Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bloggers staff the permanent campaign

As mentioned previously, on Monday I attended an event on blogging and politics called The Permanent Campaign. It was interesting, unfortunately I forgot my notebook there so I don’t have my notes, but I’ll try to share a few highlights.

The keynote was from Ryerson professor Greg Elmer. I met Greg in the bloggers room at the leadership convention in Montreal, he heads the Infoscape Research Lab and is researching blogging and politics. You can get their weekly reports on their Web site.

Elmer shared some interesting statistics. For example, he says Canadian political bloggers aren’t doing much linking to each other. Rather, he says 60 per cent of posts discuss and link stories from the mainstream media.

That sounds accurate, and I think it makes sense. There isn’t much original, investigatory journalism happening on blogs. There is some, and there’s event coverage, but for the most part blogging is akin to column writing. It’s not all media bashing, rather I’d argue linking to a media story provides a primary source and a jumping-off point for a discussion of an issue.

Other points from Elmer indicated the blogs can provide an early-indicator of coming trend changes before the media catches on. As an example, in an analysis of the tone of blogging of the Liberal leadership contenders before the convention he noted there was a substantial increase in Dion’s neutral numbers ahead of Montreal.

He also provided a top five list of the most influential political bloggers, excluding media bloggers, as measured in the first half of March. The list, in order, was Cherniak on Politics, Ezra Levant, Warren Kinsella, BCer in Toronto, Small Dead Animals. While I’m flattered, I can think of a number of others I’d argue should have been on that list ahead of me. I’m not sure what his metrics are, I think it may be weighted towards incoming links, so big links for me in the review period from Paul Wells and Warren Kinsella probably temporarily influenced those numbers. Nevertheless, whatever influence I have I promise to use for good, and not evil. And I was amused to be ahead of SDA.

The broader, and more interesting, theme however was about the permanent campaign, a term coined by Patrick Caldwell, a former advisor to President Jimmy Carter. Technology, says Elmer, has led to a state of permanent campaigning, where the parties and surrogates are constantly trying to shape the narrative and get their message out. Bloggers, he says, are staffers in this permanent campaign, although they’re staffers the parties can’t control. Rather, he said parties should try to motivate their partisan bloggers, as well as use the blogs as an intelligence source.

After Elmer’s keynote and a few technology demos, there was a panel discussion with Stephen Taylor, Andrew Coyne, a former NDP candidate in Scarborough who used Facebook or something, and two other people whose names I forget. The panel discussion was rather tame, it seemed to veer off into U.S. politics and Ron Paul and I began to zone out. Taylor did assure us the Blogging Tories are totally independent from the Conserservative Party though, so there you go. He’d told me earlier he wasn’t going to share his super-secrets for just $25/head though, so alas we’ll have to turn to reverse engineering to see what they put into the ConKoolaide…

CBC Blogwatch’s John Bowman was there and has a post up;’s Kady O’Malley was there too and promises a blog report soon.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Budd Campbell said...

So, you're in the same league as KKKate The Animal, eh? Is that something for you and the Liberal Party to be happy about?

It's quite apparent that in Canada both Liberal and Conservative internet warriors take their cue from the US Republican crowd, spreading very harsh material that in the legitimate media would probably be unacceptable.

Oxford County Liberals said...

Uh... how did you jump from BC'er being in a Top 5 list of influential blogs to that being in the same league as SDA? That's as stupid as saying Warren Kinsella is in the same league as Kate, when he's been going hard after her the past month for her antics.

It's a Top 5 list Budd. Try reading a bit better so you avoid sticking more feet into your mouth.

The Rat said...

"He also provided a top five list of the most influential political bloggers, excluding media bloggers, as measured in the first half of March."

Define "most influential". Most visits? (different from hits, you can talk to Warren about that) How does one measure "influence" and how does one measure it specifically over a 15 day period? And considering 3 of 5 were Liberal sites with no mention of Steve Janke, Stephen Taylor, Kathy Shaidle, and a whole host of other very well read blogs I wonder what metric he used. Still, I would rank you one hell of a lot higher than your fellow Libloggers excepting Jason. And Jason is mostly entertainment value.

Mark said...

Influence is hardly a quantitative measure of hits.

If you run a headline tomorrow saying "Paris Hilton sex tape" I will get 50 times the normal traffic. With all due respect, I am not certain that it measures how much influence one has on the so-called permanent campaign.

Influence is more likely measured in how frequently, or how accurately what a blogger posts becomes repeated in other blogs, in MSM, by politicians and other pundits.

That is, a little more difficult to quantify.

Similarly, if any of us posts something exceptionally stupid it tends to draw more traffic, but little influence.

I guess my point is that traffic is a poor indicator of anything.

Paul Wells said...

I promise to keep using my blog for pure evil.

Mark said...

I'm not sure that there's a quantitative measure of pure evil out there either, but if there is, it'll be published in MacLeans first...

Jeff said...

Rat, indeed that's the question, how do they define influence? Traffic certainly would need to be part of it, as would incoming links and their quality I'd think. Anyway, I was certainly surprised Taylor wasn't on the list, for example, given the fact he was on the panel at that same event, which I'd say could be considered an indicator if his influence.

Mark, I agree it's far more than just traffic, although traffic is a key part. After all, if you're not being read it's hard to influence anyone. Of course, more important than sheer volume would be quality of traffic, if you will, which is harder to quantify. And, as you said, blog and msm pickup, likely measured by links. Of course, to accurately determine influence tone of the links would also be important, is the reference supportive or mocking? Anyway, I think it'd be interesting to see the metrics used.

Paul, pure evil, would that explain the jazz posts?

Jason Cherniak said...

Interesting. I suspect the numbers for early March are mostly because Wells linked to both of us and I got people's blood boiling on my "what are you doing to help" post. In a different two-week period, I'm sure you would get different results.

As for Taylor, his blog is the most influential in Canada when he writes something "newsworthy". Normally, though, he either isn't writing or just posting stuff you would expect a Conservative to say. His influence is more a personal influence with the Blogging Tories and his successful integration with the Ottawa press. It's not as much of a personal blog influence.

For the conference itself, it sounds like it was about what I expected it to be. You cannot have a serious discussion about the "permanent campaign" unless you actually invite campaigners to come talk about what they do. The problem there is that with online campaigns being so new, most people probably don't want to share their thoughts in public until after the next election.

As a final thought, the online campaign in Canada will never be permanent until the main parties start putting resources into it like the Obama campaign has.

Mark said...

I disagree. I think the permanent campaign is more run by movements than it is by parties or candidates. It's why I find it strange that there would be this lengthy discussion about who has influenced politics on line with no mention of a site like Much as I'm not a real fan, you can't disagree with the notion that sites such as that have driven the development of on-line discussion groups and information dissemination for activists who preach of everything from genetically modified foods, to Afghanistan, Tibet, free trade, etc.

The American blogosphere has been driven by "non-partisan partisans", if that makes sense. The anti-Iraq war message boards existed long before Howard Dean tapped into them for support.

Giving partisan bloggers resources to continue doing what they do only gives the same demographic more of the same.

If Liberal-leaning bloggers want to influence the next generation of election campaigns, they should start by inserting themselves in more issue-centred fora: Child care, the environment, whatever. The web is about moving our sense of community from the street corner to your browser. It's about participating in a community that doesn't know the same geographic bounds.

Blogs as party recruitment vehicles are of some, but very limited use.

There - now go debate.

Mark said...

Oh - and of course, Obama is not restricted in how he raises money or spends it.

Jason - if you think any party is going to start sending money to bloggers you'll be holding your breath for a long time.

Until you can show that your online content actually drives something tangible (i.e. new revenue, new memberships, new voters) the way that the early Dean and Kerry machines did, I don't think your suggestion is of much merit.

That may be a chicken and egg argument - but my money's on the chicken until you can show me the eggs.

Jason Cherniak said...

The Obama online campaign makes more than it costs. That's the problem with the way the parties are looking at it right now; you need the startup capital, but if you do it right it will pay off in spades.

As for issues, I think you have a good point. Insstead of the Liberal Party sending out letters that guess at the issues that might convince people to donate, they should start talking about issues that already have existing groups around them and then go to those groups and ask for money to continue the fight. Income Trusts, Brenda Martin, anti-abortion - we have the issues. We just need to get something to take the time to start doing something about it.

Demosthenes said...

"Totally independent". Heh. Guess Taylor was hoping that nobody in the audience read "Harper's Team".

Well put on the "bloggers as column writing" bit. It's something that a lot of MSM types don't get: blogging isn't usually investigative journalism, it's opinion journalism. Often it's quite good opinion journalism that rises to the level of serious political and policy analysis, but it's not really reportage.

I do think you missed a point that he seemed to be making, though, which is that there seems to have been much more community-building in the American blogging scene as opposed to the Canadian one at the same level of development. As troubled as it is right now, I'd still point to DailyKos as a good example of something that isn't happening in Canada, dominated as it is by incredibly simple Blogger pages.

(Of course, the fact that the progressive community is under constant assault by the most brain-dead assemblage of ridiculous losers calling themselves "conservatives" I've ever seen doesn't help. Honestly, I think the dipshit Republicans were better, and that continues to surprise me daily.)

Demosthenes said...

(Then again, one of the big problems might be that there seems to be precious little in the way of big-name progressive opinion journalism in Canada, period. Magazines like The Washington Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly, the American Prospect-- as well as sites like Salon, Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post which are relatively similar--have served as important progressive American hubs for years now.)

(Whereas Canada appears to have, uh, Jason Cherniak.)