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The year in issues: Role of the blog
The US elections, the insurgency in Iraq, Yasser Arafat's death, this year had its big news stories. But what else made a splash in 2004?

The BBC News website looks at some of the issues that got the pundits pondering this year. Click on the links below to find out more.

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Obesity

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World War II

Role of the blog



Role of the blog

The noun blog - from web log - first surfaced in 1999 to describe a personal website where an author regularly posted his or her views on anything that took their fancy.

Book of the Baghdad Blog
Salam Pax has been an inspiration to many bloggers

In the years since, millions of webwise writers around the world have created their own blogs where tributes to stomach surgery vie for attention with life in war-torn Baghdad. But it was in 2004 that debate about the role of the political blog and its impact on society really got under way.

To many blog triumphalists, the blog's coming of age was epitomised by the invitation of their authors to the Democrat and Republican electoral conventions over the summer.

Feasting at the same table as reporters from illustrious publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post was, they believed, concrete evidence that political elites realised the influence of the pyjama pundits. Mainstream media outlets were no longer the only ones who needed to be wooed.

And this was the face of things to come, argued prominent blogger Dan Gillmor in his book this year on the subject.

"The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone's voice, not just the few who can afford to buy multimillion-dollar printing presses, launch satellites, or win the government's permission to squat on the public airways," he wrote.

Certainly, blogs have become particularly prominent in countries when there are few outlets for political expression. A frequently cited example is Iran, where the conservative authorities have clearly been rattled by the young diarists and online commentators who are filling the vacuum left behind when reformist newspapers are shut down.

A snap of Wonkette
Wonkette was at the Democratic convention

China is thought to have several hundred bloggers operating in a similarly precarious political environment, while the recent crisis in Ukraine brought ever more diarists to share their views on the situation to the web. They provide food for thought not just for readers within their own country, but - like the famous Baghdad blogger Salam Pax - a gateway into their world for foreigners.

Salam Pax, who has hung up his blogging boots and writes regularly for the UK's Guardian newspaper, is now virtually a household name.

But to the bloggers who believe their role is to challenge the media establishment, incorporation into the mainstream is tantamount to internet heresy. In their eyes, those bloggers at the US political conventions ceased to be bloggers the moment they accepted their accreditation.

"Blogging is already being domesticated by its success," wrote Whiskey Bar blogger Billmon Billmon in the mass-selling Los Angeles Times. "What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise."

"Bloggers aren't the first, and won't be the last, rebellious critics to try to storm the castle only to be invited to come inside and make themselves at home."

In any case, as bloggers rarely go out and about, many of those who comment on the world at large get their information from mainstream news sources. But the relationship is increasingly symbiotic: journalists for their part increasingly use blogs as a barometer for how much coverage a topic deserves - however dismissive they may sound of the burgeoning number of modern Samuel Pepys.

Nonetheless, hacks remain safe in their jobs for the time being. The number of people reading even the most influential online diarists is tiny - the top political blog receives just 0.0051% of all net visits, according to figures from web influence ranking firm HitWise released this year.




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