Should Presidential Candidates Blog?

Wired has an interesting discussion of whether Presidential candidates are missing out on an important communication tool by not making better use of the blogosphere. Larry Biddle suggests that John Kerry could have used blogs to respond more effectively to the Swift Boat Vets story:

“If Kerry had addressed the Swift Boat issues on (political blogs), it would have popped back up into the mainstream media,” said Larry Biddle, a veteran Democratic political operative and former deputy national finance director for Howard Dean. “I would have said to Kerry that you need to do this, you need to respond to this…. There are instances where the (blogging) community creates mainstream news, creates big conversation, and it becomes so attractive to the mainstream media, the broadcast media, that they pick it up.”

This strikes me as another example of the mainstream media’s myopic focus on the left side of the blogosphere. In fact, the blogs did play a key role in the Vets’ story: not in suppressing the Vets’ message, but in helping to both spread and defend it. This site, among many others, directed traffic to the Vets’ early ads, which were available only on the internet and a handful of television stations because the Vets had no money. And we, along with others, also amplified the Vets’ message by writing on topics like Kerry’s Christmas in Cambodia fantasy. The idea that Kerry could have used the liberal blogs to get his message out sooner or more effectively assumes that Kerry had a message. In fact, the liberal blogs did what they could to help Kerry, but his problem was that he didn’t have an effective response to the substance of what the Vets had to say.
More broadly, however, the idea that politicians have failed, so far, to make effective use of blogs is at least half true. The Bush campaign did a better job than the Kerry campaign, I think, of communicating with friendly bloggers and getting its message into the blogosphere. But it is true, as the Wired piece suggests, that so far, “blogs” run by the campaigns themselves have generally been lame:

Many of this year’s major campaigns, including both Kerry’s and President Bush’s, had active blogs. But to many observers, few candidates at any level used their blogs effectively to make much of a difference in reaching their constituents.
Many in the blogosphere are acutely aware that most political campaigns, like most companies that have started to publish corporate blogs, have yet to discern a way to incorporate blogs in any meaningful way.

The analogy to corporate blogs, like those run by many newspapers, is a good one. The reality is that while blogging is technically simple, it is not so easy to be a blogger. Consider this example: every radio talk show host has a web site, as do many television personalities. These people are presumably media-savvy, yet their web sites are almost invariably uninteresting. And only one such personality, Hugh Hewitt, has succeeded in turning his web site into a real blog.
A blog depends on the relationship between the blogger and his or her readers. It takes time, persistence, and originality to build an audience. Neither political campaigns nor corporations can expect to install some software, start typing, call what they do a “blog,” and magically tap into the energy of the blogosphere. Bloggers will undoubtedly play a significant role in future campaigns, as in the one just past. But that role will be played, I think, by established bloggers with an established audience. Candidates aren’t going to advance their cause materially by having the candidate type a few words and calling the product a blog.


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