July 01, 2005
Blogging the Lege

Governing Magazine has a cover story on political blogs in Texas, in particular blogs that focused on the State Legislature. Eileen Smith is the cover girl and main focus of the piece, but they did talk to a few other bloggers, myself included.

There's a lot of good stuff in this article. Thankfully, we seem to have come to a point where coverage of blogs isn't necessarily cutesy or breathless. I thought this was a pretty fair assessment of what the medium is and what it does.

Blogs are forcing the dailies, which are fighting to gain younger readers anyway, to adapt. The American-Statesman, for example, launched its own statehouse blog this year, called “Postcards From The Lege.” Five reporters contribute quick-hit items, typically drawn from their own reporting. The pieces are shorter than typical newspaper stories, and timed to please the obsessive reader who clicks “refresh” on his browser all day long. “A lot of these items didn’t have a home [in the newspaper] before we started,” says editor Gary Susswein. “They were things that only a few thousand people in the capitol care about, but most of our readers don’t. They would’ve died in our notebooks.”

Postcards is more serious, and less freewheeling, than In The Pink and the other independent blogs. “The entertainment value is low,” says Gardner Selby, the American-Statesman’s chief political reporter, “but the information value is high.” Stylistically, the paper has loosened its necktie a bit with the blog, but not much. A pair of editors vets every item. “We’re still a newspaper, and we can’t expose biases and opinions openly,” Susswein says. When asked about In The Pink, he replies, “She can definitely go in directions we might not go in. She can tell it as she sees it. We don’t want to get in the business of telling it exactly as the reporter sees it. That would undermine our credibility.”

I personally found Postcards from the Lege to be a very useful resource, something I hope other newspapers try to adopt as well (hey, Dwight, when are we gonna see something like that at the Chron?). If I have one wish for the upcoming election seasons, it'll be to see something similar for covering the campaign trails (note my one quote in there about writing on state house races).

Blogs may pose a more direct challenge to political newsletters. Texas has three of them, the Quorum Report, Capitol Inside, and Texas Weekly. Each charges $250 for an annual subscription, and is aimed more or less at the same niche of insiders that the blogs reach for free. Currently, the blogs come nowhere close to the newsletters in terms of providing useful information for staffers or lobbyists. But that could change. It all depends on who decides to take up blogging — and what sort of information they’re willing to share. “Blogs now have more gossip and entertainment value than the kind of stuff that would dominate the decision-making political conversation,” says Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report. Kronberg admits that he reads In The Pink, but he doesn’t see Eileen Smith or her contemporaries as a threat. “Blogs don’t have the range, the reach or the institutional memory. That’s not to say someone won’t come along who does.”

I think this is all basically correct, but I also think it won't be long before the pay services start to feel a pinch. I may not have the qualities that Kronberg mentions (though I do have three and a half years' worth of archives, and I make heavy use of them), who's to say Eileen or someone like her won't be able to develop a business plan that allows for the kind of coverage that the likes of The Quorum Report puts out. The Texas Observer dipped a toe into blogging this session; if they got serious about it, they'd be a threat, too.

One likely addition to the blogging mix in Texas is new voices from the political right. Most of the current blogs come at politics from the left. That’s probably to be expected — not because bloggers tend to be Democrats but because those first drawn to blogging tend to be dissenters. Nationally, conservatives first took up blogging because they believed a liberal media ignored their views. In Texas politics, the reverse has happened.

David Benzion, one of the few conservative bloggers in Texas, agrees with this theory. Benzion is managing editor of the “Lone Star Times,” a blog that he and Houston talk-radio host Dan Patrick started in January. “If you’re a ’progressive’ in Texas, you feel like you’re under siege,” Benzion says. “You’re living in George W. Bush’s conservative Texas. Some people on the liberal side picked up blogging in state politics as a way to vent. There are probably some on the conservative side who would be blogging about state politics, but don’t feel the need to because they’re basically content.”

There are actually plenty of right-leaning political blogs in Texas, but in terms of covering the Legislature, there was very little from that perspective. Most of the ones I read are either more local in nature, or more national/international. I wouldn't say that I got into it because I felt "under siege", but I admit I feel that way sometimes when I see some of the uglier things that the Lege can do.

There's a nice little sidebar on the bottom about Rep. Aaron Pena, the statehouse blog evangelist and my source for this link. All in all, a fine job by author Christopher Swopa. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 01, 2005 to Blog stuff | TrackBack

All in all, a fine job by author Christopher Swopa.

You mean "Christopher Swope," of course.

"Swopa" is someone entirely different. ;-)

Posted by: Swopa on July 3, 2005 3:56 PM