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Michael Barnett didn’t ask to be a front-line reporter for the biggest natural disaster ever to befall America. But when he opted to stay in the Crescent City to work for his employer, web hosting company DirectNIC, that’s just what he became.

Barnett’s blog, The Interdictor, had previously been a “private little journal,” according to Barnett. But when he began chronicling Katrina’s destruction and the terrible aftermath, it became a lot more.

Currently, tens of thousands of readers a day visit it. “I get thousands of instant messages an hour, I can’t keep up with them,” he writes in the blog.

Barnett’s blog is just one of tens of thousands of blogs covering Katrina’s aftermath. In the blog coverage, readers have heard first-person accounts such as Barnett’s of surviving and surveying the damage, or have read of the maddening frustration that a small group of volunteers has experienced in trying to set up an FCC-sanctioned, low-power radio station inside Houston’s Astrodome.

Blogs have allowed displaced New Orleanians to view satellite images of the city overlayed with first-hand descriptions of damage at specific locations. “A friend of mine from New Orleans was able to see one of these maps and read some damage descriptions and she realized the floodwaters had stopped about 20 feet from her house,” says Xeni Jardin, co-editor of the influential blog Boing Boing.

What’s more, blogs have jumped to the fore in shaping the mainstream media’s coverage of the hurricane aftermath. Indeed, bloggers have served as a legion of fact checkers for political claims and spin efforts.

As such, the Hurricane Katrina disaster is the defining moment for the blogosphere – the first time it has truly become enmeshed in the media landscape, rather than relegated to curiosity status.

Of course, pundits have said at other moments in recent history that blogs were finally coming into their own, only to see their influence dwindle after some momentous event passed.

When the Democratic convention invaded Boston in July 2004, much of the talk among media observers centered around the new kids on the bus: the bloggers. For the first time, select bloggers were awarded press credentials to a political convention, allowing the writers behind Talking Points Memo and the Daily Kos to rub elbows with hardened political reporters such as the New York Times’ R.W. Apple Jr. and ABC’s Ted Koppel.

Select bloggers were admitted to the GOP convention in September as well. The hoopla around blogging’s role in the 2004 presidential election culminated in Ana Marie Cox’s famous appearance on the cover of the New York Times Magazine with Apple and columnist Jack Germond (Cox is the irreverent political and cultural blogger behind Wonkette).

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