Shearon Roberts, an LSU Masters Student working for the Wall Street Journal, conducted a series of interviews with interesting and innovative political bloggers as a project for a class I taught. She talked to Tony Trupiano (Democratic candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 11th district) who blogs at: http://www.tony4congress2006.com/blogs/

How involved are you in operating the blog, making posts and reading comments?

The blog is one of the few things that I am 98% present in. I do my own blogging, I do read the blog. I think it’s a great communication too. I think it is an opportunity…you give people access…not so much to the candidate but to the process. I find blogging to be almost therapeutic at times. And it’s a great communications tool.

How frequently is the blog updated?

At least once a week. I mean if I had time, I’d love to do it everyday. And I’ve kind of kind of fought this idea that somebody else can blog for me. For me that takes away from authenticity. So once a week, twice a week, sometimes more but I try to blog about something at least once a week.

How is the blog designed, is it a true blog–a strict daily diary or a mix of website features and posts? What is the writing style or tone of the blog?

Depending on the topic really depends on the tone (of writing). Not too long ago we had a major automotive plant close in my area and so that was much more personal. If I’m blogging about policy, obviously that’s going to be a bit more academic. So it’s the whole spectrum, it’s not just one style.

Why did you begin the blog and for what reasons?

Well the blog started the day we went up with the website. And again it was just another opportunity to connect with people as I’m sure you’re aware, when you blog, you can set up a blog so it informs people that have signed up that there’s a new blog. So they can come in and comment and read it and distribute it and do whatever it is they want to do. And again it’s just another delivery method for the message. And it’s important to get your message out there. I don’t think we’ve quite figured out how important netroots people are in a real definitive way, but we know they’re important enough that we don’t want to ignore them. And again it’s another constituency, Shearon, to be honest.

To what degree is the blog filtered and what is the extent of the feedback in terms of comments?

Well we don’t filter comments at all. I will tell you that we had…and as I found out that it is not uncommon…my blog has got inundated with spammers about a month ago. And so this I did not do…I had somebody go in and clean out all the spam—most of it was porn. And it took forever so we closed the comment section down for a month. And the advise we were given was after a month the bugs or whoever find the blogs to do this—they give up for after a while. But we will open it back up for comments probably by Monday next week.

It’s really been quite refreshing and of course not all of them agree with my position in terms of other posters on the blog. But to me that’s where you begin to learn the parameters of a topic. I of course believe that…I’m open minded so I do want to hear all sides on an issue. I ask people to be respectful, Shearon, to me it’s important that people are respectful to others opinion. I don’t necessarily like name calling. There’s only been specifically two comments that we deleted because the language was just inappropriate.

What have been some of the positive or negative outcomes or advantages of the blog?

I think it’s too early to give you an answer on that. I think the big negative has been the spamming experience we went through with which was horrendous. I mean it was really bad, Shearon. One day we had hundreds, I mean literally hundreds of hundreds of porno spam in every comment. And so that was a big negative.

But I haven’t really had anybody scream out to me oh my God that was amazing or that was horrible. I don’t know that I can give you a definitive answer to that question.

Do you consider blogs to be a valuable tool for politicians and why? If not, then why not? [Are there subjects that a politician should blog about and others that s/he should not?]

Anything classified of course, you would not want to be blogging about. There are some excellent blogs out there. I know that Harry Reid has a blog that’s really popular. I know that John Conyers from my own home state has a blog that’s very popular. Certainly you want to stay topical. I would think that it’s no different than if you’re doing news and as I was in radio for a dozen years, you tend to write about what’s happening at the time. The only thing again that would be inappropriate would certainly be if it’s classified information. I think blogs have a tendency to make candidates and elected officials more real. If they’re doing the blogging, and I think it’s pretty obvious to some degree if it’s the elected or candidate that’s doing the blogging or their staff.

How large is the audience for the blog? Who is the main audience for your blog?

Well I would think that the target audience for my blog to answer the question backwards is probably my base. To answer your question the number of people who read it, by site steps tells me that there are at least 1,200…1,400 people a day that visit my blogs. I’d have to do a little bit more homework on things like how long they stay, are they reading, are they commenting and leaving. We’re somewhere in that window where I consider to be a lot of blog traffic.

People say that blogs are one way for political leaders to talk directly to the people, bypassing the filer of mainstream media. Do you see that at work in your blog?

It’s interesting… if you go back before there were blogs say when there were websites, you had a pressroom and in that pressroom you had press releases. It had a different feel to it and now the facts would all be the same as they are in a blog ok? But there is a different feel to it. So we use blogs and we should be using blogs and I agree with what you said that it is a way to have a direct interaction with the people without the filter of the media and has you know in your own paper and in other mainstream papers, blogs are quite often quoted. And the reason for that is we know that to be the source. And so I think it is an amazing and affective tool if used responsibly.

Do you see the trend expanding?

As long as that technology is the “it” technology. Who knows what happens from here. Are we going to end up with audio blogs where you actually use your voice on a blog. I mean who knows where the technology is actually heading. The answer to that question is absolutely. I do see that it will continue to grow. I do see that it will continue to be an effective tool to communicate with your constituents. Whatever that constituency might be, I mean there are products that have blogs and there is a reason for that because it creates buzz.

Originally posted September 8, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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