“This is such an important part of community,” says Kiersten Marek, a liberal social worker who blogs in Cranston. “When something concerns you in life and you put out a call, you want a response. This is, in effect, what I do on my blog. It concerned me that a concrete plant was suddenly being built in our vicinity without neighbors being informed, so I started to talk about it on my blog. A community group rose up to fight it and I joined that group. Members of that group used Kmareka to discuss news about the concrete plant, to strategize on how to deal with the problem, to publicize ac-tions and events, and to support one another’s efforts. You just can’t get that from the newspaper or from TV. That’s why blogs are revolutionary.”
Perhaps, but considering how the best-read Rhode Island blogs — including my own Not for Nothing — tend to get roughly 2000 visitors a day, does this situation speak more to the splintering of a common media with broad appeal? And can blogs truly take up some of the slack being yielded by newspapers, or do they represent a new era of limited, self-selecting audi-ences reading sources that mostly reinforce their pre-existing views and biases?
The apex of a new approach
Earlier this year, when Brown University graduate Josh Marshall won a prestigious Polk Award for Legal Reporting, it highlighted how blogs and bloggers can play a significant role in political coverage.
According to the citation for the award, Marshall’s TPM Media — which employs five reporters in New York City, and two in Washington — “led the news media in coverage of the politically motivated dismissal of United States attorneys across the country. Noting a similarity between firings in Arkansas and California, Marshall and his staff (with his staff reporter-bloggers Paul Kiel and Justin Rood) connected the dots and found a pattern of federal prosecutors being forced from office for failing to do the Bush Administration’s bidding. Marshall’s tenacious investigative reporting sparked interest by the traditional news media and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.”
While relatively few independent bloggers can assemble a similarly well-staffed, expansive, and profitable operation, Rhode Island’s blogosphere has become impressive in its variety.
There are, to name a few, locally based blogs for tech geeks and entrepreneurs, the legal community, same-sex marriage proponents, industrial designers, the young and irreverent, Democrats, and Republicans, and those concerned with intellectual property.
For communities sometimes overlooked by the Providence-centric media, the presence of sites such as Hard Deadlines, which focuses on Portsmouth, or RI’s Twelfth, which emphasizes that state Senate district, enrich the information landscape.
Big media’s entry to the game further signals the evolution of blogging in Rhode Island. In recent years, WJAR-TV’s Jim Taricani, WPRI-TV’s Tim White, and WPRO-AM’s Dan Yorke have introduced blogs on their employers’ Web sites, showing an initial flurry of interest before, in some cases, a significant decline in the frequency of posts.
The ProJo has likewise made a half-hearted embrace of blogging. Besides offering a no-brainer breaking news blog, the statewide daily has staffers who truly get blogging, particularly sports editor Art Martone, who does a great job with his Red Sox blog, and new-media sage Sheila Lennon, blogging since 2002, who focuses on technology and topical events.