The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

My good friend Adam Conner turned me onto a compelling senior-thesis-turned-IPDI-study by T. Neil Sroka about the consumption of political blogs on Capitol Hill. Over a period of three months ending last March, Sroka surveyed House and Senate communications staffers about who in their offices are reading blogs, and what blogs they're reading.

Sroka roots his paper in the idea that academic studies focused on how the political blogosphere interacts with media overlooks a more direct connection -- blogs enjoyed by staffers themselves. He writes, "while this [media-centric] way of seeing the emergent association between blogs and politics makes a great deal of sense, the blogosphere also seems to be playing an increasingly powerful role in framing ideas and issues for legislators and leaders directly."

The respondent pool for the study was small -- 89 staffers of some 550 or so offices, and it's important to keep in mind that all are staffers whose very job it is to engage with the media. And I have to imagine that respondents self-selected on the basis of blog savvy. Still, the numbers are interesting. Ninety-one percent of respondents reported that they or others in their office read political blogs. Nearly all reported that their senior staffers spend time in the blogosphere and more than half that "senior legislative assistants" do. Somewhat surprising to me, 12% said that their boss (the member of Congress for whom they work) reads one blog or another.

There's some insight here into how congressional press folk see how blogs fit into their media landscape. Sixty four percent agreed with the statement that "the blogosphere acts as a 'watchdog' of the mainstream media;" only 12% believed that "mainstream media ignores the blogosphere." Just short of half agreed ("strongly" or "somewhat") that blogs are more useful than the mainstream media for identifying future national political problems and debates. Writes Sroka, "blogs might be used as a sort of issue 'radar,' an early warning device which prepares offices and senior staffers, in particular, about the issues and stories coming down the pipe."

And what of their reading material? The most mentioned political blog is Daily Kos, cited by respondents 21 times. Next up, Wonkette (16 mentions), Talking Points Memo (10), Drudge Report (9), and the Huffington Post (9). (In case you're curious, MyDD came in at #8 in the rankings, with 5 mentions.) Again, we're dealing with press staffers reporting on their perception of the blog reading behavior of their colleagues. Which and what kind of blogs are actually being read by staffers deeper in the bowels of Congress would be fascinating to measure.

I'd argue that we still have a long way to go before blogs have much direct impact on Capitol Hill beyond keeping staffers up on the latest who-slept-with-who gossip. Says one press person quoted by Sroka, “We're all busy enough as it is!” But I think what we're looking for here is what Robert Putnam might call an intercohort shift rather than in intracohort one -- simply put, that as younger staffers with developed blog habits move into higher and somewhat more demanding positions in congressional offices, blog-related activity will become more firmly entrenched on Capitol Hill.

Tags: Blogosphere, capitol hill (all tags)

Comments

23 Comments

Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Wonkette is #2? Disappointing...I've never gotten the appeal that it has. When I read an article in the NYTimes Magazine in the summer of '04 about bloggers at the DNC, it seemed like Ana Marie Cox wasn't really a political blogger at all but was more of a rumor and gossip mill.

Anyways, I'm sure MyDD is read by more people. Democratic staffers would be amiss not to read this site.

by PsiFighter37 2007-01-21 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Cox hasn't blogged at Wonkette for two years.

The only reason it's still associated with her is because the blog is called "WonkETTE" and Lauren Spohrer is the only woman who blogs on it. Most of them are guys.

by MNPundit 2007-01-21 07:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

[Wonketter is] "... a rumor and gossip mill."  

Which is why they read it.  Inside the beltway tittle-tattle for people inside the beltway.  

by ATinNM 2007-01-21 08:39AM | 0 recs
the state based blogs may also be read

I have the impression from various posts over the last year that the state blogs get noticeable traffic from .house.gov, .senate.gov and other DC sites.  (Remember the New Hampshire scandal.) Surveying those who run those sites (i.e., Blue Jersey, myleftnutmeg, etc.) might yield interesting results.  

by John DE 2007-01-21 07:40AM | 0 recs
But is this stale?

This study is now a year old, and I can only guess 2006 saw a huge shift in this interaction between Congress and the blogs, especially local and campaign-specific blogs.

I remember being surprised, even early on, at how many of the hits LamontBlog got (which were relatively few at the time) came from house.gov and senate.gov.

by tparty 2007-01-21 07:48AM | 0 recs
Go, Neil!

Woo hoo! :)

by Laurin from SC 2007-01-21 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Wouldn't the blog owners know who is hitting them up?  Can't blog owners track ISP addresses of those who read?  Can it be that hard for a tecnically savy person to know who is reading this blog?  TPM?  DailyKos?

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-01-21 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Volume's too big to track it reader-by-reader.

Beyond that, I feel confident that the people on the Hill who want to know what the netroots is thinking know where to turn; the real question is the reverse -- how to make the netroots more effective in lobbying lawmakers on issues of concern.

by Adam B 2007-01-21 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Money would help.   Hate being sarcastic, it just sucks that it is true

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-01-21 10:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

Actually, it's not necessary -- because we have the power to Make A Stink for them, which they don't like -- it's an ego thing.  

(Alternately, on the positive side, they know that we represent a lot of people who don't post, and that supporting what we want is pro-democracy.)

by Adam B 2007-01-21 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

I sure hope they wake up though ... can this country deal with two more years of Smirk and his recklessness and lawbreaking?

by Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle 2007-01-21 12:48PM | 0 recs
How many staffers read the poly blogs?

Out of the total numbers of staff and reps, be interesting to know how many read the political blogs and how often, how many post to them.

by BrionLutz 2007-01-21 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: How many staffers read the poly blogs?

That's the crucial bit. Maybe 12% of legislators (well, less than, given that it's a small and self-selecting sample) read, or claimed to read, a political blog at the time of the study, but most of them aren't yet interacting.

I'm sure many of them read the front pages of blogs to be aware of what the blogosphere is thinking of, and some post diaries, but you don't often see elected officials in the comment threads.

This is partly because they don't want to do opposition research for the other side, but if they can overcome that fear (and the lure of being perceived by the blogosphere as on their side would surely be a powerful one for those looking at higher office) and interact properly it'll be of great benefit to the netroots and their issues.

by Englishlefty 2007-01-21 01:26PM | 0 recs
Re: How many staffers read the poly blogs?

"Maybe 12% of legislators"

Is that based on scientific poll of legislators?

It would be interesting to know the stats on staffers and reps...though be hard to get a honest reply...kind of like asking if they believe in motherhood, apple pie and the American way (NASCAR or NFL). It's a win-lose question with only one right answer.

"This is partly because they don't want to do opposition research for the other side..."

I would guess it's more of a time issue...kind of have to be the leisure class to really participate in online discussions. They move so fast, you miss a day and it's history.

For a politician, best thing would be toss the blog a bone by doing an online Q&A once in a while to feed the bloggers sense of self importance, to raise  and raise money and have staffers keep an eye on the chatter for topic trends.

by BrionLutz 2007-01-21 01:51PM | 0 recs
Let's get a little perspective

I certainly would hope my members of Congress (if I ever get any) would have better things to do with their time than participate in blog comment threads.

by KCinDC 2007-01-21 02:15PM | 0 recs
Well, we know of one staffer

who definitely got into reading blogs on his House computer.

"IndyNH", a sockpuppet otherwise known as Charlie Bass' #2 man, Tad Furtado.

by Dean Barker 2007-01-21 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill

My opinion, fwiw: they're reading all the wrong blogs if they actually want to know what people think.  No offense intended - the large blogs aggregate and are useful, no question, for a quick hit.  But we know that there are so many individual blogs maintained by...well, individuals who just focus on writing their thoughts and questions and concerns down in the one place and not going to the more often visited sites.

Anyway - I'd advise offices and staffers to get more local and more individual if they want to work on giving their constituents a sense that they know how they feel and care.

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