Panel discusses blogs in politics

Lee VandenBusch

Whether it is obsessing over Facebook or reading news, the Internet is a part of everyday life for most University students.

With Election Day just a week away, many students are turning to the Web for political information.

The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion Monday on the increasing importance of weblogs, or blogs, on the political landscape. Panelists discussed how blogs are becoming just as effective as mainstream media at reporting political news.

The panel discussion followed a short presentation by New York Times reporter and panel member David Carr. Other panelists included Star Tribune reporter Eric Black and two local bloggers – Joe Bodelll, who runs the liberal-leaning Minnesota Campaign Report, and Michael Brodkorb, founder of Minnesota Democrats Exposed, a conservative blog.

In his opening presentation, Carr – a University alumnus and The New York Times’ first blogger – explored the increasing role of blogs in today’s media.

He argued that blogs are just one part of an ever-expanding Internet. He said they can be politically powerful, offering engagement to young voters in ways politicians could never do in the past.

“These are people who don’t just want to cover the outcome,” Carr said. “They want to help determine it.”

But Carr also said blogs are heavily polarized and don’t really provide much of a middle ground for political thought.

“It’s two parts of a Venn diagram that very rarely ever intersect,” he said.

Kyle Pendergast, a journalism and political science junior who attended the event, said he checks blogs often for information about the upcoming election.

“The Internet has probably been my primary source for information on the candidates,” he said.

During the panel discussion, Black, who writes “The Big Question” blog for the Star Tribune’s Web site, echoed this point, and said he doesn’t see enough objectivity in blogs.

But he said he felt blogs were “more good than bad.”

“There is merit inherent in blogs,” Black said, adding that his own experience blogging was a much-needed liberation from his journalistic restraints.

Brodkorb and Bodell also discussed their feelings on blogs. Brodkorb said blogs provide an important service.

“It’s a great opportunity to voice the opinions and ideas that you have,” Brodkorb said.

Bodell said that blogs and democracy go hand-in-hand.

“Blogs started as an outgrowth of the Internet.” Bodel said. “The Internet is an inherently democratic place; everyone has something to say. Blogging presents a way to do that.”

Later, the panel discussed their views of the mainstream media. The journalists defended the importance of fair reporting and the conservative and liberal bloggers defended their accuracy.

Black said that his goal would be for the blogosphere to inject more journalistic values into its reporting. Blogs, he said, reinforce the beliefs of their readers, instead of challenging them.

Carr said he was afraid that blogs may become “typed talk radio.”

After the discussion, the panel fielded questions from the audience, producing some of the most heated discussion of the event.

One woman in the crowd portrayed the mainstream media as being biased. Another, Eva Young, who runs the blog dumpbachmann.com, challenged Black about the Star Tribune’s failure to report on a controversial speech by Michele Bachmann, a candidate for U.S. Congress.

While the panel jumped to Black’s defense, Carr used Young’s question as an example of just how powerful blogs can be.

Carr said the mainstream media can’t be everywhere at all times, but the blogosphere has an army of “Web crawlers” who can pick up the slack.

“The idea that it has to be in the Star Tribune to be valid is crazy,” Carr said.