Best practices for state and local bloggers

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With contribution from Amy Ngai

Earlier this month, a few of us from the Sunlight Foundation attended two of the major online political organizing conventions: Netroots Nation 2012  and Right Online. Both events highlighted the challenges faced by local and state bloggers, and gave recommendations for bloggers on how to reach a broader audience.

We always encourage local bloggers and writers to share their experience in promoting government transparency in their local communities by writing guest blogs. You can read our past guest blog posts here. Blogs prove time and time again to be one of the quickest inexpensive ways of getting the word out – in real time. And if used right, they can be an important platform to call for accountability and transparency from our respective governments.

At Netroots Nation, one session was appropriately titled, “Revitalizing State and Local Blogging,” moderated by Andre Villeneuve columnist for Reporter Newspapers with Kari Chisholm founder and blogger at BlueOregon.com, Philip Martin contributor at Burnt Orange Report, Laura Packard creator of the 50 State Blog project, Bob Plain editor/publisher of RIFuture.org and Angelica Rubio blogger at rubiodispatch as panelists.

Very quickly, we discovered a disconnect in blogging nationally versus blogging about state or local issues. Soon after, the challenges both state and local bloggers face started pouring in. While it’s debatable, one of the challenges raised was that most local and state blogs lack funding mainly because they don’t get enough eyeballs (ie. website visitors) for advertisers to invest in their blogs. And for the local blogs that do not depend on any institutional support, finding the motivation to write about transparency and open government issues in their communities sometimes feels like a struggle.

At RightOnline, we met many interesting bloggers such as Pundit Pete whose main criteria for contributing to the blog is if your name is Pete (very interesting press staff list!). Another blogger, Baker Owens writes for ThatsjustPeachy  a Georgia state blog that’s a one-stop shop for news and views from around the state and covers headlines daily (in the style of Drudge). One of the reasons why he started the site is because,

“Oftentimes, it is easy for the urban, suburban, and rural areas of states to forget or not realize how connected we all are and ThatsjustPeachy tries to synthesize these important issues into a single site,” said Owens.

He also advocates for transparency and follows sunshine legislation in the statehouse.

 

So is there a way for bloggers to survive outside of institutional support?

To remedy these related issues, session participants suggested creating a network using Google groups and the like, hosting fundraisers for their blogs or taking on secondary paying blogging jobs. And now, there is another new exciting project that will help connect bloggers to funders.

Started by Melissa Ryan from the New Organizing Institute and Natasha Chart, the Tip Jar Project will go a long way in meeting many of the financial problems faced by local bloggers. A valuable takeaway was that local politicians always stand to benefit from local bloggers’ email or follower lists. Bloggers can take advantage of this by creating content that is interesting enough to draw in politicians’ attention and ultimately attract funding for their blogs.

What’s a local blogger to do?

Ever wondered why some blogs live longer than others? It may seem obvious, but a blog that has more contributors stands a higher chance of living longer than a single author blog. Not only is this good for online traffic, it’s a great way to keep content fresh on your blog.

One of the things we take pride in at Sunlight is that we encourage our interns and fellows to write for the blog. Nurturing and ultimately utilizing in-house writers — even if they don’t have “blogger” in their title — can be a surprising way of growing local blog contributors.

Alternatively, you could have blog diaries from different authors, or if you are running a multiple purpose blog like we do, you can reach out to other bloggers for cross posting opportunities, etc. If you have a bipartisan blog, you can consider having a local leader write a guest post. An often-ignored place to find guest bloggers are people who write letters to the editors in your local newspaper.

But still some questions still remain.

How can we get national and institutional blogs such as Sunlight’s to regularly link to a state or local blog? What are ways that state and local bloggers can work together across state lines to support each other and share best practices? How can a state or local blogger in need of help successfully transform a single author blog into a multi-author blog?

To gauge audience perception, the moderator asked if it would be helpful to establish a national organization that will work to build bridges across state lines and support state and local bloggers all across the country.

And if so, what are the three short-term achievable projects that this formed organization should do. Below are the options and bloggers were asked to vote in order of priority (one being highest and four being lowest priority) :

– Auto-updating blogroll plugin/widget – Create a national directory of accredited state and local blogs (such as Pacific NW Portal) with profiles for each blog editable by the blog’s authors/admin – Bring back a 50 states blog round up – Create an advertising network

Are you interested in open government and are involved in one way or another in promoting transparency in your local government? Or maybe you are blogger or know someone who would like to write a guest blog for Sunlight, please get in touch with Zubedah Nanfuka znanfuka@sunlightfoundation.com.

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