Engaging with articulate commenters

The Slugger Awards in 2008 marked a change-up for a political weblog.

The Slugger Awards in 2008 marked a change-up for a political weblog.

I started my blog, Slugger O’Toole in early June 2002 purely as a research tool for a paper I was planning to write on the future of Unionism in Northern Ireland. At the time, I was still trying to assemble the writing team and hadn’t even approached a funding body.

Of course I didn’t need funding to start writing the blog. At the time the standard Blogger software package didn’t come with a commenting facility; and I didn’t even put titles on my post for the first month or so. They tended to be short narrative summaries of the day’s news in Northern Ireland.

But by the following February, we had the funding and were in a position to roll out interviews with some pretty senior people in Northern Irish politics. We shifted platforms to Moveable Type, primarily to give Slugger the commenting stability it lacked in Blogger.

Almost immediately the comment traffic took off.

At first it had the civility of the small village. By that stage we were on something just short of 1,000 visits a day. But as the site grew in reputation and the audience grew larger it became obvious that running a blog with pluralist values and sustaining a decent level of engaged discussion would require some conscious management. Continue reading

Should politicians blog?

Nicolo Machiavelli - a bit sceptical about all of this candour business

Niccolò Machiavelli - a bit sceptical about all of this 'candour' business

Shorter version: If you’re a politician, it may be a good idea to get into blogging. But do it under a pen-name! It’s safer that way, and it will make you better at your job.

This is an old-ish question nowadays. And as the big question around social media at the moment is ‘should everyone Twitter‘, I think it may be a good time to revisit the question of blogging – now that the one-note evangelism for the medium has died down.

I’m not convinced that most politicians should set up an official blog of their own, or formally blog in their own name. Annoyingly, this is not a common view. Daniel Hannan, a UK Conservative Party MEP says it’s a good idea.

The inestimable Shane McCracken of Gallomanor also thinks they should – indeed, he goes further and asks if leaders should blog (three different times – here, here and here).

Though my own conclusions are slightly different, I’ve been helping a few councillors to have a crack at it recently, and I suspect that a few of them will emerge from it very well.

Former Lewisham Councillor, Andrew Brown picked up (a while ago now) on a Centre for Policy Studies paper on how the internet is changing politics, and how it skews some biases that may already be there in terms of activism and influence. Continue reading

Councillors blogging – looking for encouragement

The www.blogger.com application is perfect for councillors wishing to trial weblogs for the first time

The http://www.blogger.com application is perfect for councillors wishing to trial weblogs for the first time

I’ve promised to help a few Councillors from Welwyn and Hatfield Borough Council start their own blogs. I already manage a project that is intended to get as many of them as possible to manage a small personal website.

Anyway, here are the five aspiring bloggers. All have made a start, but you will see that – in most cases – they need a bit of coaxing.

Hatfield West – Kim Morris
Peartree – Louise Lotz
Handside – Fiona Thomson
Panshanger – Roger Trigg
Welwyn West – Cllr Mandy Perkins

At least one of these councillors should be able to take this idea to the next level and really develop their status and skills as a local representative. Perhaps all of them will do it?

I know that they would all welcome any advice and encouragement that you would like to give them. It is easy to overestimate how apparent the advantages of blogging are – and how easy it is to pick up. In my experience, I’ve met a large number of great local representatives – hard-working, articulate and confident in their roles – who were quite stumped by the idea of blogging. Continue reading