Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kathleen's Keystrokes: The Power of Blogs, Redux

Like any good Lowell blogger, I'm fond of writing about new media, its pros and cons, and what it will mean in the future for the way that citizens receive information and stay informed.

The next time someone doubts the power of e-mails and blogs to quickly disseminate information that affects people locally, I now have this case study to throw back at them:

Yesterday, Kathleen Marcin (LDNA President) posted about the lack of outrage and general attention following the shooting death of Tavaryna Choeun last week. Specifically, she called out the local blog community (among others) for not being involved, in both the blog post and an e-mail that went to LDNA members and some other neighborhood groups.

So this morning, when I sat down at my desk and did my usual Lowell Handmade scan to see which blogs to read, there it was -- Left in Lowell had picked up on it (with direct text from the original e-mail), Jen and Tommy had done something, and there was coverage of that post front and center on richardhowe.com. Also this morning, a heartfelt piece about remembering Ms. Choeun was posted to Choosing a Soundtrack, which started with a nod to Marcin's original admonition.

So take some righteous indignation, add in the power of new media and instantaneous communications, and you have a ripple effect -- literally, overnight.

We can't imagine how the rally tonight at 5:00 would have looked without any of this coverage, but I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that the local blogosphere helped to stoke interest in this and it will affect the turnout (I'll be fighting traffic on 395-N, but I'll turn back to Handmade to read about it later).

During the UML community discuss series hosted by Bill Berkowitz's class, I practically made "use the blogs" my hobbyhorse every time a community group or non-profit asked people how they could best spread their word.

A few times, the pushback I got was that the blogs would be of limited value because of a preaching-to-the-choir effect -- that is to say, blog readers are already informed, so there's limited marginal return.

For two key reasons, I beg to differ.

First, because even though people who read blogs may already be generally informed, there's always some nugget of information you wouldn't have gotten elsewhere, whether it's a book sale at the senior center, a subcommittee meeting, or commentary on how the sparks flew at the last School Committee meeting.

Second, information has a way of flowing in all directions. It's like, let's say I read a half-dozen or so local blogs. From those, I learn. I have friendly chats with my next-door neighbors, who are generally informed and involved, but not as into the blog scene. What happens? Information gets passed -- I learn stuff, they learn stuff, and we respond accordingly. Multiply that times the thousands and thousands of links people have with their peers, and you can see the power. Even if the major local blogs *only* have a couple hundred unique readers a day, that's still a potentially huge source of information flow.

To me, saying the blogs only reach the already-connected is like saying Meet the Press doesn't matter because the only people who watch it are already clued in to the latest political trends in Washington. That would have some steam behind it, but would ultimately miss the mark. If someone announces something truly spectacular or important on a Sunday morning political talk show, yes, the first people to learn of it will be the country's chattering classes. However, those very people will help drive the information cycle that would inevitably result in the wake of a truly significant announcement.

Like I said, we'll never know how tonight's rally would look if that e-mail hadn't gone out across the city or been posted to the LDNA site. But my basic common sense test says that any event that headlines the local blogs will grab the attention of the city's leaders, whether they'd admit to it or not (apparently, some City Councilors claim not to read The Column...yeah, right).

Blogs, Twitter, and e-mail can mobilize people in way that print media can't, if only because of the time restrictions and the limitations placed by a once-a-day publishing cycle.

For the quick ripple effect they can create, they matter.


KMM said...

They would have done just fine...UTEC is a solid group of young people working for a positive future.

The New Englander said...


Yes they are, and hopefully they're not in too much danger from these budget cuts..

..and even though the group is great, waking the bloggers up definitely amps up their impact -- remember those old BASF commercials from the 1980s?

"We don't make the products you buy...we make the products you buy better."

Bloggers shouldn't get credit for events themselves, but they do wield power..