Thursday, December 04, 2003

So in conclusion, are blogs the wave of the political future? Yes and no. Yes because with the Internet's ability to reach so many people so easily and so cheaply. Yes because with an Internet generation at the polls, being online talks to them with their channel. Yes because it allows for a looser, more relatable side of politics to come out. But no because of the 40% that don't even use the Internet and don't have access.

Overall, I think blogs have a lot of promise when it comes to changing the face of campaigning. I think the freedom, ease, and personable advantage of the blogs are what will drive these changes.

So keep blogging, keep voting, and keep informed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

We have been through a lot. I have reviewed blogs by presidential candidates, a Congressman, and Northern Ireland. I have discussed how blogs affect journalism and how journalism has affected blogs. I have looked at concepts and applied them to blogs. I have journeyed through many different takes on blogs and have learned so much from my travels. And through all of it I have learned what I would want most from a politician's blog.

To me, politician's blogs should embody these things at least:

-I want the politicians to post things themselves on the blogs
-the blogs should be well organized, have archives, lots of links, and the ability to transfer into RSS and source code for screen readers and people with disabilities.
-I want daily updates
-I want open, honest, frank opinions expressed in the blogs
-I want there to be a conversational style to the blog so that people feel free to post comments and give feedback to the campaign
-I don't want the blogs to be donation and action sites, but informational, expressive, and places where communities can be built.

Also, through my research and readings I have seen what blogs create and I think the best things about blogs are:

-They are great places to build community and give the bloggers a sense of belonging
-They are great for politicians keeping in touch with their public and getting feedback
-They are great places for PC/BS TV speeches, etc. to be thrown out of the window and for politicians to open up, give their opinions without being so reserved and afraid of being attacked, and for them to loosen up the campaign and put things on a more personable and relatable level
-Blogs get control, ownership, and commitment out to the public and makes them apart of the campaign.

Blogs also have their downside, like:
-Not accessible to all
-Are posted on by people besides the politicians. While I like that others post and I would not have changed that but I would increase the amount of participation of politicians on their blogs.

These are just a few of my conclusions on this blog and on my research as this project draws to a close.
Identity online has been a topic often related to a double-edged sword. The Internet has been great for people who do not want to be judged right off the bat based on their appearances, their identity. The Internet allows them to create a different online appearance or allows them to leave the offline one behind while dropping their inhibitions. However, the screen is not just a thin veil that people can hide behind to feel more comfortable, but they can also just create a whole new different identity and try to pass themselves off as experts when they are not.

This can be a big problem when it comes to people reading blogs as well as any other opinion pieces online. Some people that write blogs write themselves as experts and others then take in their opinions as facts almost and make these frauds into opinion leaders. This all relates to credibility issues and people being played.

In a CNN report they talk about an instance of unknown identity. They pose the question just as I have. "Can blogs be trusted?" They go on to say "one of the most talked about is that of a man known as "Salam Pax." "Pax" says he is a 29-year-old architect living in Baghdad. Both parts of his nom de plume -- "Salam" and "Pax" -- mean peace, in Arabic and Latin, respectively. His accounts of the recent bombings, the current state of affairs in the Iraqi capital and his family's reactions offer an incredible view of life in Baghdad. The problem is, no one seems to know if "Pax" is for real. Debate about his real identity rages on the Internet." So while we don't know if "Pax" is indeed a fake, it does cast doubt in our minds about his credibility.

So while there is bias out there that makes you question content, you have to also be critical about who the source actually is. Are they really accredited sources, experts, people who have vast amounts of knowledge in this field, or are they fakes? Be careful and be critical.

So since I tried reviewing a foreign blog and didn't get too far, I want to step away from presidential blogs and look at one from a Congress member.

Tom Daschle, the leader of the minority Democratic party of the Senate, created a blog to talk about his travels that he makes every year in South Dakota. He goes traveling around South Dakota for the month of October so as to keep in touch with his constituents. Tom as well as some of his staff post on the blog. The blog talks mostly just about his different stops, interesting stories from the road, and also plugs in a few opinions and news from Washington. The blog itself is colorful, well organized, has archives, links to other parts of his site, and a photo gallery.

When asked why he started the blog this year for the first time, he said, "I have been looking for a way to share those experiences with the people of South Dakota. A web log ... lets people follow along with me as I travel the state."

No word yet on if he plans on continuing his blog on after his travels, but I hope that he does, just as I hope all politicians will some day, hopefully some day soon.
So far I have covered a few politician's blogs, but I wanted to review a different blog that has everything to do with politics. While researching the website of The Guardian, a London based newspaper, I found a political blog on Northern Ireland so I thought I would check it out and review it.

The blog is called Slugger O'Toole and it is about Northern Ireland politics and culture that is updated numerous times each day. The layout is very basic and there are no frills. There are links to other sites, links to readers comments, archives, and tons of links to election sites in Northern Ireland. There is also a poll, a place to make online donations, and even about 30 links to other blogs.

The blog is posted on by 6 different people, 2 being apart of the core group of bloggers and 4 being apart of the "politicos" section. They all make several, small posts throughout the day. The posts include everything from updates, to resources to interviews, articles, etc. and opinions on all sorts of political issues.

The content of posts seem that you would only really get the content if you were very up to date on your politics. For me, from the outside-in perspective, I did not understand a lot of the opinions simply because I do not know a lot about Northern Ireland politics and the culture, so many things do go over my head.

But to give the blog its just desserts, The Guardian has called the blog an "excellent, balanced weblog on Northern Ireland," and the Sunday Times said that it "drives debate beyond the web."

Inequality Pt. 2
Refer to the previous post to learn more about the other inequalities of the Internet and how they concern blogs.

Besides time, opportunity costs, monetary costs and accessibility, there is also the issue of inequality when it comes to people with disabilities. From the Lighthouse International web page, I found many statistics on visual impairments and computer use.

"The following estimates are based on data collected from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000):

~ 51% of persons (all ages) with no disability regularly use a personal computer, in comparison to 13% of persons with vision problems. While 23% of persons without a disability have never used a computer, 70% of those with a visual problem have never used one.

~ The majority of persons with no disabilities (57%) report having Internet access (at home or elsewhere), in comparison to one-fifth (21%) of persons who have a vision problem.

The differences in computer use and internet access among those with and without disabilities decrease slightly when considering only persons who are employed (age 25-49):

~ 17% of employed persons without a disability have never used a computer, in comparison to 31% of employed persons with vision problems.

~ 64% of employed persons without a disability have Internet access (at home or elsewhere), in comparison to 54% of employed persons with vision problems."

While many politicians’ sites and blogs have it so you can change the site to RSS or source format for screen readers, many blogs on politics by non-politicians do not have this as readily available. This makes the process of getting the information and commenting on blogs even harder for these individuals.

And the disabilities are not just for the visually impaired. People with hand and arm mobility issues also use screen readers and they need sites to be more accessible for them as well.

Accessibility as a whole on the Internet is a big issue, not just for bloggers and their blogs. Sites need to be accessible so that viability barriers can be knocked down and people, able or disable, can access the information online and post their own comments and opinions.

Changes in accessible could also improve the voting level of people with disabilities. If visually, hearing, and mobility disabled people* could access information easier and comment on blogs therefore increasing their engagement and commitment to an issue, a campaign, or a candidate, then it is shown that that ownership and action online will go offline and onto the polls.

These are just a few issues that come into play when thinking about blogs and inequality. So even though I might harp a lot on how wonderful blogs are and how great they are for getting out information, I do realize that there are snags in the process and that many people are left out of them. The digital divide strikes again!

* My comments in this section are in the greatest respect to people with disabilities. I realize some reject the term "disabled" and feel perfectly able to all sorts of things and this post is in no way saying that they cannot. This is al based just on the most technical of levels.

Inequality Pt. 1
I subdivided and split up this post just because there is a lot of issues to over and it was becoming a 2 and a half page post.

An issue that we have yet to cover is inequality. I have been speaking so highly of blogs and their ability to reach vast amounts of people and really change the face of politics, but not all that glitters is gold.

The truth is that the blogs and the information they carry and the people that can access and comment on them is indeed limited. It is limited because computer and Internet access is limited. It is limited because disabilities make it limited. It is limited because time and opportunity costs make it limited.

First off, the people that blog normally and that have access to them are people with regular computer and Internet access, usually they have it in their houses, at work, or both. This makes it easy for them to get on and see the latest posts.

But according to Internet World Stats, 63.2% of US citizens use the Internet at least weekly. Thus almost 40% of US citizens don't even use the Internet on a weekly basis, not so good when you think that blogs are updated daily. More surprisingly, about half of the US' homes with a single, working mother do not even have phone lines. No phone lines, no Internet basically, at least not the lowest kind of Internet, yet alone ones using cable and direct TV. So almost 50% of those mothers and their children do not have access to phone lines, therefore no access to the Internet as well.

Also, if you think about it, many working class and lower class people that do not have access to the Internet due to costs, are the people that are most not represented in the polls. These are people that do not have access to blogs, do not have time for them (some may be working two jobs, raising families, and trying to get by), or may not even be literate. However, that does not mean that they are not worthy citizens. They have to live under the same politics as people fortunate enough to be able to blog and have access, yet they do not receive the same information. Politics affects them, their pocket book, and the way they live their lives. An illiterate person who has a job is still effected by living wage laws, social security laws, etc. Yet they among many others do not have access to blogs and the information online. There is an evident inequality, a divide.

So when we talk about Americans and the Blogmania, remember the millions of Americans that have never used the Internet or maybe they did once or twice on a slow, dial-up connection at their crowded school or public library. Not all information is created equal and access is definently not created equal.

Machiavelli wrote that if a politician is "present, in person, he can discover disorders in the bud and prevent them from developing…but if he is at a distance in some remote part, they come to him only by hearsay and thus, when they are got to a head, are commonly uncurable."

Machiavelli and Chris Matthews, who used this quote in his 1986 book Hardball, didn't know what blogs were, and in 1513 when the quote was originally written, they would have not even known what this quote would mean in the Information/Electronic Age of the present.

Politicians are constantly on the move from town to town, speech to speech, and engagement to engagement. Staying in your district while trying to campaign for a bigger position is impossible and can leave several citizens with a bad taste in their mouth. The task is especially hard when you think about a presidential campaign. You have to cover the entire nation; standing still might get you a couple of votes, but what about the rest of the country. This is where the beauty of the blog comes into play.

Blogs allow people from wherever to participant in the politics that are going on your blog. They also allow you to keep in touch with your future voters. Blogs allow you to drop a line online which makes people feel like you are close, like you are local even though you are really only sharing cyberspace, not physical, geographical space. You can do regional addresses online, talk to people from all over, and form an online community that is closer knit than an offline one and yet never leave your county, district, or state. You can get their issues through the ether.

You can get the local beat and be apart of it without even buying a plane ticket.

Machiavelli and Matthews understood this idea and now blogs are putting it to use, into practice.

Matthews says "if you have to leave your district, make them feel like you've never left town." And transferring that into our topic of interest, utilize the Internet and blogs to make things local, to keep in touch with the nation's public, and to make everyone feel like you are there for them and their issues.

They say the hardest part is letting go. This is definitely true when it comes to giving up control in order to let a blog flourish and come into its own.

In my previous post, Watson, a MP from the UK, said that it is a "political risk" to basically bare your soul on a blog especially when you know thousands of people are going to see it, judge it, and decide their vote based on it.

But in an article from the November of 2003 issue of Wired, it states that you have to do just that. You have to bare your soul, take the risk, and give up control in order to let the magic of the blog's grassroots happen.

Dean wanted a "decentralized campaign" and he got it with blogs. He realized that you have to give up control to your bloggers. In fact, "the Dean campaign engages hundreds of blogs without policing who says what when, or who is on-message how much of the time." They make the bloggers the speakers and it is unedited. While that sounds extremely scary to some, Dean has proved that it works. Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, stated "you will absolutely suffocate anything that you're trying to do on the Internet by trying to command and control it." The control for a blog to work and build a community must be in the hands of the bloggers, the people actually keeping the blog alive with posts and comments.

This control is not only necessary for keeping blogs alive but also for making the participants feel like they actually have a hand in this operation and in Dean's case, in this campaign. And this sense of control and participation does not end online in blogs. The article lays out a little plotline of how the blogs transfer online energy to offline action. "A well-structured blog inspires both reading and writing. And by getting the audience to type, candidates get the audience committed. Engagement replaces reception, which in turn leads to real space action. The life of the Dean campaign on the Internet is not really life on the Internet. It's the activity in real space that the Internet inspires."

So build a community, build a sense of belonging and ownership online, and give people control that will result in them being committed to you and your campaign.

Continuing on my Union Jack kick, let's look into an article that talks about blogs from the politician's point of view.

Tom Watson, West Bromwich MP, has become the first UK politician to publish his own blog. The blog has links to other sites, archives, and information about Watson and his campaign. But what's the biggest thing, he does all the posting by himself. He is the only one to post on the blog.

In a Guardian article, Watson gives us a little insight into his blogging experience. Watson felt that it was a "political risk," but believes that "the blog allows (him) the chance to speak freely and rebut any claims that are made." This freedom is something that I have harped upon many times because the blogs really do give politicians freedom and allow them to relax the PC-uptightness.

Watson also realized a few other things that make blogs so unique besides just the freedom of diction and content. Watson stated in the article that "you've got to be frank, otherwise the concept doesn't work, so no doubt some young graduate in Conservative central office will be scouring the site for quotes to trip me up on, but I don't care." He realizes that blogs are not there to sugar-coat or play the PC games that so many politicians must play while on camera. Blogs don't just let you relax but they let you really get your opinions out there. Yes people can take quotes from your blog, like that possible Conservative out there, but things are more likely to get chopped and shuffled in a soundbyte on TV so you have to be on your best behavior on TV. The smaller, more politically aware audience of blogs, be it right, left, center, etc., realize that blogs are meant to be looser than TV bytes and speeches. You can let your guard down somewhat and not be panicked.

Also, my big bug with most of the other politician's blogs was that they were not postings and contributing to the post, their interns and staff members were. Watson enjoys blogging and likes the freedom that it allows him and to him "that's why there's no point to have a researcher or somebody write it, it has to come from the heart, and it has to be daily." He really understands the whole point of the blog. He takes advantage of the freedom it allows and varies his content, uses looser diction, is frank and opinionated, and posts himself.

This is not the genius of some computer buff. Watson just made one of his New Year's Resolutions to spend 30 minutes on his blog at the beginning of each day. However, "Mr Watson, 36, is part of the younger, more web-savvy 2001 intake of Labour MPs." But that again does not mean he knows all. He is actually looking in to taking a few one-day courses on computers during the off session. But the extra 30 minutes a day and classes while on vacation are worth it to him because he thinks "it's wonderful to get feedback and emails from readers, and nice comments from other bloggers."

Watson with his lack of Internet savvy still has some thoughts about blogs, politics, and their future together.
"At the moment I believe I'm the first Westminster MP to have a blog, but I believe it will be the main method of communication for politicians within ten years."

My thought, granted I know nothing about his politics, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few more Watsons in the US.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Just a little side note about a site that can be really helpful when it comes to finding political blogs in the UK.

The Guardian is the largest newspaper in England and is based out of London. Its online version also has a blog that is posted on regularly by Neil McIntosh, the BlogMaster for the blog, but other journalists also post onto it as well. The blog has tons of info and resources on the sidebars. Sidebar contents include links to other blogs, sites about Brit's best blogs of 2002, archives, and even allows you to change the font on the page and change the page to an RSS version, basically a source page. You can also register for text updates/alerts where The Guardian will text your cell phone with news updates.

The content of the posts are varied and all over the place. Topics include the iPod, the death of futurism, and even a guide to political blogs by Ben Whitford. This entry has blogs from the left, right, center (that's centre in the UK), from Northern Ireland, politician's blogs and blogs by political organizations. Whitford gives a little abstract on each blog and also gives us pertinent information like when the blog was established, who runs it, etc.

Overall it is just a nice little sub-section for a paper and gives useful information and links to blogs. Just something to check out.

Monday, December 01, 2003

In a recent post by Rick E. Bruner on MarketingWonk.com discusses Dean's success for online fundraising. In it he mentions the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is about how little things can make a big difference. Bruner talks about the book in relation to fundraising to show how Dean's approach which was just asking bloggers and people visiting the site to donate, an average donation of about $52.00, generated Dean rejecting public financing. He took something small like asking for a small donation and it ended up in a big difference and now Dean has been propelled to the top of the Democrats' nominations.

But this overall idea of little things creating big differences can be seen in other aspects of blogs. I read The Tipping Point for another class and for this post I am going to pull one of the main topics from this book and relate them to political blogs.

My concept of choice from the book is The Power of Context. This idea is linked to environmentalism and really just says that the surrounding environment changes and shapes the subjects in it and how they act and react. This idea can be transferred to the Internet because of the online community and culture many feel while online. This is very much so attributed to political blogs. A few times now I have talked in other posts about the connection and community people feel while posting on the politician's blogs. Dean supporters are famous for their online community and other candidates are trying to build this same sense through things like meetup.com. This online community is thought to create an atmosphere of sharing, creating and expressing. The environment created on Dean's blog is open, relaxed and loose which lends to why the posts are also loose and relaxed. Clark's site is more reserved and controlled which is why the posts and comments are also reserved.

This idea of The Power of Context can be extended to much broader terms. Blogs themselves create a free and open environment and I think that is why they have grown so much in recent years because they allow politics to be more on the commoner's level aka not so politic-savvy side of things. Blogs are not full of complex, look-I-own-a-thesaurus diction, they are forums for expressing ideas for people from anywhere and everywhere, geographically and socio-economically speaking. So if the spirit of the blogs is loose, grassroots oriented, and understandable to us not in DC, then the content of these environments will reflect that.

So in more straight foward terms, the blog you create and the culture it gives off will decide what your posts will be like. Hmmm...if Gore created a relaxed feeling site and blog in 2000 would the posts be relaxed and maybe give his squeaky public joints a bit more oil and make him less of a Mr. Roboto?...what do you think? Do you think he could have changed the feel of his campaign with a more relaxed tone which would have included a more relaxed site and online chat? Just a thought!

In addition to talking about blogs and their impact, I also want to do a personal review of some of the major political blogs. So far I have done Dean and Bush and now it is time for Mr. Wesley Clark's blog.

First off it is based off of the main Clark page and is patriotic but not an overt parade of red, white and blue. It is well organized with side bars chalked full of resourses, information, achives, and how-to links for donating, volunteering, meet-ups, etc. The blog is kept clean by having links for the full story as well as links to post comments on each post. There are also daily user polls, site statistics, and help guides.

The meat of the site though of course should be in the content of the posts themselves. Compared to Dean and Bush, the blogs themself are much more formal and reserved. Posts give updates on meetup.com dates, how to get a username@forclark.com e-mail addresses, how to post on your blog and have it appear on the official Clark site, and information on TV, radio and personal appearances of Clark, as well as his wireside chats.

But what sets this blog a part from the others, the byline for some posts is actually Wes Clark! That's right, the man himself actually posts to the site in his own words. His posts include responds to things in the media, even replies to attacks in the media. He has also posted a thank to Vets on Veteran's Day and the most loose of them all, updates and journal entries from the road.

So while the site is plain and a bit on the updates side, it gets an A for effort for actually having a few posts from Clark himself.

A form of blogs has been around since BBS's and MUD's but the political form of blogs is new and full of surprises. So when it comes to politics, what candidate was first, who was the first one to really grab hold of blogs and the Internet? The answer to that question is Mr. Howard Dean.

With a reputation as famous as Dean's for Internet campaigning, you would think he is a pure Internet Guru...not! It is often joked that Dean was in fact the last governor in the nation to even get an e-mail address. So how did he do it and more than that how did he even know to do it at all?

Dean said he wanted a "decentalized campaign," and with the help of his savvy campaign team, they realized the answer to that wish is the glorious Internet. He wanted to get to the most people, the most diverse set of people, through the easiest, most cost effective way. The Internet gave him the reach and ease that he wanted and with a group of ten for his Internet Management Team, he went out to get those people.

Through his site his team has started many new and different initiatives like DeanLink, meetup.com hook ups and an official blog. DeanLink allows Dean supporters in the same ZIP code to post pictures and profiles online. Meetup.com, now being used by other candidates supporters, allows people to meet up via the Internet in chats and discussions or they set up offline meets to discuss with people in their area. So far 141,000 have met up for Dean with about 44,000 for Clark as second place. The blog has gotten the most press and reaction. "At the Dean campaign back in April, about 3,000 people were reading the blog each day. ...Internal statistics now show that some 40,000 people read the blog daily. And the Internet team is constantly passing ideas from bloggers on to the policy staff." And the proof is in the pudding when you look at how those blog ideas get back to the campaign. The slogan "People Powered Howard" was generated on the blog by a blogger from California. The blog also gives the public a sense of belonging, a connection to the site, but even more than that. Darrell L. Lewis, a Democrat from Clear Lake, Iowa, says that "the blog is my source of energy. I'm on it every day checking in, ... The Internet gives us unprecedented access to the campaign. I've not been bashful in making suggestions either. It amazes [me] how I might suggest we need to improve something and in a matter of days it is done. Never before in my life have I been so politically energized as I am now," he added. "At 50 years old, [it] feels like the good [old] days back in college when there was fire in my heart."

And if you can get fire in the heart of one man, who is to say you can't do it for others, especially using a tool like the Internet that is so populated by the hard-to-reach 18-24 year olds. Dean jumped on the Internet buzz fast and now others are trying to keep afloat in his wake. People say the election of 2004 will be the true test of Internet campaigning and it seems it will also be the true test for Dean.

Now that we have a bit more insight on how some journalists see blogs as a creative alternative, the question is now whether the journalistic values of print are implemented online and how that can affect political blogs and blogs in general.

Many times people discount blogs as useless rants and streams of op-ed pieces that do not embodied any shred of objectivity. This can be very important when we look at politician's blogs and other blogs and try to figure out how informative they actually are. Is their credibility shot because of this general idea that they are rants? Are traditional journalistic values, values that could lend to the credibility of the blogs, taken for granted when you are blogging?

I am in a class entitled Criticisms of Press Evaluation and we have discussed at length the values we would like to see in good journalism. We want expression but still a sense of tact and objectivity, we want an overall goal to be getting the news that matters most to us and the US out there to us in a timely manner, making the news more informative even with the many constraints of today's world, and finally, to give us a background to our news, a sense of context.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors believes that the values of modern journalism should include balance/fairness, accuracy, leadership, accessibility, credibility, and judgment.

Both sets of beliefs are pretty similar and I think would probably make up what most people would see as good journalistic values as a whole. But how do these values transfer over to the world of blogs? Do journalists that host their own blogs carry these values on their shoulders and keep them in mind when they post?

Paul Wells, columnist for Maclean's and blogger for Inkless Wells, says he is "very conscious of wanting my blog to represent added journalistic value: to share reporting and observations that wouldn't ordinarily make it into the magazine. For me, it's a personal test to see how quickly I can deliver on-line commentary that retains the value of traditional journalism."

But do other big bloggers feel the same? Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor at the New Republic. He also hosts his own unedited blog,Easterblogg based off of the online edition of the New Republic. In a post criticizing the film "Kill Bill Vol. 1" by Quentin Tarantion, Easterbrook singled out Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein and Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, who were described as 'Jewish executives' who 'worship money above all else.' ... In an apology... Easterbrook attributed the furor, at least in part, to the peculiar perils of blogging. ...(he then went on to say) 'I stand by my original thoughts, which are important and true, but the language I used to express them was careless and bad. It was crummy work on my part.' (He then went on to say) speculated that 'maybe this is an object lesson in the new blog reality. I worked on this alone ... and posted the piece. Twenty minutes after I pressed 'send,' the entire world had read it. When I reread my own words and beheld how I'd written words that could be misunderstood, I felt awful.' "

With the good comes the bad, and in some cases the ugly. So just as in print journalism, some journalists seek to uphold the common journalistic values while others do not. Does blogging and the craft of it make it easier to post without reflection? In some ways, yes. Posting is so timely; got an idea, write your opinions, press 'post' and the deed is done. So is the key to have edited posts by journalists? No, newspapers with editors still print bias pieces that seek sensationalism and not good journalism. Easterbrook was a senior editor yet still posted his biased piece. So what is the answer? The answer lies within you to be watchful and critical of your sources whether they are in print, on TV, on teh radio or on your computer screen. The web gives you the choice to read what you want and scroll past what you don't. If not all journalists will uphold the values, then uphold your own and only read what embodies them.

The topic for today is journalists take on political blogs and why they have turned to this non-traditional form of journalism.

Just as I said earlier about politicians and their blogs, journalists are allowed to be much more free with their posts' content, diction, focus, and overall appeal. Blogs allow politicians (and their supporters) and journalists more freedom when it comes to expressing opinions and beliefs. I have already explored this point of view for politicians, now I am going to focus on the public's other opinion leaders, journalists.

Paul Wells is a back page columnist for Macleans, a Canadian newspaper. In addition to his print journalism, Wells has also created a political blog called Inkless Wells that is based off of the main web page of Maclean's.

The freedom I discussed earlier can be seen in Wells' blog because the content of the blog "lends itself to short, punchy arguments about the events of the moment: micro-columns, in effect." Blogs can be updated several times a day and do not need to wait until press release dates and are not under the intense editor scrutiny of print columns.

Besides being timelier, more expressive, and more relaxed, the blogs are more diverse in their story selection and content. "Wells says he loves the medium because he's able to use it to deliver unique takes on stories that are 'being covered to death' in newspapers and on television." Not only can journalists cover stories in a different light, they can also cover stories that may never see the light of day in most traditional news sources. Kobe stories that dominant the airways and press houses can be sided-stepped online because journalists feel like they can venture into different avenues since ratings and sales are not the primary forces that drive the agendas of papers. Freedom comes in the discussions and blogs on the debt crisis being faced by the Jubilee Movement International, the civil wars of Africa, or as one journalist on assignment with MSNBC in Iraq has done, he created his own personal blog that gives the more human side to Iraqis and their daily struggle. With Kevin Sites blog he has gone beyond the images we usually see on TV of blood-crazy Iraqis, to pictures and stories of women and children, their daily life, and their culture. Stories and pictures of this nature were not welcomed in print or on TV at the time of the war due to anti-patriotic fears.

So for journalists, these blogs allow for more freedom and diversity in the areas of topics, content, diction and language, sentiments, opinions, and expression overall. For them, it has changed the way they personally cover the news.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Money, money, money. No it's not just an ABBA song, it's what makes the world go around, but more importantly it is what makes the political world go around. Fundraising is probably the most important aspect of campaigning. Even though you would think the candidate and the platform would be, the truth is in this day and age, it is all about the mula. So the focus of today's post is to see how fundraising has changed due to the web and blogs.

Online donations are not new, in the 2000 elections Bradley and McCain made use of the web with online fundraising and with the use of online credit card donations, online fundraising has taken off for politics and non-profits. "The leading figure in all this is former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who, through a network of websites and blogs, has cultivated a devoted Internet following that helped him beat out other Democratic contenders in last quarter's fundraising totals." Dean is the man of the hour when it comes to all things political and online campaigning. However others are catching on to this cheap and easy way of fundraising. While Cheney was hosting a fundraising dinner spending time to get there and chipping in a bit of his own money for the base production, Dean dare his contributors to beat the $2000 plates and raise more. And beat him they did, in fact they doubled him. But not with $2000 plates but with an average contribution of just over $50. Big time totals don't need big time donations, just a lot of little ones.

But the appeal of online fundraising is not only that it is cheap and easy, but diverse. "It allows you to reach a large audience with a lot less expense.... And you're reaching a broad category of people who may not have been connected before to the campaign." With online fundraising you reach more than la-de-dah contributors with their black ties and fancy dresses. You reach everyone and anyone and they can give without even leaving their house. Also, with blogs not only can they donate their money but their opinions as well. With this lending of opinions, "it gives people a heightened sense of connection to campaigns and even a degree of empowerment. Dean's website is notably interactive, with supporters encouraged to offer up ideas and tips, some of which the campaign has used (the slogan "people-powered Howard" came from an online fan). " That is just one of the reasons why people think online campaigning is going to take off, because it is not just take your money and run, there is a connection, a link.

Money is coming in, ideas are coming in, and a new string of voters is believed to be coming in as well. Online campaigning and fundraising are very possibly the wave of the future. But the key to getting the money to keep rolling in is to provide a connection for the donors. The Internet has already created somewhat of a barrier between people who are more used to a traditional campaign. For many the idea of just donating through the Internet seems disconnected and a bit scary ti just send money off into the ether. But with people coming around due to things like eBay and Amazon, sending money to online sources is not quite so scary. Also, the link that blogs can inspire has helped to give more definition and sensibility to the fundraising. If you allow people to post comments on an official site and to be apart of the process, then they feel empowered and the idea of donating to a campaign that you feel apart of just makes more sense to people. Blogs and fundraising give the public a sense of ownership and as the quote above stated, empowerment. Two things that are very important for the world of politics and the answers to making online fundraising work.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

We have looked at two blogs and have seen what a politician's blog is and what it contains, it is time to see how it has shaped and changed the world of politicking and campaigns.

I will run a series of posts on this topic and will change the focus for each discussion. The topics will range from fundraising, to volunteering, to garnering support.

This post will focus on how blogs get opinions out about the campaign.

Politicians' blogs are very different from the campaigning the public sees on TV or reads in the newspaper. The discourse on the blogs is conversational, loose, and free. It differs greatly from campaign speeches that are stiff, full of big words, and conservative. Blogs allow the same message and news to get out to the public in a way that they can actually understand. Also, with the ability to post comments to each blog post, it is almost like a running conversation between people from all over the US.

Blogs allow supporters to express their true opinions. Since the words are not coming from the candidates themselves and people realize that it is not the candidate's words, the blogs say what they want and do what they want. To some people, this honesty of opinions in "blog postings can lend an aura of authenticity to a campaign, said Rick Klau, 31, a Dean blogger and software executive from Naperville, Ill. 'These are very honest opinions,' he said, and they're not poll-tested." The stiff, politically correct rhetoric of the candidates themselves, can now be loosened up and the public can have a bit more of a hands-on experience with politics, opinions, and campaigning. Also, blogs have "a way of spilling into the offline world. Blogs, they point out, can focus attention on issues the traditional media ignores. And they often provide digestible thoughts in conversational language. Ron Schmidt, a Dean supporter from Minnesota, said blogs give him ammunition for water cooler chat. "I work on people at the bus stop and work," he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. "I have the information, and that's what the blogs have given me . . . the POWER." Blogs bring information, opinions, and news down to a level for us who do not inhabit the world of politics on a daily basis. Blogs move political discourse off the hill and down to the city, the public.

However this amount of honesty can lead to some child's play. Trolls, web slang for people who go onto other sites and post harassing messages, from the Dean's Camp have invaded the Kerry blog. They got onto the Kerry blog and posted things like "Kerry a real Democrat???!!! That's a laugh." Which resulted in a Kerry blogger saying "until this stops, I am going to raise hell on the Dean boards, and I encourage all Kerry people to join me, (Dean) is a traitor anyway." Basically, a game of name-calling that we all hoped died at 5th grade recess.

So blogs get the information out there in new and different way that make all the political BS a bit easier to swallow and more approachable. However with this has come some immaturity, but mudslinging is nothing new to politics.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

We visited the left, now it's time for the right.

Bush jumped on the bandwagon and now has his own blog.

Few key things about the blog from the practical point of view. First, the post are posted by GeorgeWBush.com, so you can never tell who posts, how they are connected to the Administration, etc. (I expressed my concern about this in my Howard Dean Blog. This site once again leaves me asking, "So who posted this, who is representing the President?") The posts are daily, well organized, and the overall look is patriotic but not flashy. There are also lots of easy to use links to information on Bush, Cheney, and Laura Bush. The blog covers hot issues, posts that clarify issues and express opinions, as well as simple updates on schedules and agenda. The site is very organized with hot topics sections, archives, calendars and latest posts. Also, to help distinguish between posts, each one has a heading of "Opinion," or "Radio Alert," etc so that you know origins almost of the post, whether it is from a speech, or just his opinion. There is also the option to syndicate the site with XML and a link to learn what a blog is.

The actual content of the posts are informative, good clarification, and descriptive. It is actually more objective than I thought it would be. I mean you are expecting to get his side of things with his own bias because it is his site, but none of it is screaming at you to believe what he believes because I think the managers of the site realize that while he is running for president in 2004, he is still president now, in 2003, and he needs be informative, not just persuasive.

It has quotes and links to periodicals, like the WSJ and USA Today, to help substantiate opinion pieces. It also has direct quotes and speeches from the President to clarify looming issues. As well as schedule updates on when Bush will make TV broadcast or live webcasts. The information is also brought closer to home because it has regional topics like New Mexico Wildlife.

Surprisingly enough, it is not like the "VOTE FOR ME, YAY ME!" site of Dean. Their are small graphics that have links where you can donate funds, join the campaign team, etc. The blog is much more focused on issues and information than the Dean blog. I went in expecting one thing and was pleasantly surprised to not be pushed over with "Vote for me!" graphics flashing. Maybe it is because he realizing that blogs are not just for recruitment, or maybe he felt the need to be a bit more diplomatic since he is still the President. Either way it was a pretty good blog that was very informative and well organized.

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