So far, I haven’t mentioned on this weblog a whole lot about the masters thesis I’m writing. Partly because it didn’t seem to me to be interesting for
external readers (that sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) you, partly because I’m simply not sure about the formal regulations surrounding the thesis: Is it allowed to publish any results before handing in the thesis? Anyway, there are a few thing I’d like to share at this point.
The thesis is about the relevance of weblogs for the work of political journalists in Germany.
During the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a bunch of interviews with German journalists. (Thanks for your help!) All of them work for major news outlets, some in newspapers, some in news agencies, but all of them in the politics department. (I won’t publish any names here.) As you know, I love blogs, and since you’re reading this I assume you do, too. But what about their real relevance for journalists? There have been a number of studies suggesting that the relevance of weblogs is increasing, and quickly so.
Just to name a few papers and studies that deal with weblogs in Germany in particular:
(The list is far from complete…)
While this may be true for a lot of topics, it doesn’t seem to hold up for political journalism, at least not in Germany. I haven’t analyzed the interviews in-depth yet. But from the conversations I had (and in which I learned a lot – thanks again!), it really seems that political weblogs in Germany don’t play an important role in terms of journalistic research.
Partly weblogs aren’t considered credible enough a source, or it’s too much commentary and not enough facts. Partly there seems to be a generational gap, although I’ve seen some clear exceptions to that rule. But from all the things I learned, the point that struck me is:
There is no political A-List blogger in Germany.
First I was kind of shocked when I heard it, but if you think about it, it’s actually true. For commentary on U.S. politics, we have the usual suspects from DailyKos to Instapundit. So these are read by political journalists – not necessarily for research, but to keep an eye on what’s going on out there. But in Germany, who’s there? I couldn’t name single blog
that’s primarily political. that deals mainly with politics and has a significant reach.
(There’s a number of blogs that deal with special niches of politics: Netzpolitik.org for digital rights, iRights.info for copyright, politik-digital.de’s Metablocker for e-government. Also, there are a few amazing media watchblogs like the amazing BILDblog, which are widely read among journalists and non-journalists alike.)
So what’s the issue with Germans and political blogging?
The German blogosphere is massively behind compared to the U.S. and Japan, but also compared to our neighbor France. April 2007’s State of the Blogosphere lists about 1 per cent of all blog posts as German. Not a whole lot, obviously, for a big European country. (France scored 2 per cent at the same time, Italy 3 per cent.)
Occasionally you hear a cultural argument, which comes in two flavors: First, with the healthy and diverse media landscape in Germany, there was no urgent need to develop alternative channels for publication. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, says a developer truism. This may well be the case. (However, it doesn’t take into account the social aspects that drive many bloggers.) Second, traditionally people tend not to talk openly about politics in Germany. It used to be considered a private and somewhat delicate matter. While in the States it’s pretty common to talk about politics with strangers, in Germany it used to be that most people wouldn’t even disclose what political party they support. “When you’re invited for dinner in Germany, avoid politics”, was the rule of thumb put forward in many travel guides. This is changing as a new and more open, more globalized generation grows up.
So back to political journalism and weblogs: It seemed to me that many journalists – particularly the younger, more tech-savvy ones – would be quite willing to rely more on weblogs. If there just were any. If there were more original facts, and savvy, smart political commentary, and maybe even some insider-slash-background information, the German political blogosphere would be much more healthy. And those bloggers would get all the exposure they could wish for through mainstream media.
But so far, there’s no one in sight. Maybe the U.S. presidential elections and the German elections on state level (08) and federal level (09) will change this? There’s a big opportunity. What are you waiting for?