Blogs and Trent Lott

This is a post from a different project of mine which didn’t work out. I’ll publish some of the items over the next couple of days, as they never went live.

An academic paper published by Chris Wright at Georgetown University (it’s a PDF – here’s Google’s HTML cache) studies the effect of web logs in the fall of Trent Lott after the Republican Senate leader commented on Strom Thurmond in late 2002.

In December 2002, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott said that if Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 on a segregationist platform, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.” For four days, the press all but ignored his comments — the New York Times, for instance, failed to mention them.

The story looked ready to disappear into the ether. Then, all at once, the remarks were front-page news. Even President Bush scolded Lott, saying his words “do not reflect the spirit of our country.” Why did Lott’s comments become a major story despite initially not registering with the mainstream press? This paper argues that online media, particularly running commentaries known as “Web logs,” were critical in keeping the story alive. What does this portend for journalism’s future? Was it merely an isolated incident? Or will cyberjournalists’ clout continue to increase — at the expense of the establishment press?

Blogs won’t ever be able to replace the mainstream media, at least not until they can send reporters around the world to cover stories firsthand, but they are playing a greater role in news coverage each week.