Blogs in the Media Conversation: A Content Analysis of the Knowledge Stage in the Diffusion of an Innovation

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Nanette Hogg, Carol S. Lomicky, and Syed A. Hossain

WJMCR 12 (December 2008)

Introduction|Theoretical Framework|Method|Reliability|Findings|Conclusions

Abstract

This study examined the media’s role in the spread of information about the innovation of blogging in the context of Rogers’ first step in the innovation-diffusion process. This content analysis of 994 stories in national media found the first mention of blogs in 2000 with increases every year thereafter through 2004 when the rate of increase slowed. This study found that media coverage about blogs changed over time. Initially media focused on background information about the innovation, although attention soon shifted to coverage about how people were using blogs. The media did not begin to produce stories about the impact of the blogging phenomenon until 2003. Consistent with previous research, this study found the media discussion to be non-critical about the innovation.

Introduction

On 31 August 2005, David Letterman’s Top 10 listed “10 Ways Osama Bin Laden Can Boost His Popularity.” Number 8: “Start a daily beard care blog.”1 This was only one of the many references to blogs in the entertainment media during 2005. Blog is a shortened version of the term used for an online diary: web log.2 Blogs are web sites in which items are posted in reverse chronological order that combine text, images, media objects and links to other blogs, web pages, and media news sites. Most research pinpoints the late 1990s as the period when blogging became a popular communication tool3 with 23 original blogs in 1997.4 The appearance of blog software and other technologies starting in 1998 enabled users to publish to the web without knowledge of HTML or web editor packages.5 There were 30,000 blogs by the end of 1998,6 and 57 million by late 2006.7 Given that the adoption of new ideas, technologies, and innovations–such as blogs–requires time in any social system,8 the mention of blogs on a late night television show such as Letterman’s might indicate that by 2005 the topic of blogs had entered popular conversation. This casual reference to blogs was part of a larger mediated discourse when public perception about the innovation was being formed, which deserves scholarly attention. Moreover, because this unique technological innovation has wrought such vast socio-cultural changes on the way society communicates, it is important to examine the way in which the mass media have portrayed this innovation as no other empirical research has done.

Using the knowledge stage of Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory as a framework, this study examines the initial step in the diffusion process: namely, how the mass media exposed the public to and provided knowledge about the innovation of blogs. We examined the extent to which and in what context select national mass media provided information about blogs to their audiences. The content analysis begins with the first mention of blogs in 2000 and continues through 2004.

Theoretical Framework

Diffusion of Knowledge

Diffusion of innovations is the process during which an innovation is adopted. The process consists of steps or stages during which members of a social system communicate about an innovation through various channels over time.9 The knowledge stage occurs early in the process when people are first learning about an innovation, which is defined by Rogers as an idea, practice, or object that an individual or organization perceives as new.10 In terms of this study, the innovation is blogs and the practice of blogging.

This study builds upon previous diffusion research that, since the mid-1980s, has focused on the diffusion of technological innovations11 and, for the past several decades, on the internet.12 As an innovation that relies on both new technology and the internet, blogging offers researchers the opportunity to examine an innovation that has shown remarkable growth within a time span of only a few years.

Rogers notes, the media are more effective than interpersonal channels at exposing potential and early adopters to an innovation’s existence and at providing information as people gain an understanding of how an innovation functions.13This especially is true of individuals who early adopt what Rogers refers to as the new media–such as blogs. Furthermore, the earlier adopters of new technologies are “more exposed to mass media channels and relatively less dependent on interpersonal communication channels . . . and are relatively more active information-seekers about such innovations . . .”14

Important also is the process through which potential adopters pass from first knowledge about an innovation to forming an attitude toward the innovation.15Thus, as potential adopters gain information about the innovation during the knowledge stage, the media are ascribing value to the innovation in terms of its usefulness, potential, credibility–or lack thereof. As such, initial public perception and attitudes toward blogs will be based on information from the media.

Only few empirical studies have examined media coverage of new technologies–particularly in terms of the role of media as an important contributor to the diffusion process. An early example is a study that examined mediated messages about a new automobile electronic diagnosis center. The researchers found that early information about the innovation was general in nature and played a key role in helping to raise awareness and pique interest among potential adopters.16 The researchers also noted that the publicity had stimulated a high level of interest among potential adopters.17 Similarly, Weber and Evans found a correlation between the extent of media coverage and the success of the diffusion of digital television in the United States, Britain, and Australia.18 These findings also are supported in Cogan’s examination of newspaper coverage of personal computers as a new technology.19Further, Cogan found that when the personal computer industry was introducing the innovation to the public, coverage established the innovation as non-intimidating and highly useful. Once the new technology had been adequately introduced to the public, Cogan found that stories increasingly focused on “new ways of making the computer seem necessary for a diverse range of people”.20 Articles that dealt with the more complex aspects of computers and society would not appear until later.21

Similarly, Clark and Illman, who examined the prestige level of professions such as engineering and science, highlighted the importance of media coverage in the public perception of science and technology.22 Noteworthy is these studies all identified the unique and influential role mass media play in the adoption of new technologies.23 Moreover, the investigators agreed that: a connection exists between mass media and the adoption of innovations; early adopters first become aware of a new innovation largely from its introduction in the mass media; media coverage about new technologies generally fails to notice or question the possibility of negative effects.

As such, the following three hypotheses are presented for this study:

H1: The media will introduce blogs as an innovation with general information.

H2: The media will increasingly describe the ways people are using blogs.

H3: The media will not examine the impact of blogs on society.

According to Cogan, writers from a number of disciplines have observed that the negative effects of new technologies far too often remain unexamined or are ignored in their introduction.24 And, although Cogan’s study found evidence of media coverage that was critical of the personal computer, the stories were negligible when compared to the overwhelming number of positive articles that dominated newspapers during the time period he studied. Roessler called the coverage about the internet “euphoric,” and he concluded that German news magazine articles about the internet tended to favorably assess the new medium.25Similarly, another study found a new contraceptive implant garnered mostly positive initial media coverage, although the study found that the slant of the articles became more negative over time.26

Given the findings of the aforementioned studies, a final hypothesis is proposed:

H4: The media coverage about blogs will be non-critical.

In order to add to an understanding of the media’s contribution to the public’s knowledge about blogs, three research questions are posed:

RQ1: When did the innovation of blogs enter the media conversation?

RQ2: In what context were the media talking about blogs?

RQ3: Did the media discussion about blogs change over time?

Method

In order to examine the media’s contribution to knowledge about blogs, this study used a purposive sample selection to content analyze national print and electronic media. The content universe was The New York Times, USA Today, ABC News, National Public Radio (NPR), CNN, and Fox News. The New York Times was selected because of its prominence as a national American daily newspaper, while USA Today was selected because it has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States. The authors selected CNN and Fox News because both are highly popular television news media. ABC News was randomly selected among the over-the-air broadcasting networks. National Public Radio is unique as a radio broadcast that is publicly supported, with news programming that is widely disseminated throughout the country.

The LexisNexis Academic “News” database was used to search news articles and transcripts for the terms blog, blogger, web log, and weblog from the first mention within each medium through December 31, 2004. Note: the search terms did not appear in any of the content universe until 2000. We examined entire articles published in the print media under study and the full-text transcripts for each electronic medium represented in the sample. The full text of all news and feature programs, packages, interviews, and live reports were analyzed.

Following the pilot study, the coders were trained to identify story type (a story was either about blogs or a story about another topic). If the story was about blogs, the coder determined the theme of the story, which included background, uses or effects. The background theme incorporated information about the techniques or procedures involved in blogging, definitions, history of the phenomenon, or the technical aspects of blogs. The uses category included stories about how people were using blogs, while stories that discussed the outcome of blog use were categorized as effects.

Stories about topics other than blogs were coded using the 14 dominant news subject categories created by Deutschmann27 and modified by Stempel.28 One variation is noted: we incorporated electronic communication into the popular amusements category, which was not included in the Deutschmann29 and Stempel30 studies. The 14 news categories and their definitions follow:

1. Politics and government acts: Government acts and politics at the local, state, national, and international levels.

2. War and defense: War, defense, rebellion, and military use of space. Includes both foreign and domestic stories.

3. Diplomacy and foreign relations: Both foreign and domestic items dealing with diplomacy and foreign relations. Includes the United Nations.

4. Economic activity: General economic activity, prices, money, labor, wages, and natural resources.

5. Agriculture: Farming, farm prices and economic aspects of agriculture.

6. Transportation and travel: Transportation and travel, including economic aspects.

7. Crime: All crime stories including criminal proceedings in court.

8. Public moral problems: Human relations and moral problems including alcohol, divorce, sex, race relations, and civil court proceedings

9. Accidents and disasters: Accidents as well as both man-made and natural disasters.

10. Science and technology: Science other than defense-related and health and medicine.

11. Public health and welfare: Health, public welfare, social and safety measures, welfare of children, and marriage and marriage relations.

12. Education and classic arts: Education, classic arts, religion, and philanthropy.

13. Popular amusements: Entertainment and amusements, sports, television, radio, electronic communication, and other media.

14. General human interest: Human interest, weather, obituaries, animals, cute children, juvenile interest, and profiles.

A 15th category (Other) was used when stories included a combination of two or more of the above themes.

The stories were coded in one of these categories based on the overall story theme. For example, stories about political campaigns or the President’s State of the Union address in which he raised several issues and topics was coded as “politics and government acts,” while stories about the military personnel fighting in Iraq or numbers of casualties were coded as “war and defense.” One such story published in The New York Times concerned the detainees of war crimes. On the other hand, a journalist’s account of being detained at Tehran’s airport, was coded as “diplomacy and foreign relations” because the overall theme was a comparison of Iranian public policy to other Middle Eastern countries and the United States, and not about war or specific government acts. Another clarification: “education and classic arts” included stories about architectural art, ballet, chamber and choral music, dance, folk art, museum art, musical theater, opera, orchestral recital, solo instrumental, solo vocal, theatrical performances, or classic film. “Popular amusements” story themes were: journalism and media (including web sites, email, instant messaging), books, popular music and dance, entertainment reviews (books, movies, plays), and writing (letters, diaries). “General human interest” articles were feature stories.

Each story also was coded for format and tone. The format was coded in terms of how the information about blogs was presented in the stories. If the reference to or the story about blogs was presented objectively, the story was coded as news; if, however, the information contained any subjective statement(s) about the innovation, the story was coded as opinion.

Tone, coded in terms of the information about the innovation of blogs in the stories, was categorized as positive, negative or neutral. Stories about blogs were examined for tone about the innovation in terms of the entire story. In stories about other topics, only statements about blogs were coded. If the story contained both positive and negative statements about blogs, the story was coded as neutral. For example, ABC News described diet blogs that give advice and support to help dieters lose weight in a positive tone.31 By contrast, a negative example is a story from NPR about political partisanship in American journalism, in which media critic Marvin Kalb made the observation that blogs are filling “the blogosphere with vitriolic assaults on both presidential candidates….”32

Realibility

For the intercoder reliability pilot study, the two coders examined a sub-sample of 100 randomly selected stories representing all media in the data set (n = 994). A Krippendorff’s alpha (α) was calculated for each of the content variables. Krippendorff’s alpha (α) assesses the agreement among coders, and is an attractive coefficient because it takes into account chance agreement as well as the magnitude of the misses.33 The final coding took place after the coders reconciled differences in their interpretation of the categories. Once the coding was complete, the final reliability statistics were computed. The reliability for each category is: story type, .91; theme of stories about blogs, .88; theme of stories about other topics, .85; tone, .90; format, .78.

Findings

A total of 994 stories contained information about blogs from the first media reference in 2000 through 2004. And, without exception, each medium increasingly provided information about blogs as an innovation for each year analyzed. The findings also revealed that the media’s conversation about blogs included stories about other topics in which blogs were mentioned (N = 810, 82%), and stories that covered blogs as the news topic ( N = 184, 18%).

When the media coverage was about blogs (N = 184), the three overarching themes were: articles that provided information that explained blogs and blogging as a phenomenon (coded as background stories, N = 23, 13%), stories that described people’s uses (N = 116, 63%), and discussion about the effects of blogs (N = 45, 24%). The results that describe the information about blogs found in articles about other topics (N = 810) are presented in the RQ2 discussion.

Hypothesis 1, which anticipated the media would introduce blogs as an innovation by providing general information, is weakly supported. Although the media provided general information about blogs in 23 of the 184 stories devoted to the topic of blogs, this category comprised only a small number in the sample (13%). Moreover, the media provided less background about blogs than coverage about people’s uses or the innovation’s effects. In fact, USA Today and Fox News did not produce a single story that provided general information about the innovation (Table 1).

Table 1:
Stories (about blog or references to blogs) by media by themes (N=994)YEAR
STORY TYPEMEDIATheme / Topic2000
4 (.4)
2001
18 (1.8)
2002
62 (6.2)
2003
258 (26)
2004
652 (65.5)
Total
994 (100)
About blogsABCuses
background
1 (.1)1 (.1)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
CNNuses
background
effects

1 (.1)
1 (.1)4 (.4)7 (.7)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
12 (1.2)

5 (.5)
24 (2.4)
2 (.2)
7 (.7)
FOXuses
effects

1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
NYTuses
background
effects
1 (.1)1 (.1)
1 (.1)
13 (1.3)
2 (.2)
4 (.4)
25 (2.5)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
25 (2.5)
2 (.2)
24 (2.4)
65 (6.5)
7 (.7)
30 (3.0)
NPRuses
background
effects

1 (.1)
8 (.8)
8 (.8)
1 (.1)
9 (.9)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
17 (1.7)
12 (1.2)
2 (.2)
USAuses
effects
2 (.2)2 (.2)
2 (.2)
3 (.3)
2 (.2)
7 (.7)
4 (.4)
Other storiesABCpop amusement
politics
other topics**
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
7 (.7)

4 (.4)
4 (.4)
CNNpop amusement
politics
other topics**
3 (.3)5 (.5)
6 (.6)
15 (1.5)
9 (.9)
49 (4.9)
89 (9)
17 (1.7)
55 (5.5)
104 (10.7)
FOXpop amusement
politics
other topics**
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
11 (1.1)
6 (.6)
9 (.9)
12 (1.2)
9 (.9)
12( 1.2)
NYTpop amusement
politics
other topics**
5 (.5)

5 (.5)
9 (.9)
2 (.2)
8 (.8)
36 (3.6)
11 (1.1)
38 (3.8)
81 (8.1)
38 (.2)
90 (9.0)
131 (13.2)
51 (5.1)
141 (14.2)
NPRpop amusement
politics
other topics**
1 (.1)

1 (.1)


1 (.1)
13 (1.3)
26 (2.6)
17 (1.7)
44 (4.4)
51 (5.1)
14 (1.4)
58 (5.8)
77 (7.8)
33 (3.3)
USApop amusement
politics
other topics**
1 (.1)1 (.1)

1 (.1)
7 (.7)

6 (.6)
13 (1.3)
2 (.2)
7 (.7)
23 (2.3)
10 (1.0)
22 (2.2)
45 (4.5)
12 (1.2)
36 (3.6)
*Abbreviations for media are: ABC News (ABC) Fox News Network (FOX) The New York Times (NYT) National Public Radio (NPR) and USA Today (USA)
** other topics include the categories, count (% of total) of: war and defense, 22 (2.2) diplomacy and foreign relations, 1 (.1) economic activity, 53 (5.3) transportation and travel, 8 (.8) crime, 15 (1.5) public moral problems, 15 (1.5) accident and disasters, 9 (.9) science and technology, 59 (5.9) public health and welfare, 16 (1.6) education and classic arts, 24 (2.4) general human interest, 15 (1.5)and others, 93 (9.4).

Hypothesis 2, which predicted that the media would increasingly describe the ways people are using blogs, is supported. As presented in Table 1, articles that explained the various ways people are using blogs accounted for more than any other story type about blogs (N = 116, 63%). Also as predicted, stories about people’s uses of blogs increased over time. Table 1 shows the stories about people’s uses increased by: 153% from 2002 to 2003 (from 17 to 43 stories). Then from 2003 to 2004, although increases again were found, the rate of increase slowed appreciably, from 43 to 51, or less than 19%.

As expected in Hypothesis 3, the media did little to examine the impact of the blogging phenomenon. Stories about the effects of blogs (N = 45), accounted for only 24% of the total stories about blogs (N = 184). In fact, it was not until 2003 that other media besides The New York Times discussed blogs in terms of this theme. Among the stories about blogs (N = 184), The New York Times published the most stories about the effects of the innovation (N = 30, 67%); ABC News did not broadcast any story on the subject. The majority of the stories that concerned effects of blogs were produced in 2004 (N = 33, 73%). See Table 1.

Hypothesis 4 anticipated that the media would be non-critical of blogs as an innovation. As shown in Table 2, this hypothesis is strongly supported, for although the media were not overwhelmingly positive, neither were they negative. Overall, the media discussed and referenced blogs non-critically–either positive or neutral–in 932 (94%) of the stories. All stories in 2000–the first year blogs entered the media conversation–were non-critical. Additionally, in stories about other topics (N = 810) blogs were mentioned non-critically 756 (93%) times. Also, when stories were about other topics, the two largest categories, popular amusements (N = 267) and politics or government acts (N = 213), referenced blogs non-critically, 249 and 196, respectively. Three media, NPR, CNN, and The New York Times, accounted for the largest numbers of political stories (N = 183), which were overwhelmingly non-critical in their references to blogs (N = 167).

Table 2:
Positive, Negative and Neutral stories by media by themes and topics (N=994)YEAR
STORY TYPEMEDIA*Theme / Topic2000
4 (.4)
2001
18 (1.8)
2002
62 (6.2)
2003
258 (26)
2004
652 (65.5)
Total
994 (100)
PositiveABCuses
background
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)

1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
3 (.3)
2 (.2)
CNNuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)4 (.4)


1 (.1)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)

3. (.3)
5 (.5)

4 (.4)
3 (.3)
2 (.2)
11 (1.1)
13 (1.3)
1 (.1)
6 (.6)
5 (.5)
2 (.2)
14 (1.4)
FOXuses
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**



1 (.1)

1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)

7 (.7)
2 (.2)
6 (.6)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
8 (.8)
4 (.4)
6 (.6)
NPRuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**

1 (.1)



1 (.1)
7 (.7)
3 (.3)

3 (.3)
3 (.3)
4 (.4)
8 (.8)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
12 (1.2)
6 (.6)
3 (.3)
15 (1.5)
6 (.6)
1 (.1)
15 (1.5)
9 (.9)
8 (.8)
NYTuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)
1 (.1)

3 (.3)
9 (.9)

1 (.1)
9 (.9)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
16 (1.6)

1 (.1)
16 (1.6)
4 (.4)
13 (1.3)
17 (1.7)
2 (.2)
12 (1.2)
34 (3.4)
13 (1.3)
38 (3.8)
43 (4.3)
3 (.3)
14 (1.4)
62 (6.2)
18 (1.8)
52 (5.2)
USAuses
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)

3 (.3)

2 (.2)
1 (.1)

4 (.4)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
5 (.5)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
12 (1.2)
2 (.2)
4 (.4)
NegativeABCpolitics1 (.1)1 (.1)
CNNpop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
4 (.4)
2 (.2)
3 (.3)
5 (.5)
FOXpop amusement1 (.1)1 (.1)
NPRpop amusement
politics
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
NYTuses
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**
1 (.1)

1 (.1)

2 (.2)
2 (.2)

3 (.3)
2 (.2)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
4 (.4)
10 (1.0)
8 (.8)
9 (.9)
4 (.4)
4 (.4)
14 (1.4)
10 (1.0)
14 (1.4)
NeutralABCpop amusement
politics
Other topics**
2 (.2)
5 (.5)
2 (.2)
2 (.2)
5 (.5)
2 (.2)
CNNuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**

1 (.1)



2 (.2)
4 (.4)


3 (.3)
4 (.4)
11 (1.1)
7 (.7)

1 (.1)
5 (.5)
46 (4.6)
74 (7.4)
11 (1.1)
1 (.1)
1 (.1)
10 (1.0)
50 (5.0)
85 (8.5)
FOXeffects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**



1 (.1)


1 (.1)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
4 (.4)
3 (.3)
1 (.1)
3 (.3)
5 (.5)
6 (.6)
NPRuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**

1 (.1)



1 (.1)
7 (.7)
3 (.3)

3 (.3)
3 (.3)
4 (.4)
8 (.8)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
12 (1.2)
6 (.6)
3 (.3)
15 (1.5)
6 (.6)
1 (.1)
15 (1.5)
9 (.9)
8 (.8)
NYTuses
background
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**



1 (.1)

3 (.3)
4 (.4)
2 (.2)
3 (.3)

1 (.1)
7 (.7)
7 (.7)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
17 (1.7)
5 (.5)
22 (2.2)
7 (.7)

8 (.8)
37 (3.7)
17 (1.7)
43 (4.3)
18 (1.8)
4 (.4)
12 (1.2)
55 (5.5)
23 (2.3)
75 (7.5)
USAuses
effects
pop amusement
politics
Other topics**


1 (.1)
1 (.1)

1 (.1)

1 (.1)


4 (.4)

4 (.4)
1 (.1)
2 (.2)
9 (.9)
1 (.1)
6 (.6)
2 (.2)
1 (.1)
18 (1.8)
9 (.9)
21 (2.1)
4 (.4)
3 (.3)
33 (3.3)
10 (1.0)
32 (3.2)
*Abbreviations for Media are: ABC News (ABC) Fox News Network (FOX) The New York Times (NYT) National Public Radio (NPR) and USA Today (USA).
** other topics include the categories, positive, negative and neutral count (positive, negative and neutral % to total) of: war and defense, 8, 0, 14, (.8, 0, 1.4); diplomacy and foreign relations, 1, 0, 0, (.1, 0 0); economic activity, 22, 3, 28, (2.2, .3, 2.8); transportation and travel, 2, 0, 6, (.2, 0, .6); crime, 3, 1, 11, (.3, .1, 1.1); public moral problems, 3, 3, 9, (.3, .3, .9); accident and disasters, 5, 0, 4, (.5, 0, .4); science and technology, 18, 1, 40, (1.8, .1, 4.0); public health and welfare, 3, 5, 8, (.3, .5, .8); education and classic arts, 9, 0, 15, (.9, 0, 1.5); general human interest, 1, 1, 13, (.1, .1, 1.3); and others, 11, 5, 77, (1.1, .5, 7.7); agriculture, 0, 0, 0.

If the stories were about the innovation itself, this study also found few negative stories. Specifically, the stories about blogs (N = 184) presented information in a positive or neutral tone 176 (95%) times, compared to the 8 (4%) negative stories. The New York Times was the first medium to say anything negative among any of the stories in the sample, it circulated the most negative references in stories about other topics (N = 54), and it published all 8 negative blog stories. USA Today did not publish a single negative story throughout the five years examined.

Additional findings in terms of each research question follow:

RQ1: When did the innovation of blogs enter the media conversation?

The first year the term blog, blogger, weblog, or web log entered the lexicon of the media in this study was 2000. Table 1 provides a detailed picture of each medium and the two story types for each year. The first medium to make reference to a blog was CNN which, on 8 July, 2000, aired a story that took a stab at defining the innovation. The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today also made their first references to blogs in 2000 while FOX News’ first mention was in 2002. ABC News did not mention blogs until 2003. The total number of stories in 2004 (N = 652) represented 66% of the total number of stories (N = 994) for all the years under study.

In 2000, CNN and The New York Times each had a story specifically about blogs. In 2001, CNN aired 1 story; The New York Times and USA Today each published 2 stories about blogs. Other stories referred to blogs, bloggers, or blogging in some way–although the story itself was not about blogs. (For example, in a story about the presidential campaign of 2004, a blogger was used as a source, or information from a particular political blog was included in the story.) The first such references occurred in 2000 with National Public Radio and USA Today each producing 1 story.

RQ2: In what context were the media talking about blogs?

As previously noted, the number of stories about blogs totaled 184 (18%) and the remaining 810 (82%) stories were about other topics, although these articles mentioned blogs or blogging. The context of the blog references in the latter category of articles was examined in terms of Stempel’s (1985) 14 news story types. A discussion of the findings in terms of these categories of news follows:

When the media referenced blogs in stories devoted to other news topics (N = 810), it was most often when the story was about popular amusements (N = 267, 33%). Stories about politics and government acts comprised the second largest category of stories in which blogs were mentioned (N = 213, 26%). Articles about popular amusements appeared more in The New York Times than any other medium (N = 131, 49%), and NPR led all other media in political coverage that also included reference(s) to blogs (N = 77, 36%). The other story topics were sprinkled among the remaining categories with the exception of agriculture, which did not appear in this sample.

As reported previously, when the stories were about blogs (N = 184) three themes were found: 23 (13%) of the articles provided information that explained blogs and blogging as a phenomenon, 116 (63%) stories described people’s uses, and 45 (24%) or the articles discussed the effects of blogs.

In order to further examine the context of the media’s discussion about blogs, we also coded the information about blogs as news or opinion. Note: the format was coded in terms of how the information about blogs was presented in the stories, and not whether the entire story was presented as news or opinion. If the information about blogs was objective and fact-based, it was coded as news; if, however, the information contained subjective statement(s) about blogs, it was coded as opinion. The overall findings reveal that of the 994 stories in the sample, 558 (56%) blog references were coded as news and 436 (44%) of the references were opinion. When the stories dealt exclusively with blogs as the news focus (N = 184), this study found the reference to blogs was stated more as news (N = 114, 62%), which compares to opinion (N = 70, 38%). Other findings relative to this research question generally are unremarkable. For example, information about blogs–whether presented as news or opinion–was notably non-critical; thus, differences between news and opinion do not reveal much.

RQ3: Does the media discussion about blogs change over time?

The stories about blogs that provided audiences with general information about the innovation (coded as background) began slowly with 1 story in 2000 (CNN) and 1 in 2001 (NYT). The first and only story concerning blogs that The New York Times published in 2000 described people’s various uses; The New York Times produced another such story in 2001. In 2002 stories concerning different uses of blogs numbered only 17 compared to 3 background stories. However, a flurry of coverage about people’s uses began in 2003 with 43 such stories, outnumbering the background theme (11). While the background coverage declined to 7 stories in 2004, stories about uses increased to 51. This is consistent with previous research that found media increasingly covered the usefulness of technological innovations.

Noteworthy is that media in this study did little to examine the effects or impact of blogs, which also is supported in previous scholarship about media coverage of technology. For instance, stories about the effects of blogs (N = 45), accounted for only 24% of the total stories about blogs (N = 184). As noted, it was not until 2003 that other media besides The New York Times discussed blogs in terms of this theme. For example, The New York Times, the first medium to discuss the effects of blogs, presented a story in 2002 about a rift between veteran bloggers and war bloggers.34 While stories about blogs with both the effects and uses themes increased each year, the rate of increase from 2003 to 2004 was much greater for the effects theme, from 8 stories to 33 stories.

This study also found that coverage about and references to blogs increased each year from 2000 to 2004 for each of the media examined. The first major increase occurred during 2002 when the rate of increase in stories published jumped 380% (from 5 to 24). The New York Times led the coverage with 19 stories–13 of which explained the various ways in which people were using blogs. The total number of stories about blogs increased again in 2003, but the rate of increase was starting to slow (158%, from 24 to 62 total stories). That year The New York Times and National Public Radio produced more stories about blogs than the other media with 19 and 17, respectively. The rate of increase in numbers of stories about blogs continued to decline from 2003 to 2004 (47%), although the total numbers of stories increased again. Of the 91 total stories devoted to blogs in 2004, The New York Times published 51 (44% of the stories for that year). In fact, for all the years under study, The New York Times led the way in coverage about blogs with 102 total articles or nearly 45% of the total. Fox News produced the least: 3 stories about blogs, the first of which aired in 2003.

From 2000 to 2004, stories about other topics that contained a reference(s) to blogs showed dramatic increases (N = 810). The New York Times jumped out ahead with 10 of the 13 stories that mentioned blogs in 2001. In fact, for each year thereafter, The New York Times referenced blogs in articles more than any other medium.

A marked increase in total numbers of stories that mentioned blogs occurred from 2002 to 2003 when the total quadrupled (414%). And although the overall rate of increase declined from 2003 to 2004 (186%), the total numbers of stories with blog references in 2004 grew from 196 to 561. ABC News did not refer to blogs until 2003 and contributed less than 1% of the total number of articles that contained references to blogs for all the years in the sample.

Conclusion

“All human creation is the equivalent of a blog by a hobbyist with a day job,” declared an editorial writer on 23 February, 2001.35 This story had followed a “warning” a few months earlier when readers were told about “the invasion of the blog.”36 Thus began The New York Times’ conversation about blogs. Indeed, during the first few years of the 21st century, blogs and blogging were increasingly attracting the attention of the media examined in our study.37 In this manner the media were serving the important knowledge stage function in diffusion theory when potential adopters are learning about an innovation. These findings also are consistent with previous diffusion studies that found the success of an innovation relates to the extent of the media coverage about it.

As we expected in Hypothesis 2, our study found the media to increasingly describe the ways people were using blogs. Such uses are too numerous to list, although a sampling of some of the topics about which people were blogging includes: the subway stops in New York City,38 the 2002 baseball strike,39 Brazilian soap opera characters,40 the Garden State,41 and philanthropy.42

Interesting is that the total number of articles that reported on how people were using blogs resembles the S-shaped curve that is widely used in Roger’s diffusion theory to denote the typical rate of adoption of a new innovation (see Figure 1). In S-shape fashion, the adoption of an innovation will grow slowly at the beginning, to be followed by a period of rapid growth that eventually tapers off to stability and ultimate decline.43 Similar to Rogers’ application of the S-shape model to describe the cumulative number of diffusion articles that were published from 1962 to 2003,44 our study found the numbers of stories about people’s uses of blogs to follow the same pattern. Stories about people’s uses of blogs rapidly increased over time: 153% from 2002 to 2003 (from 17 to 43 stories), but from 2003 to 2004 the rate of increase slowed appreciably, from 43 to 51, or less than 19%. The fact that the media slowed discussion of the uses of the innovation suggests its role of providing knowledge about blogs was maturing. In that regard, we predict people’s uses of blogs will garner little news interest in the future.

Throughout the five years under study the media provided background information about the innovation, although not in the quantity we expected to find in Hypothesis 1. These stories described the new terminology, detailed the necessary tools to begin a blog, explained the design of the pages, and made references to the increasing numbers of blogs in existence. This inconsistency with previous research merits further investigation as the acceleration of technological innovations may be decreasing the media’s role to provide background information about them.

Our findings also are consistent with other diffusion research in that media were singularly uncritical about the innovation, as Hypothesis 4 predicted. This is important during the awareness-knowledge stage of the innovation-decision process, because, according to Rogers, potential adopters are receiving crucial information as they gain an understanding about the innovation, and as they begin to form an attitude toward it.45 That media outlets established their own blogs not only suggests their acceptance of blogs, but adds credibility to the innovation. As Trammell and Keshelashvili noted, a relatively small group of high-profile bloggers strongly and positively influenced the public’s perception of blogs, which our findings also suggest.46 The function of bloggers on blogging is a direction future research should take.

Our study identified key news events that sparked media attention to blogs: the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Iraqi War, the 2004 presidential election campaign, and so-called “memogate,” the Dan Rather/CBS News broadcast that relied on dubious documents that questioned President George W. Bush’s military record. In terms of Hypothesis 4, a common theme expressed in many of the stories was that blogs had a positive impact on news coverage. An example of this sentiment is found in “Fear and Laptops on the Campaign Trail,” in which political bloggers at the national convention are enthusiastically described.47 In general media were telling their audiences that bloggers are contributing to the news by: providing additional commentary, uncovering new information, and questioning mainstream media coverage. Noteworthy also is the praise bloggers received from media throughout the 2004 election campaign–and until the bitter end. A typical example: The New York Times observed that while anchors were overly-cautious during election night reporting, bloggers were in the forefront with the earliest results.48 The highly visible role of the blogs in the political coverage appears to be repeating itself as the 2008 election approaches. We predict that blogging will only increase in importance as the news media landscape continues to change, which merits investigation.

We found little evidence that media were examining the impact of blogging on society, as Hypothesis 3 anticipated. However, by the year 2003, increasingly–although not in large numbers–some media attention finally turned to the effects of the innovation: on society, on journalism, on politics, on blogging itself. One issue that attracted some media interest centered on privacy issues, most particularly in terms of how teenagers were divulging personal information on blogs.49 Other concerns about the blogging phenomenon that drew media attention–though scant–included worries about people’s obsession with blogs,50 the increasing influence of blogs on the book-publishing world,51 and how blogs affect the language,52journalism, and the media.53 We were surprised that so little media attention focused on the effects of blogging on journalism and democracy, although important scholarship is beginning to assess the impact of blogging on the rapidly expanding and multifaceted news and information environment.54

Although the study of the diffusion of technological innovations has increasingly drawn the attention of scholars in the past two decades, no studies have focused as extensively on the knowledge stage as this study has done. By analyzing the content of news in terms of the information it provided about blogs, we have shown that media served the important function of providing knowledge about blogs as an innovation. Although Rogers has stressed the importance of interpersonal communication channels as people form and change attitudes toward new ideas and innovations, without the mass media information about the innovation would not reach a large audience, nor would knowledge and information about the innovation rapidly spread.55 Also, according to diffusion scholars, the objective number of users of an innovation is less important than the perceived number, which potential adopters are learning about at the knowledge stage.56 As our study establishes, media certainly contributed to the perception that this innovation was being adopted as evidenced by the increasing numbers of stories about blogs–especially those that described the various ways people were using them–as well as the many references to blogs contained in stories about other topics each year.

Our study has shed light on the media’s role in the spread of information about the innovation of blogging, although further investigation into the role of interpersonal communication within the knowledge stage would expand understanding of how potential adopters are learning about innovations. For this avenue of research we recommend Dick’s resonance model for the adoption of innovations, which calls for incorporating a more flexible time line, a greater sensitivity to the interaction between and among adopters, the consideration of smaller scale adopters, and adopter attrition.57

In 1986 Rogers rhetorically wondered why communications scholars had not studied the telephone in the growing field of communication research during the 1950s. Rogers then offered two reasons: 1) because by the 1950s the telephone was a ubiquitous communication technology, and scholars chose to investigate television, the new technological wonder of the time; 2) most importantly, scholars ignored the telephone because–as an interactive technology–it did not “fit the primary thrust of communication research and theory . . . of one-to-many mass communication.”58 Rogers equated the telephone with the new “cybernetic communication”.59 because both share as a primary characteristic interactivity among the participants. Rogers also asserted that computer technology raises interactivity to heightened levels in the communication process.60 Because blogs elevate interactivity to even greater heights, future research would benefit from Rogers’ convergence model using network analysis. Convergence analysis would contribute to a better understanding of the blogging phenomenon by identifying the properties within the communication structure of the system, which is composed in the aggregate of individual respondents’ network links. In Rogers’ words, “Network analysis requires an overview of an entire communication structure . . . an emphasis upon holistic interaction.”61

Thus, we would underscore Rogers’ call for a conceptual change in the framework of diffusion theory in future research–one that incorporates a network analysis approach for studying interactive communication and emphasizes holistic interaction. As our research has shown, the media certainly were paying attention to the innovation; however, the confluence of media with the conversations people were having about blogs merits investigation. Moreover, the phenomenon of blogging offers researchers the unique opportunity to change the direction in diffusion research–missed by the scholarly community who ignored the telephone as an object for investigation more than a half century ago.


Dr. Nanette Hogg is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the multimedia area. Dr. Carol Lomicky, professor of journalism, teaches in the Department of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Kearney primarily in the area of media law, mass communication theory and research. She also serves as the associate dean of Graduate Studies and Research. Dr. Syed Hossain is an associate professor in the Management Science Department in the Rider University, New Jersey. This article is a revision of a paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication national conference in San Francisco in August, 2006. The authors acknowledge Dr. Ruth Brown, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, for her contributions to the initial paper.

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