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Prof explores effects of blogs on politics

By Brandis Griffith

In 1998, Jesse Ventura used the Internet as an organizing and meeting tool in his campaign to become governor of Minnesota.

Later, during a presidential run, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made the Internet into a checkbook, allowing voters to donate to his campaign with a simple click.

By summer 2003, the Internet became a stump from which political candidates could express their views - and so could anyone with an opinion.

"I saw the influence of blogs on the campaign of Howard Dean for president," David Perlmutter, associate dean and professor of journalism at KU, writes on his own blog.

Perlmutter's book Blogwars (Oxford University Press, 2008) examines the history of blogs and their effect on politics.

Weblogs, or blogs, began as online personal journals but have evolved to include editorials and information from journalists and political analysts. Readers and other bloggers can make comments on the posted topic or start a new "thread" of discussion.

"I want to look at blogs in terms of how they've helped identifying and bringing people to political prominence," Perlmutter said.

Blogwars, he said, also discusses the effect of blogging on fundraising and getting citizens involved in politics. For example, Perlmutter said, a 2004 study showed people who blogged also voted and tended to donate money to campaigns.

The blog has become another tool, like a speech or a television ad, commonly used by politicians on the campaign trail.

"Blogging won't replace TV ads," Perlmutter said. "But different technologies working together, like blogging and YouTube, can be a force multiplier."

Though politicians can write their own blogs, the medium gives anyone the ability to mass communicate by skirting around regular "big" media.

The online political newsmagazine etalkinghead.com lists 492 political blog sites in its directory.

Recent headlines from some of those blogs read: "Culture of Corruption: the GOP Sleaze Factor in the Background," from DailyKos.com; "Tired of the Web/Allen Circus?" from instapundit.com; and "American Exceptionalism: The Bane of the Left," from clearcommentary.com.

Blogs can have a range of effects on contemporary public opinion, political campaigns, public affairs argumentation and even governmental policy-making, Perlmutter's blog reads.

The challenging part of writing a book about blogs, Perlmutter said, is that the medium constantly changes. His book was expected to be released in 2007 but has been delayed to include the effects of blogging on this year's mid-term elections.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg of all of these interactive technologies, such as YouTube, podcasting, instant messaging," he said. "It will be interesting to see to what extent blogging changes or expands in 2006."

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