Blogs keep us plugged in on politics

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on December 16th, 2006:

You probably know Sally Greene, Mark Kleinschmidt and Laurin Easthom well as members of the Chapel Hill Town Council. You may not, though, know about another pastime that the three of them also share. They are among the ever-growing cadre of local bloggers.

Greene is one of the most intellectually well-rounded people I have ever met, and it comes through in her blog postings. She practices law, lectures and teaches about racial issues in the South and has edited an essay collection about the writings of Virginia Woolf. Her postings in the nearly two and a half years since she started her blog, titled GreeneSpace, have touched on all of those topics as well as her more public role as a member of the council.

Some of her more recent postings have included a preview of a panel that she will be moderating next month in relation to desegregation in Chapel Hill, a discussion of Barbies and advice on affordable Christmas gifts.

Of course she has also delved into the scale of buildings downtown and other more political stuff.

She does a good job of posting new material most every day, and her blog is definitely like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate -- you never know what you're going to get.

I feel smarter for reading her blog, and I think many readers would, too. Check it out at greenespace.blogspot.com.

Mark Kleinschmidt's focus is a little more narrow than that of Greene, but the topics he covers on his blog still go far beyond that of standard town business.

In his day job, Kleinschmidt works as the executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative, which works to recruit and train death penalty lawyers.

Considering his professional interests, it's not surprising that his blog has become just about the best source of up-to-the-minute information about pending executions in the state.

For folks concerned about the death penalty, Kleinschmidt's blog is one-stop shopping for information on things they can do to help fight against it. It is also a good place to go to read his thoughts about ongoing capital cases across North Carolina, as well as national trends.

Kleinschmidt also provides good coverage of LGBT issues locally and around the country. For instance, last month he provided detailed coverage of a conference he attended in Houston for gay and lesbian leaders across the country.

Kleinschmidt has a unique perspective as one of a very small handful of openly gay elected officials in North Carolina, and that comes through in his writings. You can read his blog at markforcouncil.org.

The most thorough coverage of local government on a council member's blog is provided by Laurin Easthom.

She has provided in depth coverage of her thoughts on the Lot 5 development plans, wireless internet in Chapel Hill and upcoming public hearings.

She also occasionally covers other topics of interest to her. For instance, she has expressed her displeasure at the outsourcing of job duties that many UNC dental technicians have recently faced, as well as her distaste with some of the final actions of the Republican Congress.

Easthom's blog is updated pretty sporadically, but I don't fault her for it because she gets very few comments.

It is very difficult to sustain the motivation to be an active blogger if you don't feel like anyone is listening.

So maybe if you go and read the posts and write some comments at laurineasthom.wordpress.com, she will start writing more frequently.

I don't think elected officials have any obligation to blog whatsoever. Their service to the community through the dozens upon dozens of meetings they attend every month, in addition to all the e-mails and phone calls they have to respond to, is more than enough. But I certainly do appreciate the ones who do take the time to communicate with constituents through this public forum.

Of course, in its fourth year, orangepolitics.org, the baby of Chapel Hill Planning Board chairwoman Ruby Sinreich, remains the best place to go for discussion of local politics. Many local officials who do not maintain their own blogs do a great job of keeping up with and participating in the discussion there. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, Alderman Dan Coleman and Chapel Hill council member Cam Hill all post there regularly. Every member of the Board of Aldermen has chimed in at one time or another, as have Orange County commissioners Moses Carey and Mike Nelson, and Chapel Hill council member Ed Harrison.

I think there are very few communities around the country that match the level of connectedness our elected officials in Orange County have.

If you haven't already, you can gain a wider perspective about local politics and the folks you have elected by checking out these four blogs.

Issues: 

Total votes: 78

Comments

Gee Tom, why did you completely omit Squeeze the Pulp? Technically it's a discussion forum rather than a blog--but while OP uses blogging sofware it functions more as a discussion forum. Just because you don't agree with some of the people who post there, why ignore its presence (especially since you post there too)?

Tom, I think you're missing the point with the comment

Easthom's blog is updated pretty sporadically, but I don't fault her for it because she gets very few comments.

It is very difficult to sustain the motivation to be an active blogger if you don't feel like anyone is listening.

It's not unusual to have many more readers than commenters. I'm sure even OP's stats will demonstrate that... I imagine Laurin's output is more related to personal time constraints than anything else. As you know, the care and feeding of a 'blog can be a time consuming endeavor.

OP is an oddity that stands out because many folks have contributed to it over time. That said, its relevance is not a given...

Will is right: Far more people read this site than comment on it. Far more.

Thanks for the warm fuzzies, Terri and Will. The subject of Tom's column was elected officials blogging, something that is done here on OP and on the other sites he mentioned.

If you think that your favored online hangouts are more relevant than OP, why are you still reading and commenting on this one?

Who said anything about favored online hangouts Ruby? Why is mentioning other venues besides OP a problem for you?

Thanks for your warm fuzzies.

As per Mark's comment above, we are currently averaging about 390 unique visitors per day. The general rule of thumb is that the ratio of lurkers to commenters is about 10-to-1.

I don't have a problem with mentioning other sites (I even have whole page of links to them), but I find the regular disparagement of this one by people who frequently use it as a platform for their own ideas kind of irritating.

Terri-

As Ruby pointed out my column was about elected officials blogging. The only elected official I can think of writing anything at STP in the last six months is Mike Kelley, and his posts are not that frequent.

I only post on STP to defend myself when people attack me or organizations I am involved with, including in at least one instance a very personal attack. I certainly am not going to promote it to the broader public.

Will,

I am well aware that many more people read blogs than post on them. Many people who have blogged but stopped told me that a lack of feedback and readership was a major factor in their ceasing to do so. I think most people appreciate feedback on their work. I saw that a friend of mine, John Heuer, went and posted a comment on a nearly two month old post on Laurin's blog after reading about it in my column. That was exactly the kind of thing I had hoped for in writing it.

Tom,

You wrote "If you haven't already, you can gain a wider perspective about local politics and the folks you have elected by checking out these four blogs." (Greene, Kleinschmidt, Easthom and OP)

To ignore STP's presence and different perspective on local politics perpetuates the current chasm, reflected in anger over road connectedness, growth, transportation, taxes, etc. Have you seen the Campaign for America's Future contest on "what is a progressive?" My favorite response is "A Progressive believes that a better life is possible for everyone. They know that when we make room at the table for everyone, we are all enriched." (emphasis added)

Conservatives do write on STP. People who are (very) angry about annexation do write on STP. Mike Kelley and Alex Zaffron have written on STP and Mark Chilton has a user ID. Dan Coleman reads it and comments behind the scenes. It's part of the community political scene. Purposely excluding those who reflect a different view of local politics than you do is not "making room at the table." It's the season to turn the other cheek.

STP has it's place, but they can't publish rumors and lies about local leaders and expect to be taken seriously by those same people they attack. Tom writes an OPINION column, he's not obligated to catalog every local web site in the County just for the sake of completeness.

Rumors and lies about local elected officials? I haven't seen any more of that on STP than I've seen here.

I questioned Tom's decision to omit another forum, Ruby. I didn't demand he write a retraction. I wasn't rude or disparaging. What's the problem?

1) Decide what you're fighting about.
2) Get over it.
3) Decide not to change your mind.

Works every time.

Actually Terri, to me your first post sounded both sacrcastic and patronizing toward Tom. May have got the dialogue headed into a tail spin.

Terri: "It's the season to turn the other cheek." Hmmmm. And the rest of the year JC suggested we scratch each others eyes out?

Tom: thanks for the suggestions. Sally's blog is great. Haven't read Mark or Laurin's yet but I'm going to. Enough about STP already ....

By the way, I avidly follow *all* local elected officials blogs' through my local blogroll but I've often been disappointed when they stop posting after winning their elections.

County Commissioner Mike Nelson's blog http://electmikenelson.com has a great big gap after May (when he won the primary). But he has recently been writing lots of very interesting, thoughtful, and informative blog entries. Recent topics include: the Med School Dean's religious bigotry (which I'm tempted to blog about myself!), John Edwards presidential campaign, and equity in Orange County library funding. Keep it up, Mike!

haha I didn't realize that Mike was doing that Ruby, or I definitely would have mentioned it.

Sorry Mike!

 

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