Blogs and the civic realm

Christopher Swope of Governing magazine’s blog, 13th Floor, regularly searches for state political bloggers across the country. He found one he recommends, doctoral student Emily Metzgar, and interviewed her. She talks about noticing that the blogosphere tends to reflect a given community’s politics.

"In Louisiana," Metzgar tells Swope, "the legislature is dominated by Democrats and the governor’s mansion is held by the Democrats. So it’s no accident that Republicans and the more conservative side of the blogosphere are more active now." Her hypothesis, which she is attempting to test through research, is that blogs function like a loyal opposition.

In another post today on 13th Floor, Josh Goodman wonders why governors themselves, and/or their staff, aren’t blogging. He writes, "Technology gives today’s public officials an unprecedented ability to bypass the media’s filter and communicate directly with constituents, be it through blogs, e-mails, podcasts, etc. The trouble is that governors have failed to create much of anything that anyone wants to read, hear or see."

At home here in Massachusetts, a non-partisan, non-profit effort to connect with state government has been launched, called (link via Joe Keller’s blog), founded by local political activist Jim Caralis.

In searching for state political bloggers in her research, Metzgar refers to Watertown-based Lisa Williams’s Placeblogger, which also was cited in’s list of America’s "top ten bloggiest neighborhoods." Two Massachusetts towns made that list—Watertown and Newton. Springfield isn’t among the 62 cities being tracked, but I suppose the potential exists, considering that Hartford is included.

Williams, by the way, will be one of four presenters—along with John Wilpers, editor of BostonNOW, a very new free daily that is working with bloggers to produce content—at a Boston Public Library event hosted by the New England News Forum on Thursday, May 17 starting at 6:30 pm. The event is called the Civic Library Listening Series, which "puts media experts together with active citizens for directed discussion and informal dialogue," says Bill Densmore, director of the News Forum.

"With blogging," Densmore continues, "citizen news-gatherers, and the emergence of simple video and audio tools, the lines between commercial journalism and citizen activism are blurring. We’re helping define the new relationships."

A similar event is planned here on Thursday, May 24, at the Springfield City Library central branch. More details forthcoming, as they become available.

Speaking of libraries, the Project for Public Spaces released an April newsletter dedicated to the role of the library in place-making. One article, by Cynthia Nikitin, is called, "Stumbling Blocks to Creating Great Civic Centers… and How to Overcome Them." It identifies solutions to four common problems with civic centers.

Recommendations are:

1. Create a program of events and activities based on a high level of community involvement.
2. Work together to create a vision for the civic center as a livelier place.
3. Publicize local cultural events and businesses.
4. Band together to develop a management strategy for the area.
5. Create a neighborhood pedestrian and traffic calming plan.
6. Introduce consistent signage throughout the civic center.
7. Market the civic center.

Hosting the New England News Forum event on May 24 is a great marketing opportunity for the library as it continually ramps up its community events and creates more vibrancy around the Quad and State Street. It’s also a good opportunity for bloggers and media professionals, and their audiences, who may not know each other face to face, to come together around some notions about civic improvement and community health.

Update: Taking a closer look at the NENF materials, I see there is a list of anticipated guests for the Springfield event: Larry McDermott, Springfield Republican publisher; Congressman Richard Neal; Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and professor at UMass-Amherst; James Boylan, former editor, Columbia Journalism Review; and yours truly. The event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 pm on May 24.

Author: Heather Brandon

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