“People are becoming (more) aware of one another, meeting one another (both online and off), making friends/foes — a lot of community is being forged and/or strengthened because of the blo-gosphere.” RI Nexus, which includes discussion forums, a job and internship board, and other tools, has also catalyzed business, Templin says, including partnerships, events, sales, hiring, and in-vestments.

So you want to be the next daily kos?
Daily newspapers, meanwhile, still provide much of the most important grist for the blogging mill, and the downsizing of newspaper staffs across the country isn’t good for civic culture.

As Eric Alterman wrote in the New Yorker of March 31, even with legitimate criticism of the New York Times for a lack of sufficient skepticism before the war in Iraq, “It is impossible not to wonder what will become of not just news but democracy itself, in a world in which we can no longer depend on newspapers to invest their unmatched resources and professional pride in helping the rest of us to learn, however imperfectly, what we need to know.”

Hard Deadlines’ McDaid, as a science fiction writer, seems well-suited for looking into the future, and he thinks blogs will become increasingly local and interactive, offering more promise than mass media for reporting on Rhode Island’s distinct communities.

“The issues that people care about — environment, taxes, education — all have huge local touch points, and the key to a truly empowered electorate is timely, accurate information,” he says. “As the oil shock finally kills off the staggering dinosaur of print, and demographic targeting knocks the last prop out from under local TV news, we’re going to see a boom in micro-media (most likely on smart phones.)

“And as the generation that grew up with the Interwebz comes into positions of power, they’re not going to put up with broadcast any more. I’m looking forward to being able to track local stuff on Twitter” — a social networking and micro-blogging service — “and its progeny the way current reporters keep the police scanner on in the newsroom.”

He anticipates more politicians like state Representative David Segal (D-Providence), who posts on blogs and helped to launch Providence Daily Dose. “I expect to see Town wikis instead of Town Meetings,” McDaid adds. “When there was a kerfuffle last fall about a well-respected coach at our high school being reappointed, the students put together a Facebook group and packed the School Committee meeting. Once those folks begin to take an interest in town governance, expect a tectonic shift.”

Yet while big changes certainly lay ahead, as newspapers and other media continue to struggle in adapting to a new environment, a shakeout in the local blogosphere may be just as likely — particularly considering the hard work and meager economic returns characteristic of independent bloggers.

For his part, Rhode Island’s Future’s Jerzyk takes pride in his blog’s growth, as evidenced by a bigger corps of contributors, its involvement in a 50-state network of progressive blogs, technology that allows users to create and publish their own posts, and a rating system that deletes the lowest-rated comments. “They say the true test of leadership is to build a team, and when you walk away, every-thing functions the same as if you were there,” he says. “That is my hope for the future of RI Future.”

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