Sunday, January 08, 2006
Political bloggers blossom in Wisconsin, newspaper's survey finds
SAT., JAN 7, 2006 - 10:16 PM
Political bloggers blossom in Wisconsin
By JASON STEIN
Wisconsin State Journal
While her toddler son slept, Carrie Lynch of Madison sat down at her
computer last week and stepped into a public square of pixels and Web pages.
The 34-year-old political insider and stay-at-home mom launched her Web log
of leftwing commentary on a prominent local Web site Wednesday, joining a
growing horde of pundits and partisans looking to play a modest but
unprecedented role in the November state elections.
"That's pretty crazy. I'm surprised," Lynch said when she learned that by
noon Friday, 100 people had logged on to read the post she'd written in her
pajamas that morning. "It's this whole world out there and it's fascinating.
There really does seem to be an upsurge in political activity by people
having this outlet."
These snarky running commentaries better known as blogs are already
well-established in national politics. But now state and local blogs are
coming into their own, influencing policies like Wisconsin's gas tax and
drawing politicians such as Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker
and Madison Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan to the keyboard.
The blogosphere can be plagued by breathless speculation, an inbred brand of
partisanship and bitter attacks on public figures, often made by anonymous,
fact-challenged writers who may be acting on an old grudge or a secret,
But blogs are also an outlet for both the insider and the everyman,
especially the young. And they serve as a rough and ready political police
force, watching out for every misstep by politicians and traditional media.
"It's no secret it's a phenomenon that's really taken off, I think.
Wisconsin's seen this phenomenon mushroom in the past year," said Jeff
Mayers, head of the WisPolitics.com family of Web sites that launched
Lynch's "What's Left" blog (www.wisopinion.com/blogs/ whatsleft/index.html)
and another by former Republican strategist Brian Fraley last week.
Citizen revolt State lawmakers felt a little of that force last month. A
citizen revolt raised by high gas prices, talk radio and blogs caused the
Senate's Republican leadership to make a public reversal, voting against
automatic increases to the state's gas tax after first saying the tax
indexing was needed to ensure enough money to pay for needed roads.
Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said it would be
"overly simplistic" to simply chalk the flip- flop up to bloggers and blog-
posting talk radio personalities such as Charlie Sykes of WTMJ in Milwaukee,
who urged readers and listeners to call legislators.
"Did both of those things have an impact on gas tax indexing? I suspect they
did," Schultz said of the blogging and talk radio, which often feed on each
other. "I think it all adds up to more intense scrutiny of the political
process and it's hard to be anything but in favor of that."
Walker, a blogger himself, said his gubernatorial campaign has cultivated
bloggers. In a recent interview, Walker compared bloggers to the kinds of
"opinion-makers" he meets at Rotary Club gatherings.
Blogging for free Most of the state's well- known bloggers are, like Sykes,
conservative and Milwaukee- based - something Lynch said she got into
blogging to try to change.
One well-known Madison blogger is Ann Althouse, a UW- Madison law professor
who has drawn notice from the New York Times for her posts on everything
from federalism to the singer Dion. Like Lynch, Althouse says she'll be
blogging this year about the proposed state constitutional amendment on gay
marriage that's expected to be on the November ballot.
Most bloggers like Lynch receive nothing for their posts, and even Althouse,
with her national profile and 8,000 site visits a day, said she receives
only $900 a month for the ads posted on her blog - a nice bonus but not
enough to live on.
That hasn't kept Americans from jumping into blogging. Two surveys last year
by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that about one in 20
adults nationwide reported creating a blog and about one in six are blog
Studies by the Pew project also debunk a major criticism of bloggers and the
Internet in general - that people use the Web to seek out their preferred
brand of politics and shut out opposing arguments. In fact, wired Americans
get more points of view from both sides of the political spectrum, a 2004
In his own research, UW- Madison journalism professor Dhavan Shah said he's
found that the virtual public squares where people post and reply to
messages may be in some ways more powerful than traditional town halls.
"What we found is, in fact, this form of exchange and expression online may
be more powerful in terms of . . . leading to actual action in the real
world than face-to-face talk," Shah said. "It's also something that tends to
engage our young citizens who tend to be the most disengaged from civic life
- which is huge."
Anonymous bloggers But while bloggers are shining a light on politics,
they're often doing it from the dark.
Take the conservative Madison blogger who goes by the pseudonym Dennis York.
York has won a readership with posts that sometimes criticize his own side.
"Because to me there should be somebody who is on the lookout to say to
conservatives, 'Maybe something that we're doing may not look all that
great,' " York said in a telephone interview.
Speculation abounds on the identities of anonymous local bloggers such as
York, who has a youthful voice, a young daughter and a wife who considers
blogging the "anti- marriage," and a phone number that blocks caller ID.
York acknowledged the problems with criticizing public figures anonymously
but said he needs to remain secret to protect his job and professional
relationships - something that gives credence to guesses he could be an aide
to a Republican politician.
"I struggled with the fact that it's anonymous, too," York said of his blog.
"I just have a job that doesn't really take too kindly to individual
Tiny impacts Carrie Lynch's background gives a sense of why a blogger's
As a former aide to both state and federal Democrats, Lynch can prove she's
got insight to offer about politics. Lynch also received immunity in
exchange for testimony about illegal campaigning that went on in the now
defunct Senate Democratic Caucus office where she once worked.
Lynch said she regrets that part of her past, but not her left-wing outlook.
"The only thing in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and
Both Lynch and York said they are looking to make tiny impacts with their
blogs. York said bloggers still have to get their message into mainstream
media like newspapers to reach enough people to make a difference.
"It's too nascent of a technology. It's too new to be that effective," York
said of blogging. But, "it's obviously going to get more significant as it
continues to grow." State political blogs
Here's a sampling of prominent state and local blogs on politics:
Althouse: UW-Madison law professor Ann Althouse:
Boots and Sabers: Conservative bloggers Owen Robinson and Jed Dorman.
Fighting Bob: Former gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey and a slate of
liberal contributing writers. http://www.fightingbob.com
Jessica McBride: Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter and wife of
Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher, a Republican candidate for
attorney general. http://mcbridemediamatters.blogspot.com/
Paul Soglin: Waxing America: By the former Madison mayor.
Sykes Writes: Conservative Milwaukee blogger and talk show host Charlie
The Xoff Files: Liberal blogger Bill Christofferson, the chief campaign
strategist for Gov. Jim Doyle's first gubernatorial campaign.
Dennis York: Conservative Madison blogger who writes under a pseudonym.
Copyright © 2005 Wisconsin State Journal
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