Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on MSM and blogging

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:36 AM |  

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, the local press continues to write about blogs and blogging, but don’t see the potential to ingrate either the medium or the talent pool into their own operations.

The latest is this offering from the Star Tribune about ways in which local officials are using the medium of blogs to better communicate with their constituent base.
Not long ago it might have been hard to find out what's been ailing the Northfield police chief, or where the Eden Prairie city manager was going on a midwinter getaway, or the latest redevelopment efforts in Rosemount.

But now there are Web logs. And around the metro area, some elected and appointed officials are blogging away, maintaining Internet diaries that often go well beyond the quarterly constituent newsletter.

"It just seems like a few years ago that my son Chris graduated from a training bike to the 'big kid' bike," wrote Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith on his blog for Feb. 13, describing how his son was now learning to drive a car. Within days of that posting, Smith, who said he spends several hours of his own time each day freshening up his site, also had "blogged" about other topics.

They included a flu bug traveling through the Police Department. And he had knocked down an urban myth about a law regarding contact with aliens and reported on a recent seminar on crime suspect identification.

Smith said that, judging from e-mail responses, he's been able to keep readers interested since he started the blog eight months ago.
And here is the lesson for newspapers --

Local state Rep. Ray Cox has been blogging since shortly after his election in 2002, and several city, county and school board officials -- as well as a handful of public-minded citizens -- are sharing blog space on Northfield.org, a blog maintained by the nonprofit group Northfield Citizens Online.

Griff Wigley, a Northfield Citizens member who also consults on blogging in business circles, has long been energized by the "salon" model of civic dialogue championed by the Utne Reader magazine, where he once worked. Blogs merely adapt that model to the Internet, he said, providing a place for constructive discussion of local issues and building community along the way.

Wigley said that blogs by government officials help remove the information filters -- such as newspapers -- that, he argued, can separate citizens from their governments. "People are hungry for this authenticity, which is so hard to get from big institutions," he said [emphasis added].
But, here comes the “balanced” part of the story.
Of course there's still a question of whether blogs are simply another way for officials to control information, this time with personality.

"The very environment of blogging has some problems inherent about trustworthiness," noted Milda Hedblom, director of the Telecommunications and Information Society Policy Forum at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and a professor of politics and communication at Augsburg College. But while blogs also can be notoriously unreliable as sources of information, public officials bring a high level of credibility to the arena, Hedblom added.

"It's more definite who they are than a lot of the other people out there," Hedblom said.
That’s not exactly line-in-the-sand concise commentary from someone who’s supposed to be an expert. My simply non-PHD translation is that people who lie to the press will lie on their blogs -- the difference is when they attach their name to a blog, instead of being “an unnamed source,” they carry accountability for what they say. Tell me again why that is bad?

Hugh Hewitt's definitive work on blogs and blogging for business executives, government officials or anyone else with a need to communicate with customers or constituents, Blog, at Amazon.com.