And while blogs may not single-handedly spearhead a resurgence of broader political interest, they do provide an easy and accessible way to get plugged in, for newfound political junkies or even those with just a bit of interest.
Going very local on the ’net
John McDaid, a Portsmouth-based science fiction writer, launched Hard Deadlines, which focuses on local politics, because he was fed up with how a citizens’ group had sharply cut the town and school budgets in 2006.
“I had been blogging for a couple of years — I’ve been doing hypertext since 1987 — but the shift into local politics was enlightened self-interest,” he says. “Our son was just starting school, and I was not going to sit on the sidelines and let the self-styled tax rebels control the public discourse around education. I started going to every town meeting and writing them up.
“I’d been doing gonzo journalism since college — in those days, for zines — and I’d been a drooling Hunter S. Thompson fan-boy since the ’80s,” McDaid continues. “I saw a need and an opportunity, so I waded in and started to tell the truth about what was going on. I am meticulous about getting the facts right, but I’m just as uncompromising about calling bullshit when I see it.”
The availability of this kind of specific local information, done well, can be a valuable resource. On a broader basis, Rhode Island blogs have demonstrated an enough consequence that Brown University po-litical science professor Darrell West deems them “very influential.”
In a sign of this impact, one of Comtois’s posts at Anchor Rising, for example, ranks 10th among Google’s search options for “stimulus package.” And by making hundreds of posts touting Sheldon White-house’s progressive credentials, and questioning Lincoln Chafee’s role in creating a Republican-controlled Senate, Jerzyk believes that his Rhode Island’s Future blog played a significant role in Whitehouse’s 2006 victory. He also broke the story, which got national attention, of how a Chafee Senate staffer was wrongly using her government computer to rap Whitehouse.
The blogs also expand the amount of local media criticism, with Rhode Island’s Future typically zeroing in on the ProJo from the left, with Anchor Rising doing likewise from the right.
In a similar instance, Jerzyk criticized Jim Taricani for not asking tougher questions of Steve Laffey during the all-but-announced GOP gubernatorial candidate’s recent appearance on 10 News Conference. Taricani tells me that he tends to agree with the criticism, but, like some other local reporters, he sees the local blogosphere as more of an inside game, appealing mostly to journalists, political types, activists, and other media junkies.
Yet Jack Templin, an Internet consultant who operates the RI Nexus blog, describes the situation more broadly.
“The Rhode Island blogosphere is making its authors and readers much more aware of what’s happening in virtually every aspect of local life — politics, entertainment, culture, commerce, architecture and urban planning, et cetera,” Templin says. “Perhaps most importantly, it’s making them much more aware of one another.