The small readership of most blogs would strongly suggest that no blogs other that the top three or four could possibly have much influence on anything. That however overlooks something: Google and other search engines. Because they are heavily interlinked (well over 1,000 other blogs link to my main one) blogs tend to have a high page-ranking in response to any search. That means that what blogs say on any given topic tends to pop up on the first page of any set of search results.
And who are big users of searches? Journalists. Like most people they Google their own name and they also of course Google any topic they are “researching”. Googling is a lot easier that getting out of your chair and going to look in person at what you are talking about. So what blogs say tends to get picked up by journalists (and Right-wing radio commentators too) and, in their constant search for something new to report, the blog-origin information or perspective may rapidly find its way into what they write or say. They may not like what the blog says but they like being “scooped” by other journalists even less.
So it is not mainly a matter of blogs and the MSM competing. What has developed is a symbiosis between blogs and the MSM.
I had an amusing example of how blogs affect journalists recently. My Greenie Watch blog usually gets only about 400 hits a day so you might think that it is one of those many blogs that are destined to flower in the desert, forever unnoticed by almost anyone. Yet it is not so. I get all sorts of email from people and organizations I mention in it. The amusing example: On October 4, 2005, I put up there a post that had a good laugh at a delightfully-named British journalist called Andrew Buncombe (pronounced “bunkum”). It mocked the old polar bear scare that he was doing his best to promote in “The Independent”, a very “Green” British mainstream newspaper.
Recently, however, the Bush administration threw the Greenies a bone by commissioning a report into whether the bears were “endangered” or not. This was hailed as a great triumph by Greenies, and Buncombe was one of those elated. So what was one of the first things he did when he learnt of the new move? He emailed me suggesting that I now owed him an apology for the bad things I had previously said about him! He had obviously been stewing for over a year in response to my comments and took the first opportunity he had to shoot back at me! Commissioning a report into an allegation was a very small triumph but Buncombe clutched at it like a drowning man to save his self-esteem!
So whether journalists just google their own name or the topic they are writing about, they do read what is on blogs and they do take notice of what they read there. Whether it just generates heartburn in them or leads them to follow up the matter in their own articles depends on their intellectual quality, of course.