05 August 2008

Can Bloggers REALLY Affect Health Policy?

Last week my colleague Bill Pierce attended a Kaiser Family Foundation event: 'The Health Blogosphere: What it Means for Policy Debates and Journalism." Bill is APCO Worldwide's resident health policy blogger at Virtual Vantage Points, and he had an interesting take on the event.

I was particularly struck by three points he made. First, his declaration of the existence of a "mainstream blogger" - an oxymoron if I ever saw one:
The group, while very impressive and interesting, represented the mainstream of bloggers and the blogosphere, all of them worked for an established media outlet or organization. This in and of itself is an amazing statement. Five years ago there was no mainstream blogosphere it was all way outside the box. We’ve come a long way. But I think there should have been some non-mainstream represented. That was clearly missing.
I'd be curious to know who he thinks qualifies as a "non-mainstream" blogger on health policy. I'll have to ask him. Second, the impact the blogosphere has had on the media:
The blogosphere... has not, and I do not believe will, change the very nature of news, analysis, and information sharing, but its impact has been profound and it will continue to change how we get information. First, and perhaps most importantly, it has forced old style print, TV and radio to rethink how they do business and their business model.
This reminds me of the ideas Richard Stacy and others have posited - the advent of personal publishing and individual content generation has had a profound impact on the media business. No surprise there. But I was most struck by this:
Tom Rosenstiel made an important point. While the blogosphere has expanded the debate, provided a different point of view and added a new medium to get information out into the public arena, it hasn’t changed human nature. We still need to sort out the information we have in making decisions, reaching conclusions or coming to an answer. The blogosphere has not changed this point, nor made this easier. It may have made it more difficult by increasing the volume and decreasing our ability to understand the source.
So the blogosphere has now reduced the barriers to entry not only of the media industry, but in policy development itself. I'm not talking about the more-heat-than-light political blogosphere where blogs focus on the foibles of the opposing team but the community of thought leaders who care less about party affiliation than pragmatic solutions. I think this is an outstanding development - as a guy who's worked in health care and in Washington, I can say without reservation that health policy could definitely use an infusion of new ideas from new perspectives.

However, I still sense an inside-the-beltway, knee-jerk reaction about "understanding the source" here that fits well with the "mainstream" blogger idea Bill mentioned. It's akin to the "Missing Dean Acheson" column David Brooks wrote last week, lamenting the downfall of a "permanent bipartisan governing class in Washington." It's the idea that position within corridors of power implies credibility.

I will be discussing this Brooks column at length in a future post.

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