January 26, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Congress catching on to the value of blogs

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online conversation about them," said Larry Biddle, a veteran Democratic political operative and the deputy national finance director for Howard Dean's unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.

According to Kirk, a mistrust of the Internet and blogging in particular, on the part of some members of Congress, is slowly giving way to the realities that the Internet and blogging provide a unique way to communicate with constituents.

"It doesn't cost us anything to put up anything on the Web, and it doesn't cost my constituents anything to go and see it," Kirk told CNET News.com. "This is rapidly going to become the dominant way we talk to our constituents, (especially) as snail mail dies out."

Others see blogging as a way to break through the barriers to direct communication with constituents, barriers that have always been a function of the one-way nature of newspapers and television.

To Conyers, considered by many to be the most blog-savvy member of Congress, Dean's campaign and its aftermath offered an example of how elected officials can engage with a populace weary of politicians looking at them as just sources of campaign contributions.

"For me, the Internet and blogging serve other purposes that have nothing to do with raising money," Conyers wrote in October on his blog. "The (mainstream media) simply will not report on the actions of a party that lacks the White House or majority control of either house of Congress. Blogging lets me bypass that filter and take my message directly to many voters."

Of course, not all congressional bloggers get the feedback benefit--or risk, depending on whom you ask--of comments. Part of that involves a rule prohibiting comments on federal Web sites. And part involves a decision by some members that blogging is more a method of getting a personalized message out than of engaging in conversation.

And to some, the lack of comments on the official blogs of those like Kirk, Hastert, Obama and others actually calls into question their use of the term "blog."

Without comments, a blog is "just a glorified press release," said Mike Cornfield, an adjunct professor in political management at George Washington University.

Others aren't sure comments are a necessary component.

Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and a prominent blogger himself, said there are several popular blogs, including the technology culture blog Boing Boing and the conservative political blog Instapundit, that don't have comments.

Some members of Congress, like Conyers, Conaway, Reid and Slaughter, have bypassed the rule against comments on federal sites by starting external blogs. And those sites give constituents a way to engage directly with those politicians.

Regardless, more important than accepting comments, Rosen said, is that the politicians themselves write the blog entries, or at least some of them.

"When Barack Obama addressed the bloggers at the Democratic National Convention" in 2004, said Rosen, "He said, 'Welcome, welcome. I may start a blog myself.' And he said, 'I may be coming to you for advice.' And I shouted out to him, 'Write it yourself.' He said, 'Oh, well, as soon as I find three free hours a day, I will.' Which meant never. And he's learning it's necessary for him to write it himself. Because that's what's really powerful."

Meanwhile, with the 2008 presidential election looming, Biddle thinks that those seeking the White House, like Kerry, will do themselves a disservice if they don't take advantage of blogs.

"Candidates who are considering the presidency are going to have to (blog)," Biddle said. "Because this is a large audience of people, and if you're a politician wanting to present your wares and ideas, you'd better be out there in the conversation with your ideas as well as listening. You need to be listening and responding. That's what the blog allows for."

In the end, though, politicians like Obama feel that taking part in blogging simply means using the latest mechanism to help people connect to their elected representatives.

"The benefit of blogging for constituents is that it provides them with yet another way to communicate with the people they voted--or didn't vote--into office," Obama said by e-mail. "I think any tool that increases civic participation is good for democracy."

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8 comments

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Are we in trouble now !!!!!!!!!!!!
The champion purveyors of verbal BS now find a waiting and
gullible pipeline for their written drivel. I just hope these political
idiots stay confined within a few zones, easily ignored.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is interesting...
At least now the voice of small guys with smaller issues will be heard?! Like for instance.... <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://unite.rediffblogs.com/" target="_newWindow">http://unite.rediffblogs.com/</a>
Posted by b2bhandshake (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Politeness Counts In Politics
Political blogs by candidates and office holders are no worse that press meetings where the press gets to grill the speaker with the exception that these are limited time span events. The problem of comments is exhaustion. A determined and persistent group can create the illusion that a blogger is hiding information, befuddled or unwilling to answer and that perception is then fed back into the amplifier that is the web to destroy credibility.

Blogging is a public appearance in that sense and comes with advantages and risks. The sharper the blogger, the better they can handle that but it takes time and robbing time is a well known political tactic.

Note that some very famous bloggers such as Tim Bray who often express political points of view don't allow comments on their blogs. I don't as well. The time it takes to answer trolls exhausts me and takes all the pleasure out of what was told to me to be a form of personal expression. If you don't like the act, find another player. If you do, talk to me offstage. If you yell advice from the audience, I will come to your job the next day and yell advice into your cube. You will have me removed from the building. I will have you thrown out of the nightclub. Politeness counts in politics.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Argentinean parlamentblogs
In Argentina, we started Diario de GestiĆ³n (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.diariodegestion.com.ar/" target="_newWindow">http://www.diariodegestion.com.ar/</a>), where we offer to each argentinean congressmen a free blog.
At the moment, we have 3 authors.
Posted by irenef (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Still skeptical
I'm not skeptical that these people are blogging, but I'm skeptical that it will change anything.

The day I see several calling it like it really is, even at the possible expense of their own political career, then I'll know there is change.

I'd like to see someone saying that they voted for something they didn't believe in because it was the only way to get people to vote for their bill and that it was for the greater good.

Or someone to post about the political contributions (bribes) they passed up and who the attempted bribers were.

Remember how the internet used to be fun and there was always something new? Now it's all glossy orchestrated corporate-speak on polished websites. I'm afraid that all too quickly it will get turned into just another useless PR-tool.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreed!
I'm on the "skeptical" side of the fence, too... but maybe for more personal reasons. Here in Indiana the "headlines hide the truth" behind political agendas frequently. I doubt that a political candidate's and/or incumbant's blog would change that. For example, on the surface both Gov. Daniels and Lt. Gov. Skillman speak openly about working on the side of conservation and environment, meanwhile their own strategic plan outlined in "Opportunities Unbound" released to the public a few weeks after taking office clearly show their agenda is to double pork production through extremely environmentally damaging factory-farming throughout the state. They create a good cover-story for their actions, but in reality they don't "walk the talk" of the environmentally concerned in ANY way. See <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://wahmdiary.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://wahmdiary.blogspot.com</a> and you quickly see what I mean... The laws quietly being changed and their refusal to let anything stand in the way of their strategic goals for the State won't change if they chose to blog, regardless of the mounting and existing evidence regarding harm their pork plan can cause and/or the mounting public outcry against it.
Posted by time4meDOTcom (1 comment )
Link Flag
Grinding the Squeaky Wheel
The problem with communicating via blogs, is that only the most extreme viewpoints are typically represented. If politicians start believing that blog comments represent the majority of Americans, they are going to find their poll numbers slipping.

Content citizens do not rant openly on blogs...
The majority of citizens do not rant openly on blogs...

Blogs may be a good way for politicians to pick and harvest viewpoints they were previously unaware of... but very few active blog comments represent a majority of Americans.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's the truth.....
nt
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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