Sunday, April 20, 2008

Where are the female bloggers?

MissLaura at DailyKos writes

There's this question that the traditional media likes to ask:

"Why aren't there more women blogging about politics?"


"Why are most of the big political bloggers men?"

It's an interesting question - why aren't more of the prominent political bloggers women? When I started reading political bloggers in late 2003 or early 2004 I don't think there were many of them. But that hasn't been the case for a long time. Marcia Wheeler, Barbara O'Brien, Digby and Jane Hamsher (to name a few) are prominent female political bloggers. Seven of the leading bloggers at dKos are women: SusanG, McJoan, MissLaura, Georgia10, Plutonium Page, Scout Finch and BarbinMD. There's Arianna Huffington. And just because Michelle Malkin is a horrible person doesn't mean she isn't a prominent female political blogger.

Is there a deficiency of women among the prominent political bloggers? MissLaura concludes
Megan Carpentier wrote a really stupid piece for Glamocracy, and her failure to quote Markos rejecting her premise makes you wonder how many other people she left out because what they said didn't fit her narrative. But she didn't pioneer this kind of stupidity. She was rerunning a hackneyed story the traditional media has been telling about blogging for quite some time. There are lots of different stories to write about blogs and gender -- never mind "prominent" bloggers, why does it seem that state bloggers are so disproportionately male? How do women and men blogging together at group blogs get treated differently by readers or the traditional media? Is it the case that men started the earlier blogs, and if so, at what rate have women been catching up? Whose blogging is more likely to lead to paid work as an institutional or campaign blogger, as a journalist, as a consultant? Do meat-world credentials play a different role in how male and female bloggers are received? These questions don't get asked, going unmentioned to leave room for the fortieth retread of "why are the three bloggers the laziest journalist can think of all men?"
I have no idea if there are fewer prominent female political bloggers than there "should" be. But I don't see any reason to assume that there is a dearth of female political bloggers. There are lots of good questions related to why men tend to be early adopters of technology. But the question of why there aren't more prominent female political bloggers is only valid if there are fewer prominent female bloggers than would be expected. Are there?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tangled Bank #102

Tangled Bank #102 is up at Further Thoughts. Berry Go Round #3 was published a week ago at Greg Laden's blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blogging Heroes

Bora got an email from Amazon recommending Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World's Top Bloggers. He points out that it should really be subtitled "Interviews with 30 of America's Top Tech Bloggers".

While Bora had an idea as to who he would have considered the world's top bloggers, I realised that I had no idea who I would consider top bloggers. Markos Moulitsas, of course. Josh Marshall. Juan Cole. Volokh. Hindraker. Drudge. Malkin. Andrew Sullivan. PZ Myers? Seriously though - outside of politics, I wouldn't have a clue. And more importantly, I wouldn't know how to rank them.

How do you rank the top bloggers? Traffic? Impact? Recognition outside of their corner of the blogosphere?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Blogs meet Old Media

At the heart of Web 2.0 is the idea of user-generated content. While the vast majority of blogs probably are crap, some of the more popular ones play an important role in the dissemination of news. As a result of this, their relationship with the older media sources has been a rocky one. But as blogs have become more popular, "old media" has tried to bring new media into the fold. The result has been a clash of cultures.

In her article about blogs which I keep referring to, Sarah Boxer criticised the paid bloggers attached to newspapers and magazines. Part of the problem with these ventures into blogging lies in a cultural divide - asking reporters to blog tends not to work, while "organic" bloggers are unlikely to be a good fit in the newsroom.

Hank at Scientific Blogging commented on an article published by Neil Thurman1 in the journal New Media & Society in which Thurman looked at the adoption of web 2.0 concepts by the British news media. Thurman found that, as of 2005, only the Guardian had really done much to incorporate user-generated content. While they all saw users as a source of information, they preferred to incorporate it into older paradigms - bulletin boards, polls and restricted areas for feedback. Hank wrote

I read things like this and I shake my head in wonder. Web 2.0 today is like the WWW of 1999 in many ways. People thought if they threw up a website to sell dog food, it would somehow be better than buying dog food down the street. In the past 8 months I have had phone calls from various journalists or media reps who have wondered why our brand of Science 2.0 has worked well and others have stagnated.

The answer is simple; let people write.
Some of the areas of conflict that Thurman writes about are cultural: a reporter works to deadlines, with editors, and is taught to fact check. Bloggers are more like columnists, writing when they feels like it, about whatever catches their fancy. To make matters worse, they are constrained by stereotypes.

There is a stereotype of blogs as being misspelt, semi-literate rants. Like any good stereotype, it has an element of truth. But it isn't necessarily true. Wikinews, which is classic user-generated content, is a decent news source and is generally well written. Like any wiki, it's possible for better writers to correct and polish content added by others.

Other stereotypes are that blogs don't contribute anything new, they simply work of the reporting of established news media and, as mentioned in the Thurman article, the fact that a blog tends to be more about the blogger than about the story - the personality gets in the way. Again, there is some truth to these assertions, but they aren't necessarily the case. Most notably different is Talking Points Memo (and its associated projects). While TPM is the creation of Josh Marshall, his personality never overshadows the news (except for the occasional pictures of his son). TPM has done original investigative reporting and recently won a Polk Award for their coverage of the US Attorneys firing scandal.

Bloggings (as both a medium and a style of writing) has most to offer to traditional media when it is incorporated into the system. TPM has done it very successfully.

When is comes to science writing, science blogging can be superior to conventional ways of reporting on science. While there are excellent science journalists, there are also many who lack the necessary understanding of the material they are covering. Science bloggers, because they have a depth of knowledge of the field about which they write, are excellent sources for the communication and dissemination of science. And very often, they can be incorporated into traditional media.

  1. Thurman, Neil. 2008. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media. New Media Society 10(1): 139-157 doi:10.1177/1461444807085325

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Berry Go Round #2

The second edition of Berry Go Round, the plant-focussed blog carnival, is up at my main blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Should science bloggers just blog about science?

Anonymous Coward (his/her chosen name, not a descriptor) at Bayblab has complained about the state of modern science blogging. S/he wrote
Why do we blog about science? For us at the bayblab, it was just an extension to our conversations about science that tended to take place in the "cool" bay of the lab, the only place with a decent sound system. It wasn't initially intended to be public, it was just an efficient way to share stories among us so that we could have some conversation fodder. In fact, back when we started, blogging in general was mostly about personal journals and pictures of pets, and the science blogs were few and far between.

Now there are thousands of blogs dedicated to science, yet only a few are popular. And strangely the popular ones are only loosely related to science.
I don't find it all that strange. Putting aside, for the moment, the issue of how they define "about science", it seems absolutely predictable that the most popular blogs are going to be the ones that have the broadest appeal. While the blogosphere is swarming with graduate students and junior faculty, the truth is that most blog readers aren't going to have advanced degrees in science. The more narrow your focus, the more narrow your appeal.

AC characterises the top 5 science blogs as follows
Pharyngula (mostly about creationism)
Cognitive Daily (psychology research)
Living the Scientific Life (personal journal)
Sandwalk (some evolutionary genetics, and creationism)
Aetiology (pop science)
Setting aside a few quibbles (about methods and definitions) for the moment, what does this say about science bloggers? AC laments the fact that, of the top five, only Cognitive Daily consistently talks about peer-reviewed science and asks
Why is that? Perhaps there is less appeal in discussing recent papers than bashing creationists.
It's an interesting question, but I believe it's the wrong question. The question isn't why do the top science bloggers not blog more about peer reviewed research, the question is why are these people the most popular? Now, here's the methodological complaint. The ranking is based on Postgenomic's list of the top science blogs.
Rankings are based on the number of incoming links from other indexed science blogs and some secret Postgenomic sauce.
While this may be a good proxy for "most popular", it's really a measure of "linked to by other science bloggers".

Unfortunately, this makes it really difficult for me to make the point I wanted to make. So setting aside the facts, let me wander off into my own diatribe...

What makes a popular blog? Quite frankly, if there was a blog dedicated to dry forest ecology, I would be reading it every day. But me and how many other people? Not an awful lot, I suspect. A really good, carefully focussed science blog which only discussed the peer-reviewed literature on a certain topic probably wouldn't get a lot of traffic. And it would take a lot of effort to write. It would, of course, make a nice experiment.

Most science bloggers have other commitment apart from blogging. As one person said, the only way the justify blogging is by calling it outreach. And outreach should go beyond the people who would normally read peer reviewed science. Outreach involves reaching out to the people with a casual interest in science. Outreach involves producing content that would be of interest to people who don't normally read about science.

Outreach is also about public education. While AC laments
It's been said before, you can't reason somebody out of a position in which they didn't reason themselves into. And it worries me because to the lay audience listening to PZ Myers (the 800lb gorilla), it would seem that science's purpose is to attack religion.
writing about creationists and kooks is important - when scientists say "intelligent design isn't science", the public needs an explanation. And debunking the latest nonsense is valuable. There was a time when people could wait for books to be published or for to be updated. But blogging has become the medium of choice. This is even more important for a blogger like Orac - the amount of quackery in medical fields is overwhelming. A site like Translating Autism is great in that it bridges a gap from technical journals to the public, it only gets things halfway there. Orac is another step, but we need more to reach the Oprah crowd.

Downside of paid blogging - you can get fired

In her article about blogs which I discussed a few weeks ago, Sarah Boxer says:
Bloggers are golden when they're at the bottom of the heap, kicking up. Give them a salary, a book contract, or a press credential, though, and it just isn't the same. (And this includes, for the most part, the blogs set up by magazines, companies, and newspapers.) Why? When you write for pay, you worry about lawsuits, sentence structure, and word choice. You worry about your boss, your publisher, your mother, and your superego looking over your shoulder. And that's no way to blog.
Apparently this isn't the only challenge faced by paid bloggers - "performance" standards, it would appear, are based on traffic. Via Hank at Scientific Blogging, Michael Learmonth reports:
Another day, another end to a Gawker employee's nasty, brutish and short career. Radar says media reporter Maggie Schnayerson, hired in September, was sacked for failing to generate enough page views.
Apparently the writer's traffic fell from 400,000 page views the previous month to 160,000, when the expectation was 670,000 page views.

So what's a blog post worth, anyway? Some function of the number of page views it can generate. In that regard, context is everything - it isn't the post, it's the publication.