Friday, June 29, 2007

Why won't the public sector blog?

New media is no longer considered arcane, fringe, or the sole domain of geeks. Blogging, representing new media's "first wave," has become very mainstream, with businesses and other members of the status quo jumping on board the blogging bandwagon.

Back in 2003, when I took the plunge and launched my first blog, it was a common occurrence to tell someone you were blogging and get the usual, “you’re doing what?” response and the inevitable weird look when you tried to explain the concept. While millions have crossed over to media’s New Jerusalem, amazingly, there are still many that still have no sense of what blogging is about and how it might be utilized as a communications tool. I won’t even start with social networking sites like MySpace, or the metaverse.

Nowhere is this more glaringly obvious than in the parallel universe, better known as the world of government. Apparently, people who populate this world are not fans of the cutting edge, or anything that smacks of the 21st century. In fact, many in government seem better suited for the 19th century, when the horse and buggy ruled the road and quill pens and ink wells were tools of the communicator’s trade.

For the past year, I’ve been immersed in a quasi-governmental world. Opportunities have presented themselves to talk about writing and I’ve shared with a handful of people that I have a blog (in fact, I have two). Yet, I have yet to meet anyone else in this world who has one of their own, or even knows what the hell I’m talking about, most of the time.

As I’ve written before and I’ve shared with others who wanted advice about becoming a writer, having a blog is a wonderful forum for perfecting your craft. If you care about blogging and want people to take your online writing seriously, you have to make time for it. You also should strive to put up as much meaningful content as possible. While it can be taxing at times, particularly when your life reaches a fevered pace (a pace that I’ve been friends with for the past two months), your blog should have enough importance and you should respect your regular and semi-regular readers enough, to regularly update your blog, at least your primary site for your thoughts and ideas.

There are a variety of bloggers out there, including authors and columnists, who find blogging to be an additional outlet for them, beyond the traditional channels of publishing, to share their thoughts and opinions.

One of my favorite books of late has been A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, by Daniel Pink. Pink maintains a blog, utilizing new content that ties in well to the themes that he wrote about in the book. Between his publishing, public talks and article writing, Pink finds time to regularly post at his blog. Most of his posts are pithy and to the point, while bringing to his reader’s attention, trends, products and other ideas geared towards the themes in his latest book and this seems to work well for him.

I was curious to see if there were places where I could get a sense of who might be blogging from the public sector. Are there people in government, either state, or federal that have embraced the blog?

I found a website, which compiled blogs by government. How did I find it? I Googled this highly intuitive phrase—“government blogs.” I was sorely disappointed that my very own state of Maine did not show one active blog by a government agency on the list. Neither did fellow New England states, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, or Rhode Island. Vermont appeared to be an active link, but when I clicked on it, the link was in fact dead. Only Connecticut made the cut, with State Senator, Bill Finch putting “The Constitution State” on the blogging map, with his own blog. Finch, to his credit, has been blogging since April of 2005. I must tell you, this impressed me.

A group of Americorps workers based in New Orleans, going by the name of The Lost Tribe of Green 5, have their own blog. All seven members of the team take turns blogging about their experiences with Americorps and I found the blog to be both informative and worth some time given to reading member’s posts.

Utah came away as our governmental blog champion, with four sites listed. The Senate Site: Unofficial Voice of the Utah Senate Majority, was created by the Utah Senate GOP membership as a one-year pilot in 2005, attempting to “add something meaningful to the way people understand and participate in the policy-making process.” Apparently it’s been a success, as the GOP site is still blogging away, two years later.

What I liked when I read about the blog, was the spirit of bipartisanship and openness they were looking to create with the blog, giving their friends and foes across the aisle the chance to blog, as well as opening it up to guest bloggers from the public.

From the very same Utah Senate site, I learned that not all states are created equal when it comes to blogging.

In the state of Kentucky, rather than viewing new media and in particulary, blogging, as something to be embraced for communication purposes, Gov. Ernie Fletcher (a Republican), who didn’t like being skewered by Democratic blogger, Mark Nickolas, banned access to blogs for 34,000 state workers. Knowing a thing or two about the productivity of state workers, particularly their ability to get things done, I doubt that Fletcher’s decision made a dent at all in Kentucky's public productivity.

While we hear a lot about how tech savvy the millennials are, many 20-somethings that I’ve encountered don’t seem particularly adept at utilizing any of the available technology for much of anything, except navel gazing. Granted, there are a few members of the younger set that understand the implications of what’s available and know how to use it to get out their message. But sadly, these people seem to be in the minority. It appears that it is the "boomers," that seem to be most adept at utilizing the newer tools of communication to maximum benefit.

It's interesting, in light of the content of Pink's book, which details the shift from left brain, to right brain skills and the transfer, so to speak, of the "keys to the kingdom," at least when it comes to information and communication that there is such a paucity of new media activity on the public side of things. If Pink is right (and he makes a very provocative case in the book) in his detailing of the move to the conceptual age, as he calls it, a world of "high concept and high touch," then this lack of participation by those in the public sphere is telling.

Regardless of what forms of new media, social networking and virtual reality are made available, thanks to burgeoning technology, knowing the fundamentals of communication are still essential, in my opinion, if you want to be able to say anything that others might be able to relate to and gravitate towards. Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of one hand clapping.

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