Since they hit the Web in the mid-1990s, Web logs, more commonly known as “blogs,” have matured from simple journal entries cataloging the day-to-day goings-on in the lives of Net dwellers to, in some cases, serious enterprises. Today, corporations, political parties and their partisans, the media and everyday citizens use blogs as means to send out the word on their favorite causes.
Blogging will peak in 2007, according to a Gartner report. The company estimates that there are already more than 200 million ex-bloggers. Given the life span of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, the company expects the number of bloggers to top off at around 100 million. There are currently so many blogs that Google gave the format its own search engine. Another blog search engine, Technorati, tracks and ranks more than 71 million blogs.
So what are all these people blogging about? Well, bloggers write about anything and everything, from their favorite film character to their jobs or politics. In the realm of real news, bloggers over the last 10 years have proven their chops and on occasion even scooped the mainstream media.
Just a few years ago, blogs were looked down upon by many media professionals and even bloggers themselves. However, it’s not unheard of for a blogger to be the one breaking the news on a big story. Blogs such as Perez Hilton, the Wonkette, the Daily Kos and others have changed the way people get their news and the way the media covers news.
“There is an endless debate about whether bloggers are journalist,” B.L. Ochman, a blogger and president of WhatsNextOnline.com, told TechNewsWorld. “Yes, we are and we have in fact uncovered stories. Bloggers covered the [I. Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby trial, and that was the first time anything like that had happened.”
This two-part series presents our picks of the top 10 biggest stories from bloggers — the most important news events to come out of the blogosphere. As one might expect, the stories center around politics, the media and technology. They’ve derailed a senate campaign and brought down a prominent news anchor, but have also led to improvements in the way companies interact with consumers.
No. 10: The iPhone, Origami and Zune
While no single blogger can take credit for breaking much news on these new products, their dogged pursuit of rumors to glean the smallest detail affects the way companies, in particular technology companies, market their products.
Both Apple and Microsoft have begun building hype for new products through both their own product-specific blogs as well as bloggers in the wild. Company blogs, such as Microsoft’s Zune blog, keep consumers up-to-date on the product as it moves through the development process, and tips to independent bloggers help generate buzz for the iPhone and Origami.
No. 9: Jeff Gannon and the White House Press Corps
On January 26, 2005, amidst the fight over privatizing Social Security, credentialed White House reporter Jeff Gannon asked President Bush the following question: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines. And Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work — you’ve said you are going to reach out to these people — how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”
Was Gannon was a plant put there to lob friendly questions at the President? A group of liberal-leaning bloggers who pursued the story and discovered that Gannon’s real name was in fact James Guckert. Far from being a honed White House reporter, he was a graduate of the Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism’s two-day seminar created for “conservatives who want a career in journalism.”
In addition, Gannon’s paper, the Talon News, was a virtual organization owned by ultraconservative site GOPUSA. Also revealed was Gannon’s Web history, which included naked pictures of him on a slew of gay escort sites.
The scandal brought the White House’s press credential policy under sharp scrutiny and marked one of the first times bloggers drove a national news story.
“It showed that bloggers are indeed journalists, capable of digging up stories ‘real journalists’ miss,” Ochman explained.
No. 8: The Firing of U.S. Prosecutors
The allegedly unjustified firings of eight U.S. prosecutors in December 2006 has rattled the White House and the Department of Justice, and the story continues to develop. The affair has kicked off a battle between the Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House and has led some to call for the dismissal of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In terms of the story’s importance and the “blogginess” of the news-breaking, JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr ranked the story as the biggest story out of all the events on this list. “No contest,” he said. “A major story still playing itself out in congress and the national press. Developed, though not originated, by bloggers, if I remember correctly.”
No. 7: Dell Hell
With his Dell Hell blog, Jeff Jarvis, a long-time blogger and journalist, exposed what appeared to be Dell’s appalling level of customer service after he purchased a Dell laptop in 2005. His BuzzMachine blog attracted the attention of other dissatisfied Dell customers and bloggers. It was covered by the national media, including Newsweek and The New York Times; and eventually led to major changes in the way Dell dealt with its customers, as well as the blogosphere.
The Dell Hell debacle is largely credited for Dell’s decision to create its Ideastorm Web site, through which it communicates with its customers.
“That really changed things for Dell,” Todd Watson, e-relationship manager at IBM Software Group, told TechNewsWorld. “Dell was listening to us or respecting our service contract. When they held their annual meeting last year, [Dell] said we have a problem with our customer service and now they have IdeaStorm and made a team of people who respond to bloggers.”
No. 6: George Allen and “Macaca”
At a re-election campaign stop in Breaks, Va., Senator George Allen used the word “macaca” twice when referring to S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer for Democrat Jim Webb and a Virginia native of Indian heritage. Sidarth was taping the event for the Webb campaign. Pointing at Sidarth, Allen said at one point, “So welcome, let’s give a welcome to Macaca here! Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”
Video footage of the incident made it onto YouTube, and Democrat bloggers pounced on the senator. The use of the word, a commonly used French term for dark-skinned people, dealt a blow to Allen’s campaign from which it never recovered. Allen contended that the remark was not intended as a racial slur and that he had learned the word from his mother, who was raised in a French-colonial Tunisia. He said he was not aware of its meaning.
As a result of the attention, though, national media and online news organizations began probing Allen’s background and found several incidents that could indicate the Senator was a racist, while others claimed he was simply misunderstood. In the wake of the scandal, Virginia’s voters opted not to re-elect Allen, instead voting to send Jim Webb to Washington.