What Readers (May) Want

A little over two months ago, I embarked on a study of consumer perceptions of political blogs. I’ve held it back for a while, to allow my paper to be marked without prejudicing the results and to properly format the paper for online viewing. Now that I’ve received my grades, I’m able to release the paper in its entirety.

This is it: Consumer perceptions of political blogging

Before you read it, though, I urge you to read the following section.

Disclaimer and shortcomings

The research findings shouldn’t be considered as gospel…or even a sound academic paper. I prefer to think of it as a series of guidelines for bloggers, and a compass for future research. While consumer perceptions of blogging is an underdeveloped field in Singapore, I don’t think this paper can make up for that lack of knowledge. I would rather it be a catalyst for future research into the field, as well as other fields brought up in the research findings. In addition, with just 33 complete responses, the survey I conducted probably isn’t representative of Singapore at large. But it’s all the data I had, and I had to run with it.

I strongly suspect the paper would have been different if I had come across this study before writing it. It would have shaken up Chapter 2 for sure. Unfortunately, I only stumbled across it after submission. Still, my report findings correspond to the study’s conclusions.

My teacher had two comments about the paper that the reader needs to be aware of.

1. “‘The five research questions will be answered through a questionnaire …’. This is incorrect, The RQ are to be addressed in the literature review, data collection and analysis etc.”

Well, fair enough. It’s something to take note of while reading the paper.

2. “The literature review explores the current state of blogging and online activism but does not explore any theories or earlier findings about this topic. Therefore, this report is more of a ‘market survey’ which is not what is required by this subject.”

I would disagree with this statement. The literature review highlighted three theories: political blogging as alternative journalism, political blogging as a reaction to the failures of mainstream media, and political blogging as a form of activism. However, I think the theories were not brought out explicitly enough. The review was organised along various themes uncovered by my research, instead of those theories. This could have contributed to this perception.

My teacher also said that, because of the paper’s shortcomings, the paper isn’t complete by academic standards. I would agree…so cite it at your own peril.

The paper is 23 pages long (19 if you exclude the cover page, foreword and copyright notice). In case you don’t have the time to read it all, the next section presents the main findings of the report.

Executive summary

Perceptions of bloggers

Respondents tend to view political bloggers in a positive light. 93.9% of respondents believe Singaporean political bloggers are up-to-date, and 90.9% feel they provide alternative views. 78.8% think they are entertaining, 81.8% feel that they are engaging, and 84.4% feel they are insightful. Two-thirds of the respondents believe that blogs are credible, citing quality of research, alternative perspectives, and cogent arguments. 72.7% of respondents agree with the blogs they follow, the top three reasons being agreement with personal views, expression of alternative views, and quality of research. None of the respondents disagreed with bloggers, and one respondent felt that bloggers were not credible. That person said that she felt some bloggers took up blogging for personal reasons, as opposed to the reasons they stated.

Perceptions of mainstream media

Respondents tend to have a negative view of the news presented by the mainstream media. 33.3% felt it was well-researched, 27.3% felt it was entertaining, 30.3% felt it was insightful, and 9.1% felt it provided alternative views. The strengths of the mainstream media seem to lie in accuracy (39.4% agreement) and being up-to-date (84.8%).

35.5% of respondents felt the mainstream media were credible, saying that most media reports were factual and the mainstream media checks facts before publication. Respondents who said the mainstream media was not credible felt the mainstream media was government-controlled and used as a propaganda machine.

22.6% of the respondents agreed with the mainstream media. Respondents who agreed with the mainstream media said it covers a range of views and subjects, in addition to the facts it reports. Virtually all the respondents who disagreed with the mainstream media also said the mainstream media is used for propaganda and/or is censored.

Comparison to the mainstream media

Most respondents don’t see a reason to compare political blogs and the mainstream media. 72.7% of respondents stated that there is no basis for comparing blogs and the mainstream media, with the rest believing that blogs were superior. Some of the former group of respondents turn to the mainstream media for news reports and the Government’s positions on key issues, and read blogs to read alternative views and analyses of various affairs. The respondents who felt blogs were better stated that blogs provided alternative views. It seems that perceptions of the mainstream media do not influence perceptions of political bloggers.

Suggestions for bloggers

The top four recommendations are: do more research (60.6%), cover current events and express original views more often (54.5% each), and to be more objective (48.5%). Other suggestions raised include: checking facts, being more concise, and improving writing styles.

Some respondents chose ‘express original views’ and ‘be more objective’ at the same time. These options, from a journalistic perspective, seem contradictory. According to the journalistic definition, objectivity means presenting every aspect of a story without inserting the writer’s personal opinions. Some respondents who chose ‘be more objective’ felt that bloggers should stop personal attacks and instead present facts. I think some respondents define ‘objective’ in the way one would describe a good academic argument: an opinion backed by verifiable facts and free of logical fallacies, which explains the apparent contradiction.

Conclusions

While consumers think highly of political bloggers, they also think there is room for improvement. It is striking that the areas the respondents have identified for improvement correspond to sound journalistic practices. Especially sound alternative journalistic practices. This is seen in the desire for research and expression of original views, which are hallmarks of alternative journalism around the world. It seems that the future of Singapore’s political bloggers lie in alternative journalism.

Final thoughts

This survey is only representative of what some readers may want from bloggers. The study isn’t what it should have been. In spite of it all, though, what people want is basically better quality writing. I reckon every blogger out there can aspire to that.