There's an old saw in campaign politics that goes "politicians think everyone knows them because they only go to places where they know people."
Fragmentation allows readers to consume information narrowly. The Internet allows writers to skip editorial control and publish automatically to the people. In local politics, Web sites of ideological and journalistic diversity offer content ranging from the insightful to the awful.
They sometimes go to war with each other, roaring and seeking to influence politics. Most recently, three conservative political Web sites have been fighting back and forth: The McCarville Report, written by veteran observer Mike McCarville; the Oklahoma Political News Service, from Missouri-based Chris Arps; and Okie Pundit, administered by Thad Balkman and written by two "anonymous" Republicans.
This three-cornered match-up pits McCarville and Okie Pundit against OKPNS' Arps. It has devolved into sarcastic ad hominem attacks. They fight over content, they fight over characterizations, and then they call each other names. It resembles the O'Reilly/Olbermann battle in terms of stakes and reputation. Is anyone watching?
Not really. I used the site websiteoutlook.com to look at the potential penetration of about 30 politically oriented Oklahoma blogs. This analysis measures attention based on the core stat that is used to compute page rank: backlinks (meaning links from another Web site), and also a secondary measure, average daily page views.
The McCarville/Arps/Okie Pundit debate takes place in a largely empty chamber. McCarville runs about 394 views a day; the Okie Pundit, 78 views a day; and OKPNS, 514 views. In terms of backlinks, McCarville is backlinked by 24 other sources. The Okie Pundit has 92, while OKPNS has 12,790. Among the battling three, OKPNS drives more traffic and is much more widely referred and indexed.
Let's get some further perspective. In terms of breadth of viewers and backlink referral, the Oklahoma conservative blog Political Realities (ldjackson.net) gets more than 2,200 views a day and has 18,987 backlinks. Tulsa-based BatesLine runs just over 900 views a day but has 61,100 backlinks. (Mike Bates also enjoys a tie-in with AM-1170 in Tulsa.)
Then, there are three blogs run by other current or former OKC conservative AM radio hosts worth note: The site MarkShannon.com runs 773 daily views (4,691 backlinks); JimTraber.com runs 156 views a day (812 backlinks); and the reactivated RonBlackRadio.com is running 108 views a day at present, but the "Bad Gorilla" does have 2,547 backlinks.
I readily concede that breadth of readership does not indicate quality of readership. Part of the state crowd takes note of Arps, McCarville and the guys at the Okie Pundit " they have a degree of "elite" notice. But when taken in the context of views and referrals, it's evident that the broader public does not take notice.
It is the larger, established media that might drive attention to these sites, when the radio and television stations take care to note of their content. But, whatever attentions the established press directs to the conservative (or liberal) blogs, those attentions are not being converted into substantial daily readership over the long term.
Next time: Liberal blogs by the numbers.
Gaddie is a political science professor at OU and the author of the new OU Press book "The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South"