Black Hills State University will host a panel presentation about blogging featuring media experts from the region Thursday, Feb. 26 at 3:30 p.m. in Jonas Hall room 305.

The panel discussion will feature regional media blogging experts including Kevin Woster, Bill Fleming, and Bill Harlan. Woster is a reporter for the Rapid City Journal who also monitors and posts blogs to Mount Blogmore, a blog on the Rapid City Journal online site. Harlan was one of the initiators of the Mount Blogmore site and is now information officer for Sanford Laboratory in Lead. Fleming is a writer, designer, and advertising agency owner from Rapid City. He is also an active blog participant on Mount Blogmore and other sites.

The panel discussion is the finale for Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser’s year-long ground-breaking research on political blogs. The research was conducted at the following regional news sites during 2008: Rapid City Journal, Mount Blogmore; Billings Gazette, On the Margins; Denver Post, Washington & the West; and  Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Big Question. The research explores the contribution of citizen media blogging to democratic participation and a political public sphere during the most recent presidential election year. The study is focusing on whether participation in blogging engages citizens in the democratic process and/or contributes to their civic learning.

Caton-Rosser, assistant professor of mass communication at BHSU, led the research. She was assisted by Dee Sleep, graduate student research assistant; Caylen Groen-Jones, Rapid City, and Heather Smith, Belle Fourche, who both recently graduated from BHSU, and LiTing Sun, a sophomore mass communication student from Rapid City who serves as a copy editor for the BHSU student newspaper; Odessa Backen, a sophomore art major from Spearfish; and Alicia McNeary, a freshman English major from Spearfish.

Caton-Rosser says that media have historically been relied upon as effective and primary tools for engaging people in democratic practice, however, that begin to change dramatically as people turned to blogs during the most recent presidential election. The research contributes to a ground-breaking body of literature on the political blogging phenomenon and its effects on the democratic process.

A presentation on the findings was featured in virtual Internet presentation at the Fifth International Conference on Technology, Knowledge and Society in January, and the material is currently being considered for publication.

“In the recent presidential election year in the United States, a widely-criticized trend of a democratically estranged public is being tested by ordinary citizens who are accessing social learning networks, such as blogs, on the Internet. The number of blogs has risen phenomenally in recent years, from mere hundreds at the turn of the century to currently, tens of thousands. Blogs are an inexpensive and non-commercialized tool of communication among ordinary citizens, as well as, professional journalists, editors, politicians and business and community leaders,” Caton-Rosser says.

She notes that the rapidly expanding cyber terrain of the Internet blogosphere was especially visible and popular during the election year, making it an important and interesting time to study blogs. Examples of the trend of growth and use are political webpages that use blogs as political forums, and hard-copy newspapers with interactive websites hosting largely uncensored citizen-response blogs.

“While the blogosphere has been criticized as a space that contributes to overwhelming amounts of unsubstantiated information, the opportunities for citizen participation and access are wide open. Learning takes place and opinions are formed and reformed in the vast exchange of ideas,” Caton-Rosser says. “Because blogging is a new communication frontier, there is little research completed in the field.”

This project was supported by a grant from Black Hills State University and the Chiesman Endowment for Democracy.