Thursday, January 26, 2006

"The Chair Recognizes the Gentleman from Blogginois..."

Illinois pols are prominently featured in ZDNet story on congressional blogging:
"When I reach out to the blog community, it gives me an opportunity to begin a dialogue with an extremely politically sophisticated and active community that I otherwise might not be able to reach," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., wrote in an e-mail to CNET News.com. "Another benefit of blogging is that, as opposed to delivering a speech, you get immediate and unlimited feedback, both positive and negative."

Obama and [Sen. John Kerry] are two of about 11 members of Congress who are blogging today, either on their own blogs or as guests on others' sites. Republicans like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas have joined the fray, along with Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York. ***

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." ***

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. ***

"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." ***

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."
The So-Called "Austin Mayor" Blog: A Tool That Increases Civic Participation!

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