Federal Computer Week has listed this blog in a piece on 10 top bloggers focusing on government IT. Thanks! For anyone new to Municipalist, please check out our collection of Q & A's with local, state, and federal bloggers and creators of smart Gov 2.0 projects.
Following up our Q & A with Scott Neal, a blogging city manager from Eden Prairie, Minnesota: He chooses to not allow comments to his blog posts. We asked why:
Great question. It's the most common question I receive about my blog. I do not open comments on my blog very often for a couple of reasons. I enjoy writing a blog, but I don't have enough time in my life to blog and referee the asynchronous chat room discussion that would inevitably result from it. I've seen this happen on other blogs. I have never really liked the way it turned out for the blogger.
Similarly, I just don't like the tone and content of unmediated anonymous blog comment roles. Generally, they do not add to the readers understanding of the issued being blogged about. Too many people trying to 'out-clever' each other. Fun to read (sometimes), but not fun if you're the one trying to communicate a complex idea and the comments being offered distract people from the facts, the truth or both.
Finally, I find electronic communication tools (like this email) to be very efficient and effective in allowing me to communicate at someone (like you), but not terribly good at allowing me to communicate with someone. As a blogger yourself, I'm sure you know what I mean. Most people (myself included) are not proficient enough writers to convey exactly what they think/feel in an electronic venue. It's too easy for all parties to the communication to misconstrue the information, intent, motive, etc.
I hope that helps. Thanks for asking.
Makes a lot of sense. No real right or wrong answer on these issues -- yet -- for those in government who blog to (for?) the public.
The Washington Post's "hyperlocal" news site covering Loudoun County, Virginia links here to a recent Municipalist post here regarding Loudoun County Public Schools' recent decision to hold students after school because of a storm, relying on a call system to notify parents, while ignoring use of the Web completely. The call system, at $143,000 per year, did not perform up to standard, apparently. We make our point again at the Post's site in a comment posted after the story.
'I killed Tim Russert (on Wikipedia)' is the headline on this Toronto Globe and Mail analysis piece that points out that the employee of an NBC contractor who updated Russert's Wikipedia page to announce his death, scooping much of American mainstream media, was fired this week. We have written in this space recently that this tale illustrates an important shift. The quaint notion of major network TV czars up on the 28th floor puffing away on their cigars as they order their sycophantic middle managers to prevent the Russert death news from getting on TV for 20 or 30 minutes, or whatever, just boggles the mind. That world doesn't exist anymore.
Following up our post here on idiot blog comments: It is always enjoyable to find a blog anywhere, written by a grown-up, with a string of readable, interesting comments. The Travel Log, a blog by travel writers at the Washington Post, is just such a blog. Here is one example. How many blogs do you come to where you want to read every single comment? For us, almost zero. Most of the time, after pushing through a few, we have had enough. Travel Log is a great blog. Its readers have good stories to tell and love to tell them. Also: Viva group blogs!
To update our recent post about a school district ignoring the updating of its Web site during a bad storm, as it kept students after school, we found the point made perfectly in this article from a magazine that covers K-12:
In fact, a major disconnect developswhen school district websites remain unchanged during a crisis. Anyone interested in the shooting tragedy in the Red Lake, Minn., district in March 2005 would not have found the school’s website useful throughout the ordeal — even though at least one local news organization created a link to the site. A Red Lake School student killed nine people including five students, a teacher and a guard.
Viewers might wonder how organized and in control of the situation a school district really is if it fails to recognize the crisis on its own website. Education organizations should take the lead from the business world and consider their website an essential component of their crisis planning. School districts should provide important factual information quickly and consistently, including background materials about the school.
The blogs on the PC site are approved by the agency. Some blogs are passed over for content. For example, critical of Peace Corps.
Municipalist is configured so I know the email address of the commenters. I replied to the address left by this commenter, but the email bounced back. The email address does not exist. Charming. This has happened here before. It is unfortunate.
To the issue at hand, however, that a blog by some agency is actually controlled by ... that agency. Blogs were born to be tools for individuals. But they can certainly be used effectively by large organizations. And they can certainly be edited or approved before going live, like any other type of Web content. I sense a generational issue here.
As newspapers go to court seeking to unseal case records in the murder of University of North Carolina student body president Eve Carson, it turns out that one of the accused should have been in jail at the time the murder was committed.
We recently re-read a conversationMunicipalist had with Chapel Hill council member and blogger Sally Greene in March soon after Eve's murder. Greene knew Eve, and after Eve's death Greene blogged about a recent email exchange between the two. In our conversation, Greene reflected on her decision to publish that email, as well as how her community has dealt with the aftermath of the crime. These are good examples of an elected official effortlessly and sensitively joining the conversation that the entire community is having at that moment. Which really should be the first goal of any such blog. Sally now shares her blog with a contributor from Alabama.
Library of Congress Blog celebrates its first anniversary. Municipalist profiled LOC Blog and blogger Matt Raymond here. LOC Blog has inspired and influenced other federal government blogs, as Raymond details in his one-year anniversary post. Congrats.
This blog hit its stride with the postings from January 2008 about the behavior of the Fairfax County, Virginia public school district, after a student posted to YouTube a voice mail of a nasty telephone call he received from the wife of a school district bigwig. Our take, which nobody else had: Public institutions such as public school districts need to engage the public more, engage better, and use tools such as blogging, to head off such embarrassments, and not to appear like deer in the headlights the moment some kid shows he understands simple Web 2.0 tools much better than you do.
Municipalist recently compiled a list of our posts related to what we now call The Fairfax Shrieker, and here they are:
Part I: School district's tale: Why organizations need to learn about social media. Or else
Part II: Virginia school district shrieking wife: ABC has the audio
More from D.C. blogger Extreme Mortman here on a State Department spokesman trying to explain to mainstream media members just what a blog does. [Municipalist post here from March 12.]
This all came about after the state department blog, called Dipnote, asked its readers a controversial question: Should the U.S. engage Hamas in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians? For this, the criticism has been constant, i.e., Are you people actually putting U.S. policy up for a vote? Which is an idiotic response.
Blogs are about discussion. If a blog published by a cabinet-level deparment would have instead posted its daily talking points and nothing else, it would have been slammed. These people instead took a risk and dared to engage in a topic that matters. In a way that is utterly benign: By asking simply, what do you think about this? The Mainstream Media is losing control of the discussion, because they were never interested in a discussion to begin with.
So, we say raise your public sector blogging glass in a toast to Dipnote, the federal government blog that is doing many things right. While it is still around for you to do so. And by the way, Dipnote wrote earlier this month about a group of Cuban dissidents called Ladies in White, which is made up of women whose husbands and other relatives are political prisoners. Raise your hand if you heard, saw, or read anything in the mainstream media on this recently. Take your time.
Plenty of positive comments at LOC Blog here. A comment from the Q & AMunicipalist likes: "It seems like government agencies get lots of publicity for what they do wrong, but not nearly enough credit for trying stuff to see if it works out."
News of the government blogging its way to better service was met with skepticism, but questions on the blog recently prompted TSA to make sure screeners know that only laptops need to be removed from bags, not iPods, smart phones and other electronics.
Calls for 'government blogging' are mocked when they come from Hillary Clinton. But the evidence is beginning to show that even large agencies can do this. And can make positive impact. Municipalist took a look at Evolution of Security here.
Last week, Ustream.TV, which hosts a variety of user-generated video and live broadcasts, announced it has partnered with the Republican National Convention to broadcast the entire event in real time. Republican officials will be part of live web chats and other online interviews at the convention, which will take place Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul.
Other candidates have already used Ustream's platform to reach voters. Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and John McCain have broadcast live speeches and held question-and-answer sessions on Ustream's video site, founder John Ham told me two weeks ago when I dropped by Ustream's Palo Alto offices.
Municipalist first post here. Washington Post initial article here (free registration required). AP here. Next-day column from the Post's Marc Fisher here ("In Cyberspace, Everyone Can Hear Your Scream"). Fisher chat here, with great reader wisdom. Atlanta Journal Constitution blog on manners tweaks schools PR guy for his bizarre statement regarding calling the administrator at home. The school district in a neighboring county received plenty of calls that day. The issue is not snow days. The issue is how school districts make these decisions with little or no engagement with their constituents. It's: Trust us. Now stop complaining if you don't like it. Ideas: How about establishing a parent council on this? Or a blog that describes the process in the early morning that school district leaders go through, watching the weather, trying to make a tough call, etc. A blog would also provide a great place for a discussion of this. Would everybody be happy? No. Would some much-needed engagement and transparency open a pressure valve on such issues for parents and students? Municipalist suggested this at a presentation he did a couple years ago advocating blogging for school PR people. And the reaction was confusion and flat-out opposition.
[Update of the update: Because we, well, simply screwed up, Municipalist has blundered outrageously. Apparently, Thaddeus McCotter has been blogging since September 2007. Here it is. Welcome to the world, Congressman. Now, on with the edited original post, as it originally appeared, its enthusiastic premise now shattered! Sort of. A future post, perhaps, could critique the good Congressman's initial blogging efforts. But we like what we see. Onward!]
In our discussion with Andy Barr, co-editor of The Hill's Congress Blog, Barr referenced Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) as being a reliable provider of "hilarious posts" to that group blog whose main contributors are members of Congress. Municipalist sees McCotter as potentially the first great Congressional blogger, if he should ever choose to try it. Nobody on Capitol hill speaks or, it seems, thinks like this guy. Check out an intriguing profile here.
It turns out that McCotter represents a district in Michigan where Municipalist lived for a few quite wonderful childhood years. The Congressman claimed to be one of only 45 members of the House to voluntarily make public his fiscal 2008 earmark requests, and one of only three members of Congress to do so on his own Web site. In perusing McCotter's list of earmarks, we noticed that one is for a small college Municipalist's mom attended while brushing up on some skills so she could go back to work to save money to send her two kids to college. Good work, Congressman, on the transparency. Now get a blog!
We heard Congressman McCotter give a couple long, rambling but oddly fascinating floor speeches over the last few weeks. Eloquent, powerful. And somehow entertaining. [Here is one of them. Wow!] And here he is (video) putting up with several idiot calls as well as with a rather dim, clearly partisan host on C-Span's Morning Journal.
McCotter's Web site offers to sign you up for an email list. But our email box already runneth over. Congress needs to get over the whole email obsession. So Thad, take the leap. Be the first GREAT Congressional blogger. [One thing: The competition is not so great. Trust that.]
The media seem to enjoy McCotter. He is the lead guitarist in "the House band, the Second Amendments," reports The Hill. And he smokes! This guy is perfect. And he is funny. Congressman, your country is waiting. What say you?
Abell said releasing test scores on a school-by-school basis provides Board of Education members with the information they need to manage resources effectively. For the past several years, individual schools' AP test scores have been released to the Board of Education in closed session; in contrast, High School Assessment and Maryland State Assessment scores are made public each year.
"We're supposed to be making data-driven decisions -- that message is pushed down our throats at every conference we attend," Abell said. "But it's hard to do that when you can't get the data."
The school district ended up releasing the info, but according to Abell's blog, with plenty of the information blacked out, even in documents provided only to board members. In a detailed analysis she published on her blog Dec. 4, Jennifer called that state of affairs "absolutely ludicrous."
Time for another round of updates. These updates can also be found at the end of the original posts:
* The Oct. 16, 2007post headlined "Live from Ireland" profiled Damien Blake, a 25-year-old town councillor and blogger in Letterkenny, Ireland. His blog is here. Damien was just about to get on a plane heading to the U.S., on a visit sponsored by the Irish Institute at Boston College. The visit had quite an impact on him. Read about it here. (A fellow participant offers some fascinating views on the U.S. here.)
* The Oct. 23, 2007post was headlined "Blogging the Space Shuttle launch." The NASA Launch Blog team has consented to be profiled, and we will publish an interview with them sometime before or near the scheduled launch of Atlantis in early December.
* The Oct. 25, 2007 post is headlined "Cutting through the smoke: Why no blogs among San Diego government agencies?" The blog at New Communications Reviewreports that social networking sites were all over the California wildfires:
The Los Angeles Fire Department posted frequent updates and information like tips for donating to the fire victims on Twitter. More than 800 photos of the wildfires are available to view on Flickr.com, and San Diego’s TV station News 8 replaced its original site with a rolling news blog linking to YouTube videos of its key reports and Google Maps.
So news media turned their Web sites into blogs, essentially, and individuals posted photos on the Net that told powerful stories in their own right. All valuable. My point in the original post is that government blogs could have and should have been a bigger part of the mix as well. Especially from mayors and other top leaders.
The L.A. Fire Department also has its own blog, which continues to include all kinds of important post-fires coverage. This blog has received kudos all over the place. Municipalist definitely needs to contact those guys for a profile.
Federal Computer Week "The blog is an expansive collection of posts about government’s use of Web 2.0 at the federal, state and local levels, and it is worth a look for the contacts and projects lists alone."
Personal Democracy Forum "If you haven't yet, check out Craig Colgan's Municipalist blog which claims it is 'Fearlessly investigating the dark and mysterious world of public sector blogging.' And indeed it is, with over two-dozen profiles of public sector bloggers. I didn't even know there were that many!"
Slate "Municipalist, a blogger who blogs about, um, blogging, ..."