By and large, the critics are right. Blogs are largely parasitic. The MSM writes the stories and the blogsephere critiques and fact checks them. The reasons are simple. Bloggers lack the connections, resources and training of professional reporters. More importantly reporters get paid for what they do and bloggers, with the exception, of a very select few are not able to make a living off what they have written. As a result, bloggers are not able to devote nearly as much time as reporters can and they are seldom able to go into the field and talk to sources. All that being said, what the blogsephere does, it does very well. There are many more bloggers than reporters and what an individual blogger can not accomplish is sure to be accomplished by the blogsephere as a whole.
You Tube and similar services threatens to turn this parasitic relationship during election time on its head. You see, storylines determine by and large what is and what is not newsworthy and this is especially so during the course of an election. News agencies send reporters to seek confirmation of an unstated narrative or to answer a question posed by the media. For example, following the Liberals January collapse in the polls the media sought confirmation of the Liberal collapse everywhere. Another example is the media attempted to answer this question: Can Stephen Harper, as the media very much expected, keep his MPs on message and from saying anything controversial? Where bloggers come in is that knowing the storylines ahead of times the blogging community can beat the MSM to the punch. This is not that difficult. Canada is a small media market and with the huge number of cutbacks at the major news organizations as well as the smaller ones there are not nearly enough reporters to attend every all candidate’s debate and campaign rally out there. There are, however, more than enough bloggers to document these events using nothing more than a digital camera. There is no reason why Rob Anders, Gallant and Day’s every move can not be captured forever. Just as importantly, the growth of online communities devoted to the various political parties promises solve another problem, viz., disseminating what has been documented. Prior to the growth of these interested communities, the problem was that not only did one have to document whatever it was one wanted documented one also had to get MSM to publicize the event in question and they were not always willing to do so. Such a problem happened to me during the last election. I was able to ascertain that the Conservative candidate in my riding had told a gym full of high school students that she “makes an effort to smile at brown people”. The media was notified, numerous witnesses made available including the teacher and principle, but the media failed to report. I needed the reputation of the MSM to move the story forward and so the story died there. Now, I do not mean to suggest that should something similar happen during the next campaign that the result would be different. My point is that if such an event were to be documented using some kind of video technology and placed in the right part of the web the size and readership of these online communities would force the MSM into picking the story up. The blogsephere could potentially cause them to loose control of storylines of their makings. For example, the media was well on its way to answering the aforementioned Stephen Harper question in the affirmative. However, had the blogsephere been able to substantiate some of the rumors to the contrary they would have been forced, like it or not, to go back on what they had written. Paul Wells notes the potential of such technology and communities. “YouTube destroyed a political career last autumn when the online video site became the place to see footage of the Virginia Republican senator George Allen tossing a bizarre insult -- "macaca" -- at a Democratic campaign worker of East Indian descent.” http://www.macleans.ca/switchboard/columnists/article.jsp?content=20070122_139453_139453 However, as Conservatives Rondo, “the fact’s don’t matter”, Thomas http://www.trailervision.com/trailer.php?id=166 and Randy White http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2005/03/06/white050306.html can attest, the potential of such technology should have been apparent to Canadian politicians long before George Allen downfall.
Another way in which the Liberals can take advantage of the blogsephere is that they can use Lib blogs as a de facto secondary war room -- a poorer but not altogether insubstantial cousin. The Liberals lack the resources and the manpower to compete with the Conservatives during the next election. The blogsephere could help the Liberals narrow the gap. How? Well, they could do so in a rather straight forward manner. The party could use the blogsephere to help disseminate its message. This is good as far it goes, but there are other ways that hold more potential. For example, the party could take advantage of the creative potential of the blogsephere as a whole and develop talking points from chewed over ideas in the blogsephere. Failing that, the blogsephere as a whole can at times be quite the opposition researcher. Finally, bloggers can do and say things that political parties can not. This looks to be particularly relevant in any campaign were Afghanistan and Global warming are likely to take center stage. The Liberals are hamstrung by their own record, but liberal bloggers are free to run rough shod over Conservative talking points that might otherwise lead to questioning about the Liberal record if the same were to be said by the party.
In order for the party to effectively utilize the blogsephere, and Lib blogs in particular, the Liberals are going have go out of its way to draw attention to it and raise its profile. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways, but two come readily to mind. By leaking first to the blogs, a la Stephen Taylor, and later to the media the Liberals can draw media attention to the blogsephere and particular blogs. The same thing can be achieved by granting interviews to selected bloggers.