Members Slow to Catch On to Blogging Phenomenon

Posted September 8, 2005 at 2:45pm

Web logs have been gaining popularity among Internet users in recent years, but few Members of Congress have caught the blogging buzz.

Considering that one out of every 20 people have created a blog, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, it’s somewhat surprising that so few Senators and Representatives have entered the blogosphere. With growing dependency on the Internet for information and communication, blogs have become an outlet for expressing one’s views and opinions on a wide range of topics. But blogs are not just for those writing the entries — they’re also for the people reading them.

“These posters are pretty impatient,” said Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who has a blog. “If you don’t post on a regular basis they get pretty angry.”

Tancredo, who has just recently launched a blog on his official House Web site, is one of the few Members who have embraced blogging. Adams said a blog was something Tancredo wanted to do and was personally interested in because “he’s never one to hide how he really feels — people understand he’s a straight shooter.”

The upkeep of a blog is no easy task. Someone in Tancredo’s press office has to go through the blog’s content every day, which can be trying since just one post can generate thousands of comments. Adams said it’s fine for those posting to disagree with the Congressman, but the office combs through the comments for “inappropriate content,” which includes foul language and remarks that they believe are demeaning.

“I think we’ll have to make those [rules] clear at some part of our blog,” Adams said. Tancredo formerly hosted a blog on a third-party site, www.myownjournal.com, but his office was having problems updating the blog and wasn’t able to control it, Adams said.

“There’s a balancing act you have with having interactivity with those who want to post on your blog and making sure that the content is appropriate,” Adams said. “It was difficult to remove inappropriate responses.”

While Tancredo has moved his blog to his House Web site, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) blogs through his campaign Web site, www.johnconyers.com, paid for and authorized by Conyers for Congress.

Many people seeking election on both local and federal levels have turned to blogs as a way to not only get their message out, but also as a fundraising tool. Blogs were abundant during the 2004 presidential election as many of the candidates had blogs, in addition to blogs that kept interested parties up-to-date with the latest happenings and those authored by grass-roots supporters. As Roll Call reported in May, “Blogging gods emerged, and today sites such as Daily Kos, Instapundit and Atrios have established themselves as influential outlets for information on national news stories and sites that voters and politicians alike are paying attention to.”

Conyers’ site offers a link to ConyersBlog, which features almost daily posts by “JC” himself. The site also allows comments, but those who want to post a comment on Conyers’ blog must register for the site, creating a user ID and password. There also is an “Agreement to Rules of User Content” that those interested in signing up for the blog must read and agree to before registering.

Even though visitors to the site must agree to the terms of use, not all comments are deemed appropriate. In fact, a posting by the site’s administrator on Aug. 25 read: “The content of the postings here has recently taken a negative and distasteful turn. We want this space to be used for free and open debate. What is not appropriate here are commenters who are 1) anti-semitic or suggest anti-semitism, 2) disrespectful of other posters, or 3) advocating violence and threatening other commenters. Please respect these standards so that everyone may enjoy this resource. Several offending posts have been deleted.” Efforts to reach Conyers’ office for this article were unsuccessful.

The necessary staff power devoted to making sure the blog’s comments are on the up-and-up is “an issue,” according to Adams, but comments are something that Tancredo wants on his blog. However, other Members with links to blogs on their official Web sites, such as Reps. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), do not offer the option for people to post responses.

Matt Lloyd, communications director for Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), said his office doesn’t “have the staff to monitor [a comments section or] to put the time in for the upkeep” of such a section. “It’s mainly a staffing issue.”

Lloyd said Pence’s press staff writes many of the entries, which are updated daily, especially when Congress is in session. However, Pence contributes to the blog when he is traveling overseas to places such as Afghanistan or Iraq, and there was an extensive entry following the funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

Pence’s blog might be considered a veteran among Senators and Representatives, as it has been around since March 2004. Many blogs by other Members were started early this year.

“We took [the suggestion of a blog] to the Congressman and he thought it was a great idea,” Lloyd said. “He likes to be on the cutting edge of technology, especially when it comes to communications.”

But while Lloyd said the lack of the ability to post comments is a staffing issue, some Members might just not know that it’s an option to have those reading the blog respond to postings.

“I thought there was limited capability on that,” said Matt Towson, spokesman for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). The link to Kirk’s blog, which was launched in January, is right below an envelope icon next to the words “Write Mark” in capital letters. Towson said he believes that the ability to comment “was a feature that we wanted,” but even though it’s not an option, the office has “received letters where people have written based on what they’ve read on the blog.”

The launch of Tancredo’s blog makes his the first blog on an official House Web site that allows comments, and as it currently stands, there are no rules or guidelines in place for blogs that restrict comments.

“There aren’t any different regulations in regard to blogs, standard franking rules apply,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio). “Everything on the Members’ Web site has to relate to official business, it can’t be political or overly partisan in nature.”

So how much is too much in terms of the comments being posted to a Member’s blog? If a Member posts something relating to an issue they’re supporting in either chamber, what exactly is keeping the comments posted in response from being “political” or “overly partisan?” With only one actual official blog allowing comments so far, the answers to these questions are unclear.

“I don’t know if there’s much of a point of having a blog if it’s going to be just Tom’s thought of the day,” Adams, of Tancredo’s office, said. “One of the most difficult, time-consuming parts of this is having people comment, but I think that’s the point of it.”