs. According to the author,
the confusion surrounding the existing Web is the reason for the creation of a
particular type of website, a weblog. It is true that nding good information has
become more difcult and more time-consuming as the growth of the Web continues
at an exponential rate. Filters and Links with commentary, with the new stuff on
top (p. 3) were some ideas mentioned to solve those problems. Those ideas for a
specic type of website were combined into one formula that turns home pages into
Blogs as the New Media 101
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a running list of links with descriptive text to inform the readers why they should click
on the link and wait for the page to download (p. 2). This is the basic description of the
weblog system, which reveals that weblogs are inherently based on a strong
community for sharing personal contents among participants.
Blood places and classies weblogs into three very broad categories: blogs,
notebooks, and lters (p. 6). At the infant stage of weblogs, it seems that there
were different styles of weblog. But, then, weblogs were replaced by one word: blogs.
In Bloods view:
Blogs tend to consist of much shorter entries, many per day, the blogger seemingly
striving for communication more than self-enlightenment. Notebooks, while they
sometimes use the one entry per day format, tend to be less a record of external
events than a record of ideas, and those that focus on the personal tend to do so non-
chronologically, dipping into their entire catalogue of experience to select individual
stories rather than recount their journey day by day. . .. The aim of lter-style
weblogs is to provide their readers with a continuous source for all the available
news about a given topic. (pp. 78)
However, today a blog is the most popular style and name, and encompass all kinds
of weblogs. No one role or certain characteristic exists alone on a blogsphere. Most
technological characteristics converge into a blogsphere and the purpose of the blog
usage is up to each individual bloggers taste. In terms of the technological
characteristics of weblogs, Blood argues that although weblogs are native to the web,
easy-to-use services make it possible to produce a weblog without knowing HTML
or spending a penny (p. 10). So far, Bloods observations explain why blog users are
rapidly increasing on the Internet, especially in terms of the uses and gratication
theory.
The Merits of Blogs
Collective blogs symbolize the democratized media, because many bloggers are
participating in a blogsphere to make their individual voices heard. Bloods applause
for blogs starts from this viewpoint, and then refers to some merits of blogs as personal
media. In terms of technological and functional perspectives, Blood isolates some
characteristics of blogs from those of existing media, even online Web pages,
and presents their merits. The merits are as follows: ltering information, providing
in-depth contexts, promoting media literacy, serving alternate points of view,
encouraging evaluation with a commentary system, inviting participation with an easy
access system, linking between Web pages to build a strong community, and nally,
analyzing mainstream media (MSM) contents.
According to this viewpoint, blogs offer many benets. People can get individually-
selected information in an era inundated with information and, moreover, high
quality information from contextualized contents. The blogs also serve to promote
media literacy, as Blood points out from a pedagogical perspective. Alternative points
of view are a representative function of blogs as democratized media. This function is
closely related to blog journalism. In terms of journalism, blogs are sometimes used
102 H. Kim
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to cover what traditional media cannot cover. Blog journalism is distinguished from
MSM for several reasons. First, blogs have no gatekeepers. Second, blogs can perform a
valuable function as critical disseminators of pertinent information. Finally, blogs can
take a surveillance role to analyze and evaluate MSM news.
Owing much to all the merits of blogs that Blood proposed, in the second chapter,
Why a Weblog?, Ueland explains three motivations for keeping blogs: information
sharing, reputation building, and personal expression (p. 27). These arguments are
discussed from practical viewpoints. Subsequently, Ueland argues some of the practical
benets of blogging for individuals: weblogs build better writers (p. 28), self-awareness
(p. 29), critical thinkers (p. 30), reputations (p. 32), and connected businesses (p. 33).
These benets could be explained by self-publishing and sharing information on blogs.
In particular, the three motivations that Ueland argues for will be compared to
Serfatys The Mirror and the Veil, which tries to discover the motivations behind
blogging from an American history of self-representational writing from the critical
perspective.
In Bloods view, blogs gain signicance because of the information they contain, and
because bloggers are able to directly contribute information. This review shows that
blogs used as online personal media symbolize the growth in self-selection and
self-publishing by dealing with information in interactive online space. This fact
explains the popularity of blogs throughout the world.
Finding Trust
Hewitt asserts that her book is about trust, rst of all. In the introduction to Blog:
Understanding the Information Reformation Thats Changing Your World, Hewitt
intensively argues that old media, mainstream media, lost trust and that new personal
media are gaining trust. Trust, which the author tries to emphasize through all
chapters of his book, could be the most valuable characteristic of a blog and, at the
same time, the most powerful weapon to be used to attack the credibility of
mainstream media. Therefore, Hewitts glorication of blogs is mostly focused on
applauding the role of blogs as credible online surveillance groups against mainstream
media. Furthermore, he insists that the trust established by blog networks has strong
potential to contribute not only to politics, but also to various kinds of businesses, in
terms of management or marketing strategies.
First, in contrast to the traditional media that rely on the massive swarm of bloggers,
reacting to the same experience, is itself an indication of an emerging social issue. In
his view, A blog swarm is an early indicator of an opinion storm brewing, which,
when it breaks, will fundamentally alter the general publics understanding of a person,
place, product, or phenomenon (p. 2). To support this argument, Hewitt introduces
some exemplar stories: Senator Trent Lotts story, John Kerrys claim to have spent
Christmas Eve in Cambodian waters in 1968, and Dan Rathers Memogate are
representative of stories exposed by blog swarms. Bloggers pointed out some
suspicious facts which mainstream media had passed over although, after the piling-
on effect of blogs, the information was reported by mainstream media. As a result,
Blogs as the New Media 103
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Lott had to apologize for the short speech in which he applauded James Strom
Thurmonds achievements in the politics of the U.S. at his 100th birthday party,
passing over that he was a Dixiecrat. Kerrys discrepancy regarding his presence in
Cambodia damaged his credibility, and Dan Rather, an anchor for 60 Minutes who
questioned Bushs negligent military services with forged memos, was forced to resign
his position. These three scandals displayed the value of blogs function as powerful
surveillance media. It also proved that blogs create more and more damaging
information.
Blog Reformation
Through the second chapter, The First Reformation and the Information
Reformation, Hewitt argues that the cultural, political, and economic transform-
ations that have affected the course of Western civilization were fueled in a large part
by the revolution of communication technology. Thus, he points out that the
development of the printing press, started by Gutenberg, contributed to the
decentralization of the power of knowledge, but only allowed elite members of society
in the 16th century to access that information. The author must have intended to
gure out the blogging phenomenon, which shook the power of mainstream media,
with this comparison to the innovation of printing technology, mainly because Martin
Luther, the Father of the Reformation, already proved that he could not have
succeeded in his reformation without print technology.
Looking at the blogging phenomenon as an information reformation following
Luthers reformation in terms of communication technology, the author digs into the
origin of Text. It originated in symbols invented by the ancient priests of Sumer
now southern Iraqaround BC 3000 which were scratched onto clay tablets with a
stylus. Subsequently Egyptian hieroglyphs emerged, and eventually mankind got
around to alphabets (p. 63). As a distributor of information, Text was combined
with new technologies over the course of the development of communication
technology. The new technologies are known as mass media, including newspapers,
radio, and television, and each medium of the day brought about a revolution in
society. However, according to the author, their position on top of the information
superstructure was ultimately toppled by the development of the Internet. Blogs are
based on this powerful information collector, but are also simultaneously distributors
of information. Hewitt summarizes this point with the following:
Text producers for a mass audience have gone from a handful of ancient priests,
through Gutenberg and his followers, through Morse, then Paley, and a thousand
editors to everyone and anyone with access to a computer. . .. The power of elites to
determine what was news via a tightly controlled dissemination system was
shattered. The ability and authority to distribute text are now truly democratized.
(pp. 7071)
Nevertheless, the power of blogs was not strong enough to come close to
supplanting the power of traditional media. There are some critical arguments
regarding this lack of power in the chapter There is a New Sheriff in Town. According
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to an active blogger, Andrew Sullivan, What blogs do is provide the best scrutiny of
big media imaginableratcheting up the standards of the professional, adding new
voices, new perspectives and new facts every minute (p. 76). Thus, it could be
assumed that the value of blogs can only be evaluated through a comparison with
traditional media. However, the growth rate of blogs, which are less than ve years old,
is huge while the circulation of the printing press is in decline and the viewership of
the cable televisions is also sluggish. According to the current report, The
mainstreaming of online Life (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005), In the
end of 2004, 27% of Internet users say they read blogs, a 58% jump from the 17% who
said they were blog readers in February 2004.
Where Are Blogs Going?
Based on this current contrary status between traditional media and blogs, Hewitt
gives an interesting interpretation in the next chapter, The Meltdown of Mainstream
Media and Where Its Audience Went. Above all, he asserts, Most of America knows
that elite journalism is staffed by people who are overwhelmingly way-left-of-center in
their politics (p. 88). Although he is not presenting any reliable proof, he believes that
90 percent of journalists in major mediaThe New York Times, the Boston Globe, the
Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek, CBS, NBC, ABC, and
CNN and their afliated cable channels, plus most elite magazines such as Harpers,
Atlantic, the New Republic, and the New York publishing housesvoted for Gore or
Nader in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. (p. 90)
He argues that most elite journalists cannot help but have their own biases regarding
the production of political information. Of course, his argument also shows his own
bias, but it is one of the major reasons relating to the idea that politically conservative
attitudes are creating the most successful blogs. As matter of fact, successful blogs
measured by their high rate of trafcare predominantly posting conservative
political opinions, and accordingly they support the Republican Party.
Hewitt explains that this phenomenon is due to consumers, particularly
conservative bloggers, who are hungry for reliable, unltered information on which
to base their individual decisions. However, his argument is not limited to
conservative bloggers, but also works for Democrat supporters. In other words, the
gatekeeping functionthe ability to select topics that news agencies coverscan
theoretically be carried out by any political blog. Therefore, there is little point in
arguing about gatekeeping on the blog world. This characteristic is why many bloggers
expect blogs to function as an alternative media against mainstream media.
Why Blogging?
Ueland presented three major arguments for blogsinformation sharing, reputation
building, and personal expressionand Hewitt further argues for why bloggers blog.
However, while Uelands perspective is focused on personal values, Hewitts
perspective shows the interactive functions of blogs. Two reasons for blogging, Hewitt
Blogs as the New Media 105
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argues, are to persuade and leave a record of having been there (p. 105). According
to his argument, bloggers can be easily satised with blogging for those purposes, if
they want, because there is no barrier to access to blogs, and blogs escape from the
information monopoly makes the public become the editor. Of course, for these
purposes, the credibility of blogs is necessary and this credibility depends on bloggers
timeliness and accuracy. Invariably, the qualications of the bloggers matter as well
(p. 108).
Hewitt explains another valuable usage of blogs from a different perspective. To
support the argument, he warns readers that a blog swarm around your business or
organization could be catastrophic (p. 118). As with the three scandals described
above, if someone or someones organization is unprepared for a blog swarm, the
organization could be dismantled. Thus, he asserts, those kinds of people or
organizations need to prepare various kinds of protection against blog swarms. Thus,
paradoxically, this argument emphasizes the defensive function of blogs, although so
far, all arguments have been focused on some assault aspects of blogs as a surveillant.
As media, blogs have both bright and seamy sides. There are always some risks to
blogging, regarding exposure of secret information within an organization or ones
privacy. As Hewitt points out, text will be taken out of context and used to attack
(p. 129). However, he also believes that text can build reputation by attracting a crowd,
just as Ueland argues. This inherent attribute of text shows the great potential of using
blogs to promote business. As matter of fact, blogs provide a nearly cost-free
opportunity to establish or defend a brand and to introduce new products, and to do
so over and over again. An effective blog network has great potential to improve
productivity and efciency in any organization, despite some security-related risks
associated with blogging.
The Origin of Blogs as American Self-Representational Diary
A European researcher, Serfaty shows profound insight into the blogging phenomenon
in the U.S. Above all, Serfaty isolates the online diary from the ofine diary, pointing
out that the online texts uploaded by diarists were certainly personal, but not private,
and they become public acts deliberately intended for public consumption
(Paccagnella, 1997). Thus, the screen seems to allow diary-writers and readers. . . a
symbolic re-appropriation of social space (p. 13) and the screen can be said to
function as a connecting space between the diary-writer and society (p. 14). Then, like
Blood and Hewitt, she also tries to nd some characteristics of blogs. The structural
characteristics of blogs she describes are similar to those the two American authors
suggest. In particular the diary as a quest truth supports Hewitts argument
emphasizing trust to explain the value of blogs. Her argument that the trust blogs
have comes from the earnestness of personal diary is very persuasive, even though
some groups of blogs argue public issues such as political events.
It is notable that Serfatys argument regards blogs as a kind of online diary,
self-representational writing, while the American authors Blood, Ueland, and Hewitt
treat blogs as personal media. Serfaty tries to explain the boom of blogs in the U.S. by
106 H. Kim
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positing that the American culture has a stronger reliance upon self-representation
than European cultures. Indeed, according to her Google search, the ratio to online
diaries written in English is of one to roughly 36.5, with an overwhelming majority of
North Americans, and this fact seems to be background for her study.
The fascination with online diaries, while not an exclusively American phenomenon,
nevertheless appears to have elective afnities with some traits of American culture,
both in terms of sheer numbers and because the social practice of diary-writing
harks back to deeply entrenched undercurrents in American culture. (p. 43)
Serfaty believes that American self-representational culture is inuenced by
Emersons philosophy of the individual, and two of Emersons essays, Self-Reliance
and The American Scholar, are especially relevant to online diary-writing. Moreover,
keeping a journal was a nearly lifelong practice for Emerson himself, providing a
precious record of social attitudes towards diaristic practices in 19th-century America
(p. 44). Emersons self-creation is a constant process of becoming the ideal self, a
process he identifys as a tension between conformity and self-reliance. This argument
is the foundation maintaining that the American culture possesses a self-
representational value in written form. Referring to Lawrence Rosenwald, Serfaty
maintains that online diaries are especially attuned to and representative of American
social practices (p. 46). As Rosenwald himself noted:
The Transcendentalist practice suggests two characteristic and complementary
American attitudes; an inclination to reluctance to separate the work of art from the
life of the artist, for fear, as Thoreau put it, that the work of art should be at the
expense of the man. In America all art tends towards the condition of
autobiography, and all autobiography to the condition of life, but equally all life
tends towards the condition of autobiography and all autobiography towards the
condition of art. (Rosenwald, 1998, p. 59)
Emersons assertion that the familiar, the trivial, the commonplace are precisely
what gives access to the essential reality of humanity is powerfully in support of the
signicance of personal diary. According to Serfaty, the very daily-ness of ones
experience provides the basis for the construction of self and reasserts the democratic
nature of Transcendentalist thinking. As a matter of fact, the construction of American
culture rests on a break with and a redenition of the European cultural heritage
(p. 49). Thus, Emersons personal declaration of independence from either moral or
literary conformity is one that has resonated throughout American literature and
philosophy. In other words, the quest for self that online diaries illustrate can be seen
as an aspect of the wider American quest to ground value in the individual and to issue
a declaration of independence from conformity and external rules.
Conclusion
So far, this review has looked at blogs as a new form of personal media in the Internet
space. The boom of blogs in the U.S. seems to be caused by the opportunity given to
individuals to participate in easy and cost-free publishing. On some political issues,
the inuence of blogs was even greater than that of mainstream media. This is why
Blogs as the New Media 107
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mainstream media often introduce political arguments made on blogs. Based on this
social experience, many bloggers applaud the advent of revolutionary online media
systems, and they believe that blogs constitute an alternative to the power of
mainstream media.
However, it should be noted that these three books are not complete, for they fail to
illuminate many of the weaknesses of blogs as communication systems. Johnson and
Kaye (2003) argued that blog users resemble early Internet userswhite males with
high incomes and high levels of education. This could indicate the future of blogs.
Indeed, most powerful blog sites, which have high trafc, are overwhelmed by
conservative bloggers arguments, as mentioned above, and blogs are professionalized
by elite bloggers and funds. Moreover, they try to inuence mainstream media. Such
analyses may reveal some of the limitations of blogs as alternative media. Nevertheless,
it is true that information consumers have more channels via which to share
uncontrolled information.
References
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108 H. Kim