Monday, March 14, 2005

Metablogging 101

Consider yourself special, Dear Reader, because Americans who read and pay attention to blogs are a narrow elite when compared to the population as a whole.

Sunday's Washington Times reports that "a new Gallup poll finds that most Americans are clueless about blogs, bloggers and blogging."

Blogs are "not yet in the media big leagues," Gallup announced Friday. The poll found that while 76 percent of Americans regularly use the Internet, only 7 percent said they were "very familiar" with blogs. The poll of 1,008 adults was conducted Feb. 25-27.

* * *

The poll also found that only 3 percent of Americans consult blogs on a daily basis. The figure was pared down to 2 percent for political-themed blogs, which tend to resonate most in the mainstream press. CNN, for example, now hosts a daily "blog watch," highlighting piquant fare from a number of sites.
To my surprise, I learned from the Times story that the "term 'blog' is young, coined by pundit and blogger Andrew Sullivan, who called the phenomenon 'democratic journalism' in a 2002 Wired magazine article." (That "blog" is a neologism was not surprising; what surprised me was that Andrew Sullivan coined it.)

Some salient results from the Gallup Poll on blogs and their readers:

* Blog readers are younger than the population at large. Although 17% of the public is aged 18 to 29, a quarter of all blog readers (those who read even occasionally) are in this age bracket. At the older extreme, 17% of Americans are 65 and older, but only 6% of blog readers are this old.

* Said differently, monthly-plus readership of blogs is 21% among 18- to 29-year olds, 16% among those 30 to 49, 14% among those 50 to 64 and just 7% among those 65 and older.

* The age gap in blog reading is particularly noteworthy because it is a complete reversal of the typical age pattern gap for news consumption. Gallup finds Americans' use of all traditional news media to be positively correlated with age. (For instance, only 32% of 18- to 29-year-olds read a local paper every day, versus 61% of those 65 and older.)

* Gallup finds no gender differences in blog readership, or according to party affiliation. There are slight differences by political outlook, as about a quarter of liberals (24%) say they read blogs at least monthly, compared with 15% of conservatives and 12% of moderates.
By way of comparison, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report released in June 2004 noted:
Americans' news habits have changed little over the past two years. Network and local TV news viewership has been largely stable since 2002. Daily newspaper readership remains at 42% (it was 41% two years ago). And the percentage of Americans who listen to news on the radio on a typical day is virtually unchanged since the last Pew Research Center media consumption survey (40% now, 41% in 2002).
And, in what might be viewed as a negative- or mirror-image of the recent Gallup poll on blog readership (and pretty much agreeing with Gallup's findings), the Pew Research Center reported:
The decade-long slide in newspaper readership has leveled off. The percentage of Americans reporting that they read a newspaper "yesterday" fell from 58% in 1994 to 47% in 2000, and 41% in 2002. It now stands at 42%.

Newspaper readership among young people continues to be relatively limited. Among those under age 30, just 23% report having read a newspaper yesterday. This is down slightly from 26% in 2002 and stands in marked contrast to the 60% of older Americans who say they read a newspaper yesterday. Young people are more apt to read a magazine or a book for pleasure on a daily basis than they are to pick up a newspaper.
This is not news, of course. Young people are generally disengaged from public affairs, as shown by their lower likelihood to register to vote or to vote even when registered. As people grow older, form families, pay taxes, and contract mortgages, their interest in their communities and current issues grows stronger.

Whether the greater interest of young people and political liberals in blogs will be maintained -- blogging is, after all, still a new phenomenon -- in reference to other types of media remains to be seen. The question of whether blogs can be used to engage otherwise disengaged readers in the political process also remains to be answered. (Although my best guess is most young blog-readers are going to Jossip rather than Instapundit. I would be happy to be proved wrong.)

Considering how much blogs have been in the news lately -- especially during the last presidential campaign -- it's a mystery as to how so many Americans are ignorant of their existence. One explanation that makes sense to me is offered by Jossip's David Hauslaib, who told the Washington Times:
"It's not so surprising that mainstream America doesn't know what a blog is. But they might come upon a blog and not even realize it's a blog. So they could still be influenced by it nevertheless. It works that way, too."
Dear Reader, do you realize you are reading a blog right now? Were you aware of it when you started reading this article? If you are not aware of it by now, are you sure you know how to read at all?

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