Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Blog about the Kaiser Family Foundation's Conference on Health Policy Blogging

The Kaiser Family Foundation sponsored a 1 ½ hr conference on the influence of health blogs on policy debates and journalism. While you can access the webcast here, the Disease Management Care Blog is pleased to post this blog about bloggers who talked about their blogging.

HHS Secretary Leavitt confesses to being an inveterate blogger. He got hooked because he’s been a long term fan of the web and recalled that as a former Governor, he found placing State services online turned out to be user-friendly, efficient and welcomed by his constituents, He also likes to write and uses writing to help clarify his thinking about issues and policy. He started blogging as a 6 week experiment and he’s still going strong. He can feel secure in blogging because as Secretary he is the official spokesperson for HHS. His twice-a-week posts consume about two hours a week while in trains, planes, automobiles and hotel rooms. There is no vetting’ by HHS staff, but he has a writer to help with grammar and punctuation. He is careful to solicit feedback prior to posting anything and has gotten advice to think again which sometimes leads him to withhold an article. Responses on the blog are moderated and other than three exceptions, all have been posted. Most are informed, many are insightful and some have even helped him change his thinking. His blog helps the staff at HHS who can use it as a library of ideas. He also believes his blog-based communications are more likely to be read than traditional print channels. Mr. Leavitt mentioned one person in HHS already has an official avatar in SecondLife. He has little doubt blogs will be a significant force in the formulation of public policy in the future.

At the conclusion of the Secretary’s remarks, there was a Panel Discussion moderated by Kaiser’s Vicky Rideout.

Michael Canon of the Cato Institute noted that he and his organization blog because their mission is to carry a torch for their libertarian ideas. They hope they educate interested readers about the finer points how they think government should operate. The ‘turnaround’ is also far quicker; when an issue comes up, there is no ginning up press releases or op eds. Yes, it’s easier in blogs to be vicious and half-cocked. Yet,talk radio or investigative reporters can be just as distasteful - so blogs are prone to being just as guilty but not more so. Blogging can change minds but he thinks that happens among the bloggers, thanks to ‘cross pollination.’ No mention of whether anyone is more libertarian if they subscribe. He also agreed that health policy blogs, despite the reputation for democratizing the public square, interact very little with other types of health blogs, for example, with persons with who write about their struggles with diabetes or docs that write about their experiences.

Ezra Klein of the American Prospect blogs because his organization knows media is changing. As mainstream media become increasingly shallow thanks to collapsing news cycles and attention spans, his blog offers considerable liberal depth for the interested news consumer. After all, in blogs, there is no scarcity of space, only content. Accordingly, Ezra can not only write insightful long articles but set them up as ongoing conversations that create relationships between the writer and the readers. He estimates his site gets about 50,000 unique hits a week and believes his readership consists of persons between 30-40 years of age, probably office workers who complete their morning tasks and use the late morning or lunch hour to read his posts. He also finds his posts are the gifts that keep on giving, because they often continue to get quoted long after they are posted or the news cycle has runs its course. He thinks his readership ‘tilts’ male and white which may be someone ironic for the supposedly diverse blogsphere. Yet, he also notes that it is too easy for persons from diverse backgrounds to become sorted into bloggycubbyholes based on race and gender. To him, the blog coin of the realm is feedback. He also notes that people cannot resist Googling their own names and that writing about or quoting people in blogs invariably draws them to your site – which not only increases traffic but enhances your visibility among opinion leaders. Blogs also get considerable media attention and, depending on the topic or circumstances, can generate embarrassing partisan feeding frenzies. Ultimately, once key difference from traditional media is that blogs speak not from ‘authority’ but ‘sourcing.’ He’s also not worried about any negative impact from blogging on public discourse because it can’t get any worse.

Jacob Goldstein of WSJ blogs because it fits with the Journal’s newsprint mission: explain the world clearly and insightfully. Someone else could do it, but this blog would prefer to be the one doing it. Blogs serve to aggregate content for both readers of the Journal as well as nonsubscribers. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t disclose traffic statistics, but it’s enough to meet the Journal’s ’desires.’ Its preferred style is to write as ‘an insider’ and he thinks that’s more effective than the what-where-when-why and how of traditional reporting.

John McDonough of Healthcare For All (in Massachusetts) blogs to overcome the superficial treatment of healthcare by the media and to communicate an important point of view about access to insurance. He described his site as a ‘diary’ of health care reform in Massachusetts that aggregates or ‘stitches things’ or links things together, such as documents and op-eds. He also hopes he has created a ‘community’ of about 1000 like-minded readers a day. Conversations on his site can turn into ‘pie throwing,’ but even that’s an opportunity to correct misimpressions. He notes blogging may not change minds but he derives some satisfaction by drawing attention to topics that are relevant. As a blogger, he finds anonymous posts are annoying but that’s not necessarily different from talk radio where persons can also talk anonymously. He believes blogging has helped changed some Massachusetts’ insurers’ minds. Finally, he thinks blogs accelerate the political process because legislators are reading about themselves.

Tom Rosenstiel is a media expert who described blogs as ‘muffins,’ distinguished more by their shape than content. He notes bloggers typically think of themselves as activists, much like soldiers in an army. Blogs have big implications for mainstream journalism, which is slowly moving online anyway. He’s not sure what media will look like in 25 years and he’s not confident that print will continue to exist at all. For example, many newspapers nowadays have ½ of their readership on line. There are 30 million unique visitors a month for these newspaper sites and the numbers are growing. He suggests blog readers are heavy news consumers who use blogs to extend the news they consume. In surveys, 50% of blog readers say they read a blog once a day and 80% say monthly. Despite those impressive numbers, however, keep in mind that 90% view daily TV news. In his mind blogs are distinguished by opinion and aggregation. They are typically conversational not observational, but there are there some exceptions such as pharma and politics where blogs have broken new news. Yes, blogs skew to a young, male and educated and are therefore open to being elitist. Blogs won’t necessarily help inform the public, because ‘more’ isn’t necessary ‘better.’ One factor that may distinguish policy blogs from personal diary blogs is whether there is appreciable advertising revenue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Recently published on: www.beforeyoutakethatpill.com

The Prevention of Ignorance

Historically, information sources provided to American citizens were limited due to the few methods available to the public, such as radio, TV, or news print. And also this information was subject to being filtered and, in some cases, delayed. This occurred for a number of reasons, which included political ones.

Now, and with arguably great elation, there is the internet, which can be rather beneficial for the average citizen.

Soon after the advent of the internet well over a decade ago, web logs were created, that are now termed ‘blogs’. At that time the blogs were referred to as personal journals or diaries visible on line. As time passed, blogs became a media medium, and blog communities evolved into addressing topics that often were not often addressed in mainstream media, as they crossed previously existing political and social lines. In addition, blogs provide immediate contributions by others, the readers of the posts of the blog authors, instead of the cumbersomeness of opinion and editorial pieces historically and not always presented in such media forms as newspapers or magazines.

The authors of blogs vary as far as their backgrounds and intent of what they choose to address on their blogs exactly, just as with other media forms. Some are employed by the very media sources that existed before them.

Furthermore, they are not exonerated from the legalities of what is written, such as cases of libel. While we can presume that bloggers like to write, they may not be quality writers, yet several are in fact journalists, as well as doctors and lawyers, for example. But to write is to think, which I believe is a good quality one should have.

Yet presently, blogs have become quite a driving force for those with objectives and issues often opposed by others, and therefore have become a serious threat to others. These others may be politicians, our government, or corporations- all of which have been known to monitor the content of certain blogs of concern to them for their potential to negatively affect their image or their activities previously undisclosed. This is why blogs, on occasion, have become a media medium for whistleblowers, which will be addressed further in a moment.

While one disadvantage of blogs is the potential lack of reliability, blogs however do allow in addition to the comments of its readers the posting of authentic internal or confidential documents that typically are not created to be viewed by the public, yet are acquired by certain bloggers. For example, blogger Dr. Peter Rost, a whistleblower himself, not long ago posted a newsletter published by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on his blog site, and this newsletter was given to him by AstraZeneca's employees who called themselves the ‘AZ Group of Seven’- with the intent of this group being to bring to the attention of others the illegal activity of off-label promotion of one of AZ’s cancer drugs promoted by their employer. Yet this particular concern by AZ seven, by surprise, is not what caught the attention of so many who viewed the posted newsletter by Dr. Rost and was read with great interest by others. It was instead a comment included in this newsletter that was stated by former regional AZ manager Mike Zubalagga, who was being interviewed by a district manager in this newsletter. Mr. Zubalagga, who in this newsletter posted on Dr Rost's blog site, referred to doctors’ offices as ‘buckets of money’, which caught the attention of several readers. This and other statements by this man were in fact published in this newsletter clearly not reviewed before its publication.

Again, the statement and the newsletter created by AZ was indeed authentic and further validated due to the content being in the written word, which added credibility.

Mr. Zubalagga was fired the next day due to this ‘buckets of money’ comment due to the effect it had on the image of his employer. His manager resigned soon afterwards from AZ.

Blogs, one can safely conclude, reveal secrets.

And there have been other whistleblower cases on various blogs in addition to this one described a moment ago, which illustrates the power of blogs as being a very powerful and threatening media medium of valid information disclosure that others cannot prevent from occurring.

This, in my opinion, is true freedom of information- largely free of embellishments or selective omissions. It’s a step towards communication utopia, perhaps, yet a force that has the ability to both harm and protect many others.

Yet again, the information on these blogs should not be taken as absolute truth without proof to verify claims that may be made, as with other media sources. Of course, documents that are authentic is an example of a good validation source. And this, in my opinion, is the blog’s greatest value, combined with the comments on blogs from the growing number of readers who are allowed to contribute to the subject matter so quickly, which fuels the objectives of the blogs, which may be a type of Socratic learning.

Like other written statements, some on such internet sites are composed with respect of the written word. Others are not. It's the freedom that may be most appealing of this new medium which has the ability to convert citizens into journalists who want to contribute to an issue of their concern they share with the blogger often with great conviction and accuracy.

Because we, the public, have a right to know what we are entitled to know and what we want to know. This is especially true if the information disclosed on blogs could potentially be adverse to our well-being.

Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.

“Information is the seed of an idea, and only grows when it’s watered.” --- Heinz V. Berger

Dan Abshear