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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just Think of Blogging as a Big Fish Fry

Despite the growth in blogging, few elected officials have ventured into the sphere. In Indiana, it’s a miniscule number.

That seems odd. These are folks who wouldn't turn down many opportunities to speak or do a meet and greet. It used to be said of one elected office-holder in Allen County that he would even go to a garage sale to campaign. Maybe they just need to start thinking of blogging as the equivalent of a big fish fry.

Credit needs to be given to State Representative Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) for creating a weblog. It's a good quality effort.

You would think that many elected officials would embrace weblogs. It would give them a way to communicate directly with constituents without the mediating institutions of newspapers, radio or television. It would allow them the chance to address issues in real time. It would allow them to address misperceptions and misunderstandings. It would give constituents a glimpse into the personality of the people they elect.

Government websites are already eliminating one of the common constituent refrains heard by elected officials – “Why wasn’t it in the newspaper?” The explanation that the government official can’t control what goes in the newspaper was often inadequate for people who felt they hadn’t been properly informed of an issue.

However, a long catalogue of meetings and minutia can’t perform the function of a well-functioning news organization. That is an editing function that informs the reader, viewer or listener what is regarded as important in the community. As the newshole shrinks and news organizations consolidate that function is declining in its impact.

The weblog of an elected official can at least inform the public what that official is seeing as important.

And a good weblog can give readers a glimpse into the elected official's point of view. The elected official has access to many sources of information; he or she would be able to share those sources with their readers. It would be fascinating to know what journals, studies, news sources or academics influence a particular official.

So, why aren’t more doing what Representative Dvorak has done? Part of the answer would be a lack of familiarity with the technology. Others would be a little unsure of their written communication skills. Many are comfortable in having their views somewhat vague or obscured; it's a trait part and parcel of how they approach their duties. Others would be unwilling to have a written record that a future opponent might gleefully mine at the next election.

And we should be lucky some officials don’t take up blogging. Some of the efforts would be painful to read. Many would be boring, particularly those that would be outsourced to a public information officer or intern. Pick up an Indiana weekly during the legislative session and you are likely to find an example. By the way, the fault isn’t with the staff person or intern; it’s the canned style that seems to be a requirement.

But there are many officials who could do them well. These would probably be the same sorts of people who wrote candid columns for newspapers years ago. Former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm (D) would be a national example. Former Indiana State Representative Jeff Linder (R) was well-admired for his candid writing and observations about the Statehouse.

Who today would be good? That is, folks who would be both candid and informative. Congressmen Mark Souder and Mike Pence come to mind.

And you know you would HAVE to read a daily Mitch Daniels blog, don’t you? The Governor already does quite a bit through his website and email. It wouldn’t be that big of a transition to a daily blog. And I think if the Governor went daily each morning before the legislative session it would drive a fair number of legislators to start blogging, too.

Thanks to Masson's Blog.

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