This paper examines the role of women political bloggers, the unit of analysis. It is primarily exploratory and descriptive. The overarching research questions ask: what is unique to women political bloggers; how do women political bloggers use their blogs to participate in politics; and how do they encourage their readers to participate? To a lesser degree this research also is explanatory.
Data for this project are based on in-depth interviews (see Appendix A: Interview Instrument for Women Bloggers) with 20 women political bloggers conducted in October 2006.2 Methodologically, in-depth interviews were most appropriate for several reasons. Asking “how” and “why” questions can easily be accomplished with in-depth interviews. These types of questions are common components ofexploratory research (Yin, 2008). Other methods do not lend themselves to asking these types of questions. Interviews provide respondents with an opportunity to offer more textured, nuanced responses than do surveys. Due to the absence of an identifiable sampling frame, survey research was not possible. To evaluate how women blogged about politics, content analysis was not deemed viable since this approach assesses blog content rather than investigating the blogger, which is the unit of analysis.
Because the universe of women political bloggers is unknown a sample of women political bloggers was generated using a combined purposive-snowball sampling approach (Patton,
2002) . Snowball sampling is appropriate for generating a study sample with known characteristics “women political bloggers.” This is a widely accepted method of sampling in studies of blogging. According to Hindman et al., “any site more than three clicks away from any of the top 200 Google or Yahoo results on a given topic is definitely off the beaten track, and not likely to have any substantial impact” (Hindman et al.,
2003) . Blogs identified by search engines and blog aggregators are most visible, with visibility decreasing exponentially as one moves further from the top blogs. Scholars need not catalog thousands of blogs, but instead can credibly focus on the most heavily linked ones since they are the most widely read and influential. Based on the rankings of bloggers from Technorati (http:// technorati. com) and The Truth Laid Bear (http:// truthlaidbear. com), a group of women political bloggers were identified from among the top 100 bloggers. Of these blogs, more women political bloggers were identified through their blogrolls. Finally, during interviews respondents were asked to identify other women political bloggers who might be interested in participating in the study.
Criteria for inclusion in the study included, women who blogged about politics, public policy, and current events; residents of the US who blog in English; and evidence of posting within a week of being interviewed. Since this study focuses on politics and political participation, only bloggers with an emphasis on these areas were selected for inclusion in the sample and ultimately the study. Political bloggers are operationalized as individuals whose blogs focus on politics, public policy and/or current events. An invitation to participate was sent via e-mail. The aforementioned goals of the study were outlined and respondents engaged in self-selected participation. To ensure that respondents were in fact political bloggers, a cursory review of their blog was undertaken and two filter questions were asked (Appendix A, questions 1 and 2).
To solicit participants, an e-mail was sent to approximately 45 women political bloggers. Interested bloggers responded to the e-mail and 20 interviews were conducted via telephone in October 2006. On average, interviews lasted approximately one hour. Interviewees were asked 25 questions and all but three questions were open – ended. The interview questions were designed to assess about what issues women political bloggers blog; in what types of activities do they ask their readers to engage; whether or not they feel blogging is a form of political participation; what challenges they face, if any; and whether or not they face exclusion and discrimination. During the interview the responses to all questions were typed almost verbatim as the interview was being conducted. Upon receiving recommendations of other women to interview, potential interviewees were contacted via e-mail with a note indicating the name of the blogger who referred them, as well as the original e -mail detailing the parameters of the study. Of the 20 women political bloggers interviewed in 2006, 16 out of 20 still were blogging in January 2010.
Appropriate for qualitative studies that are exploratory, descriptive or empirical in nature, this study relies on grounded theory which provides predictions, explanations, interpretations and applications (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). While deductive methods of research seek to confirm or reject existing theories of social research, grounded theory is an inductive process that begins with data and concludes with the development of theory. The first step in grounded research is sample selection. According to Glaser and Strauss (1967), theoretical sampling differs from statistical sampling in that the former relies upon the saturation of categories to discover theory, whereas the latter relies upon distributions of people or categories that require verification—regardless of saturation. Sample sizes differ dramatically, with the former not requiring large sample sizes. Data collection in grounded theory is not predicated on generalizability, but rather on the generation of theory. Interviews ceased once categories reach “theoretical saturation,” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) which occurred with 20 interviews.
By systematically examining the content, categories emerge as do the properties of these categories (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Content analysis was performed using the transcripts from the interviews by indentifying major themes and quantified themes for each interview question. A variety ofthemes emerged around topics typically covered by the mainstream media ranging from the war in Iraq to Katrina. Other themes also emerged including: abortion, child rearing, gender, family, feminist issues, law and gender, media and gender, reproductive rights, and sexual double standard.