John and Elizabeth Edwards’ decision to continue his presidentialbid, despite learning that Ms. Edwards was diagnosed with incurablebut treatable cancer, has sparked impassioned discussions across thecountry and the blogosphere. In fact, Americans have probablydiscussed the family’s choice more than anything else Mr. Edwards hasdone during the campaign thus far. That is definitely true online,where debates over the couple’s choice even inspired The New YorkTimes to break with tradition and use Internet “crowdsource”reporting from its own blog for the very first time.
Last Thursday, there were 2,000 blog entries citing Mr. Edwards, morereferences than any other day in the past year, according toTechnorati. That record-breaking volume was matched by unusuallystrong reactions to the blog commentaries. An entry about the news on TheNew York Times political blog, The Caucus, drew over 600comments, easily quadrupling the typical feedback for the site’s mostpopular entries, with many personal and heartfelt contributions.
Posting a comment from Bosnia, Janet A. Leff relayed how shenever halted her international volunteer work during “treatment andrecovery” for seven tumors. “Elizabeth should be listened to, and letthis couple make their own decisions. At 65 I am still amazed howmany uninformed people make decisions about and for cancer patients,”she wrote, signing off, “thanks for listening, Janet alive and wellin Bosnia i Herzegovina!” Another commenter explained that afterbattling breast cancer twice, she could understand why Ms. Edwardswould want the campaign to continue. “[I] greatly encouraged myhusband to pursue hobbies, hoping to break his focus on my health,”she wrote.
While Americans took to the Internet to share personal experiencesand prayers for the Edwards family, the media and political worldrushed to measure the potential effect on Mr. Edwards’ candidacy. Ina thoughtful front page article this weekend, The Times’ KirkJohnson tried to gauge the mood of a public that had “seized” on thedifficult choice the Edwards family made. It is a significant topic,but very difficult to report accurately. Besides cold-calling thephonebook, how do you learn what people really think of the news?How do you find people who have followed the story or care about it?And in a country with two million women who have been treated for breast cancer, how do you learn what survivors think? After all, cancersurvivors understand the pain and challenges facing the Edwardsfamily better than anyone, and they are likely to lead public opinionon the rectitude of the family’s decision. That’s a lot for areporter to tackle on deadline.