Yet the ProJo, with a three-person State House bureau and other experienced political reporters, tends to update its political blog too rarely to justify frequent visits. (Tom Heslin, who took the reins this week as the newspaper’s acting top editor, following the retirement of longtime executive editor Joel P. Rawson, didn’t return a call seeking comment.)

Instead, the real action is found at the smaller number of most active blogs, including RI’s Future and Anchor Rising. At their best, these and similar sites stimulate debate, break news, yield connec-tions, give voice to more people, and put a bit of the power of the press into the hands of passionate and engaged citizen-activists.

BLOWING UP ON THE INTERNET: Katz (left, with Comtois and Andrew Morse) points to how
bloggers of modest influence can have a significant impact if the right people are reading.

Blogging + the body politic
Picking up on a recent New York Times' story about the unexpected death, in one week, of two middle-aged bloggers, Lee Drutman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Berkeley, used an April 15 op-ed in the ProJo to contend that the constant appetite of the blogosphere is bad for the body politic.

“The biggest problem is that instant-comment pressures inherent in the Blogosphere sweatshop generate a reflexive (as opposed to thoughtful) political discourse,” Drutman wrote. “It’s not so hard to pull a few generic talking points off the shelf, throw in a few clever turns of phrase, and link to the latest Washington Post article on the war or the election, all in a matter of minutes. The problem is it’s the same talking points over and over again, and so round and round we go, from the bed to the computer and back to the bed again, never going for a contemplative walk in the fresh air, perhaps to come across new insights and observations.”

To be sure, there are shortcomings to be found on local blogs, particularly a periodic excess of personal attacks and a mix of bitchy and moronic comments, the short observations made by readers, that can be variously tasty or enervating.

Ultimately, though, Rhode Island bloggers rise or fall on their ability to present compelling information and trenchant points of view.

Marc Comtois, a regular contributor to Anchor Rising, sums this up well: “For me, writing a blog post helps me to strengthen my own thought process with regards to what I believe. If I’m going to present an argument for or against something, I had better be clear why I’m taking the stance I am.

“It also has made me more engaged in Rhode Island politics,” Comtois adds. “I think the natural starting point for most political bloggers is to focus on the national scene. There is so much more source material, after all. It takes more work to dig into local issues. While data is easier to find than it used to be, a lot of the research isn’t there. It is up to a part-time blogger to aggregate data from various sources to help support his argument or solution. In the end, it’s all worth it if the result helps to push our state in the right direction.” 

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