The blogosphere - or at any rate the very tiny bit of it I manage to read - is in a lather over whether it is beginning to overtake newspapers in influence and impact. A meeting of Westminster Skeptics tonight will hear from four renowned bloggers of left and right, and one dead tree press journo (the excellent Nick Cohen) on this very question. To add to the debate, prominent Tory website, the independent Conservative Home, is parading a poll that shows it now has more influence than the Daily Telegraph. 96% of its survey read Conservative Home compared to just 56% for the apparently ailing Torygraph. Impressive, until you consider that the survey was just 155 people, all Tory candidates in the most 'winnable' seats. So Conservative Home's influence is pretty good with a select group of people polled by the website itself.
Of course the rise of the political blogs has had an impact - albeit a fairly marginal one at the moment - on politics. The problem for most bloggers is that their material is scanned more than read. The average reader may visit their favourite couple of blogs for a few minutes during the course of a bit of web searching. For the blogs to maintain any sort of position, their posts are necessarily short and opinionated. Most blogs are one-person operations lacking the resources of a media organisation*. There is a democratic element to blogging - it is a healthy and egalitarian exercise in a pluralist democracy, and the internet generally has absolutely impacted on the nation's political conversation, giving access to a wider array of unmediated voices, and instant communication possibilities by a huge variety of pressure groups. But the overall influence remains significantly limited, as illustrated by the fact that the single most important, most explosive, most game-changing political story of the year was of course broken by a mainstream newspaper with substantial resources to buy it. The Telegraph's exposure of MPs' expenses. The blogs have a long way to go before they're playing at that level.
* One interesting exception is Conservative Home, and its aggregating sister site, Politics Home. They are funded primarily by two wealthy sponsors - Stephan Shakespeare and Lord Ashcroft - and carry no advertising. Financially unviable, they are very much the tools of their owners, who have a life or death power over them not matched even by the most authoritarian newspaper magnate, who does at least still need to sell both copies and advertising.