Local bloggers weigh in on caucus season


Over the past decade the use of blogs as a journalistic tool has "grown exponentially," according to the latest "State of the Blogsophere" report by Technorati, a search engine for blogs.

About 7,200 bloggers from across the globe were surveyed, and approximately half were from the United States. The report concluded that this ever-growing culture has begun to change the ways in which media report and covers events — including news in Iowa City.

"I think that blogging really has a low-bar entry that is both a good thing and a bad thing," said Nick Bergus, an adjunct instructor in the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. "It has really opened media to voices that weren’t represented for a long time, but it has also allowed for a lot of crap because of that low-bar entry."

While most blogs address an eclectic mix of subjects, with only 12 percent reportedly focusing in on only one topic, Bergus believes that getting a sense of the author is what attracts so many people to blogs as their source of news.

"I think a blog should have a primary focus, but around the edges, readers should get a sense of your personality and your interests," said Bergus, who blogs about media and technology. "What makes writing interesting is personality, and I like to have some context of who the person behind the blog is to help me in deciding its credibility."

Sean Thompson, The Sean and Corey Thompson Show

Sean Thompson doesn’t see blogging as a replacement for traditional media but as a way to offer a different perspective.

"Bloggers are able to cover things that can’t be discussed by the traditional media and focus on issues more than traditional media, on things other than the horse race of politics," Thompson said. "I think both are important and have a place in covering politics, but bloggers can definitely pick up on the issues more and talk about where the candidates come down on certain issues."

A cohost of the "Sean and Corey Thompson Show" on KRUI every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Thompson uses blogging as a way to promote and preview his weekly radio show.

Along with previews of the show, podcasts of each show are posted on the blog for listeners to download if they missed the live airing of the show.

"It’s not a blog in the traditional sense of the word, it’s more of the online presence of our radio show," Thompson said. "We update it before each of our shows, with the occasional sporadic post when needed."

With the accessibility of blogs to the public, he believes that this creates an opportunity for people to "make it big" in the blogosphere and have their opinion shared and analyzed by many people.

"Anybody can blog, and anybody can in a sense have that blog go viral and have an influence on the blogosphere," Thompson said. "People who start off as bloggers become television commentators, journalists, and local bloggers become authorities on local politics and policies."

And Thompson believes blogging allows readers to think more critically about what they read.

"I think that the accessibility of blogs is a good thing — the more voices you have the better," Thompson said. "Its going to be up to the readers to decide what they think is credible and decide what they should read and not read."

Nicholas Johnson, FromDC2Iowa

Nicholas Johnson said writing about Iowa City issues instead of the hot national topic of the day has attracted more visitors to his blog.

"I find that I get a lot more readers when I’m writing about matters of local concern, as opposed to when I address more national subjects such as the war in Afghanistan or the economy," said Johnson, a lecturer in the UI College of Law.

Johnson — who began blogging in 2006 and has more than 850 entries to date — covers local issues such as UI policy, Iowa City School Board issues, and a wide spectrum of other local matters.

"All of the jobs that I have held over the years drive the things that I blog about, because those are the things I’m interested in and the things that I care about contributing to," Johnson said. "When you write about everything under the sun as I do, there’s not a core group of people that read the blog because I’m not so much focused on one thing."

The potential for students to express themselves, figure out their own opinions, and analyze their writing through the kind of open discussion that blogging provides is something Johnson believes is a valuable experience.

"Blogging has the potential to ignite a very active discussion, which is a very healthy thing," he said. "Contributing to that community discussion creates opportunities to make change around us, whether truth emerges from this is something that many people would argue about."

NAME: John Deeth

BLOG: John Deeth Blog

With big-time reporters from major daily newspapers swarming to Iowa for the caucuses, John Deeth says he offers something the professionals can’t.

"When I go to a caucus event, I’m trying to catch things that a national reporter can’t — coverage on local events and people that are important," he said. "I also try to catch some of the hoopla, the smell and feel of the room as things are going on." 

With the words "too old to be cool, too young to not care" emblazoned on the top of his website, local political blogger Deeth provides local coverage and commentary on Iowa politics.

Since its start in 2002, the John Deeth Blog has become an authority on political matters concerning Iowa City and the state of Iowa as a whole. It was recently named one of the top state-level political blogs by the Washington Post.

Although known to occasionally include a music post, or write about technology, Deeth stresses the importance of picking one subject to specialize and become an authority on when writing and running a blog.

"I think its important to pick an area of expertise that you can have an intelligent commentary on," said Deeth, who also works in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. "I started in 2002 for fun, and I noticed that once I got serious and focused on one thing, my readership increased dramatically."

When considering the future of covering politics, he has a vision based more on opinionated and rhetorical writing which is seen in blogs such as his own.

"Ultimately, the future of political journalism is going to be more like the press in foreign countries, where there are papers funded by political organizations as opposed to advertisers," Deeth said. "The readers will have to come to their own conclusions based on somewhat biased opinions that they read in different papers."

NAME: Rod Sullivan

BLOG NAME: Sullivan’s Salvos

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he began blogging when he noticed a dip in coverage of local issues.

Inspiration for the start of Sullivan’s blog came when he saw the lack of coverage that Board of Supervisors meetings received over his time in office, and he decided to take it upon himself to cover that which he felt was being ignored.

"In the short seven years that I’ve been on the Board of Supervisors, there were only three reporters there every week when I first started the job; now, there usually aren’t any," Sullivan said. "Even when they do they’re limited by a word count, and nobody is really putting any news in context.

"The news media are not as robust as they were even a few years ago, so locally, if you want to get a certain message out, you can’t assume meetings will get covered, so you kind of have to cover it yourself if you want to know what’s going on."

Although his blog is largely used to address things such as his work with the supervisors, Sullivan believes that bloggers should write about a multitude of topics, not limiting themselves to one area.

"I would assume that people reading my blog have some interest in my job; however, I figure that I reserve the right to write about what I feel and not limit myself," he said. "I’ve had the occasional person complain, saying things like I should stick to writing about my job, and others that say that they really appreciate my commentary on things."

While he does recognize blogging and the blogosphere as a viable outlet for people to express themselves and give a new perspective that the news media may not be able to, he remains ardent in his emphasis on the continuation of traditional journalism outlets.

"I’m old-school when it comes to journalism — I believe in it as a field of study, so I worry about the idea that someone with no journalism training would step in and take over the media, just like I would worry about someone with no dental training pulling my teeth," Sullivan said. "I don’t think that blogging can completely replace journalism by any means."

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