The Blog Habits of Capitol Hill
by Nancy Scola, Sun Jan 21, 2007 at 07:17:34 AM EST
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.