Newspapers take new approach to political commentary
by BRITTANY KEIL
WASHINGTON — With the November 7th mid-term elections fast approaching, the most prominent newspapers have been beefing up their political coverage online and launching their first political blogs.
â€œI think there was a niche for a blog that would be non-partisan,” says Frank James of the Chicago Tribune. â€œA blog that would attempt to give people information and does not play into the highly charged political atmosphere that exists on the Internet today.â€
James is a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and founder of â€œThe Swamp,â€ the Tribuneâ€™s Washington-based political blog launched early this year.
â€œOur first posting was Jack Abramoff pleading guilty, which seemed like a really appropriate way to start a journalistic blog on Washington called ‘The Swamp,’ ” James said. The blogâ€™s homepage suggests that its goal is to help readers navigate Washington, a swamp-like â€œmorass of partisan politics, political intrigue and complex legislation and policy.â€
Gary Fineout, a political reporter for the Miami Herald, contributes to the paperâ€™s blog, â€œNaked Politics,â€ which launched in July. Fineout agreed with James, saying it is important for newspapers to not only show the American public that they can thrive with the new online medium, but also bring a certain level of quality control to the â€œblogosphere.â€
â€œWe all feel that we are news reporters as such, and we are covering these issues, and we donâ€™t want to be accused of having a particular vantage point,â€ said Fineout of his participation in â€œNaked Politics.â€ The blog is more recently comprised of poll statistics and brief updates on state and national races that readers can freely comment on. Many of the contributing reporters also provide links to their related articles in the Herald.
The Boston Globeâ€™s â€œPolitical Intelligenceâ€ blog is formatted similarly to â€œNaked Politics.â€ Political Editor David Dahl said that although a blog is delivered in looser, more conversational language, â€œsnarky commentsâ€ and any other form of commentary are avoided.
Dahl emphasized the importance of his job as a â€œgatekeeperâ€ who closely monitors reporterâ€™s blog postings that occur on an almost hourly basis. He said that the Globeâ€™s blog â€œreceived strong feedbackâ€ from its coverage on the Massachusetts primaries, and is focusing on the governorâ€™s race and the run-up to the presidential campaign.
But â€œPolitical Intelligenceâ€ is just one portion of the Globeâ€™s overall effort to use the Boston.com website as a platform for the paperâ€™s increased online political coverage. The Boston.com website also offers opinion-based blogs, weekly columns, transcripts of debates, profiles of candidates on the issues, lists of campaign donations and more.
The Houston Chronicleâ€™s â€œTexas Politicsâ€ blog has a less formal format and offers â€œchatty, gossipy items,â€ alongside hard news item. Peggy Fikac, deputy chief of the Austin bureau for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, said that the papersâ€™ shared blog gives its readers â€œsomething fun,â€ referring to one of the humorous postings about the Democratic gubneratorial nomineeâ€™s campaign manager.
â€œMaybe people will read it and laugh and go on, or go, â€˜Hey, I want to find out more about that campaign,â€â€ said Fikac. â€œJust because it has a light tone, it doesnâ€™t mean you dash something off of the top of your head. You have to report it.â€
Fikac said the Houston Chronicle is updating its webpage to provide for the large number of readers who now visit the site, but its blog content pales in comparison to the Chicago Tribuneâ€™s, whose political blog pumps out at around 12 postings a day.
â€œThe amount of copy that weâ€™re putting out there every day, is what I dare say, pretty awesome,â€ said Mark Silva, Tribune political writer and major contributor to â€œThe Swamp.â€
Silva said that he feels pressure to accommodate to the speed of the Internet, but he is not worried that the demand will affect the quality of his work.
â€œItâ€™s possible to write in a conversational and spirited way without giving up the fairness that you seek in a newspaper column,â€ Silva said. â€œWe seek the same objective, which is fairness and balance.â€
Frank James, Silvaâ€™s co-worker, said Tribune political reporters worry more about the interactivity of the blog because they have had to respond to their readers almost instantly. Other newspapers have stayed away from allowing reader contributions, postings or feedback until they determine how to monitor the blog more closely. James also said that journalists hope that their latest multimedia endeavors will increase their paperâ€™s online readership as they are offering news produced by professionals trained to adhere to the highest journalistic standards.
Peter Eisner, veteran Washington Post political journalist, trusts that the effort will help inform and empower the American public. Eisner, now the Postâ€™s D.C. Politics Editor, has his own â€œDC Wireâ€ blog.
â€œWe see and know that the public, as consumers of information, likes to have the ability to communicate with journalists in different ways,â€ said Eisner. â€œI hope that we can make it part of the scenery of D.C. politics, and draw people to it as another resource of information.â€