January 26, 2006 4:00 AM PST
Congress catching on to the value of blogs
(continued from previous page)
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."
8 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment