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Additional reading for Group 3

The role of the Internet in National and Local News Media use (Journal of Online Behavior, 2003)

This study tries to find out the sources of people’s political information or news. It begins by showing newspaper dominance as the main source of political news diminished when TV came along.

However, the study points out newspapers are still more effective as tools of political learning. I suspect that has something to do with the way we learn. We need ‘the word’ to learn not just visual images. Anyhow, the study goes on to prove that with the emergence of the Internet, questions are being raised about the role of the print versions of newspapers as source of political information. It goes on to enumerate the various reasons for rise of online versions of print newspapers. In the U.S., 3,400 general circulation newspapers are currently online and provide free, regularly updated, in-depth news with multi-digital, interactive experience compared to their print counterpart. It also notes the surge in online news demand after 9/11.

However, the authors go on to test the proposition that even though there has been a dramatic increase in the use of the Internet as a news source, (just like it had been the case with TV), can it be linked as the source of to people’s political education/knowledge?

The authors pose three hypotheses describing the relationship of the Internet to political knowledge.

  • Hypothesis 1: National and local political knowledge cover different domains and national and local sources of news will also fall into different patterns of usage.
  • Hypothesis II: Internet news sources will tend to be associated with more national news sources than with local news sources
  • Hypothesis III: Controlling for relevant demographic and political characteristics, use of Internet news sources will predict gains in national political knowledge but not local political knowledge.

To test these hypotheses, the authors drew upon survey data collected in 1997 and 1999 from respondents in two Minnesota communites. The results revealed that the Internet remains one of the least utilized news sources, with only 13.7 percent using it when compared to the large majorities using local (91.4 percent) and regional (64.7 percent) newspapers. National news sources in the form of newspapers (28 percent) and national news magazines (22.5 percent) ranked substantially lower than local news sources, but higher than the Internet. The results also showed that more people used the Internet as a supplement for national news rather than local.

However, the authors conclude with the suggestions that Internet news is a significant predictor of national political knowledge and its impact is growing if we are cognizant of the digital divide and take steps to broaden access.

Week Eight: We the Media (Dan Gillmor, 2004) Chapt 1: From Tom Paine to Blogs and Beyond

Rise of 21st century blogs rooted in late 18th century American history

In this chapter, Dan Gillmor traces the rise of ‘personal journalism’ or ‘citizen journalism’ in America. He provides a succinct overview of the history of American journalism by weaving the thread of grassroots journalism right through the narrative.

He starts off with late 18th century and early 19th century pamphleteers like Tom Paine, authors of the Federalist Papers and the ‘muckrakers,’ all of whom served as voices of the common man, safeguarding against ‘yellow journalism’ and mercantile/business interests of those times.

After describing a host of historical and technical developments, he comes full circle by likening the early pamphleteers to the ‘citizen journalists’ and bloggers of today who are questioning the authority of the ‘Big Media.’ According to Gillmor, corporatization of journalism which led to the birth of ‘Big Media’ is inevitable in a capitalistic society and has not boded well for the audience or consumers of news.

Apart from a few laudable, investigative scoops like Watergate and Iran Contra Crisis, mainstream journalism has practiced the one-to-many model of communication where journalists exercise exclusive sovereignty over the news and its interpretations and “lecture” their ideas and opinions to the public at large. The consolidation of media also bred arrogance and an excessive sense of self-importance which led to public disenchantment with mainstream media, Gillmor adds.

However, this traditional model of communication has come under considerable fire with the advent of the Internet and the Hypertext. With the interactive and easy to use technology, blogging has offered a way for every person to be the news consumer as well as the new audience. According to some estimates, there a about 8 million blogs in the exploding blogosphere.

Anyway, I think this accessibility and ease of use of blogs have had a dual effect, a simultaneous erosion and improvement of quality. There are some rock stars of blogging like Glenn Renoyld of, Joshua Marshall of and the ‘Drudge Report’. They have all garnered a large and loyal following and their writing has had a significant impact on public opinion.

Then there are some bloggers whose motives are being questioned for accepting payments to push a product via their blogs. Then there are some who just rave and rant about Hollywood gossip or personal issues.

This lack of uniformity of product and multiplicity of motives makes me wonder about the future of blogs, especially when it is touted as the replacement for mainstream media channels. There is no doubt the influence and power of political blogs and citizen journalist is on the rise and I, who has been part of the newspaper industry for the past 5 years, welcome it. I think it is always good to have a system of checks and balances and channels through which a cross-section of voices can be heard.

However, as blogging evolves from a personal to a professional writing mode, I think we need to pay attention to what models can be put in place to support it? I don’t want ‘Big Media’ to cunningly draft bloggers into their payrolls. I think it is important to have independent voices in democracy. So, is there a sustainable business model for blogging that will not compromise its integrity? How might free market or commercial models such as advertising-supported funding alter the spirit of blogging? Are there alternative models such as cooperatives that might sustain and extend blogging? As Gillmor would say: The conversation has just begun.

Sakina S. Hussain

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