When Bloggers and Political Candidates Collide

Blog Me: 7th District Forum Focuses on Blogging Standards

 

The ICOG-SPJ hosted forum on bloggers and political candidates came down to one consensus statement for those participating: It is what it is.

 

Blogs are Internet posts/sites operated and owned by folks who aren’t necessarily journalists, English majors or anyone with a professional background in the same. Blogs are generally filed by people with strong opinions or agendas (though some are simply fact based and repeating already published information). Some bloggers are very sophisticated in their methods of information gathering and dissemination while others aren’t.

 

In this forum, ICOG invited three bloggers who have professional journalism backgrounds: Jennifer Wagner, a former Indianapolis Star reporter who now works for the state Democratic Party; Abdul Shabazz, WXNT’s radio talk show host who also blogs; and RiShawn Biddle, an editorial writer for The Star who posts to a blog managed and owned by the newspaper. (See www.indyblog2007.com for links to their blog sites)

 

Add to this discussion’s mix GOP congressional candidate Eric Dickerson, who is challenging longtime 7 th District incumbent Julia Carson, and Terry Burns, also formerly a journalist now working for the Marion County Democrats. Carson and her campaign representatives were also asked to attend, but declined saying they would all be attending the funeral of a union official.

 

About 30 people attended—journalists, retirees, neighborhood activists and supporters and detractors of both political camps. The event was also covered by a few mainstream media outlets, including WIBC radio.

 

Most of the bloggers claimed to have “a couple of thousand hits” a day—translating to readers and people who also might feel compelled to respond with their own opinions based on the information posted.

 

But Democrat Burns probably summed it up best: “A lot of us are still trying to figure out the best use of blogs. Still within political circles, there are a lot of unknowns. People who read blogs are pretty much partisan and have their minds made up.”

 

“I’ve see the benefits and downside to political blogs. For the most part, there isn’t a lot of accountability. If (similar information) appeared in The Star, there would be a libel suit. It’s often anonymous, innuendo and gossip. A lot of sites have a certain slant. Blogs obviously have different standards.”

 

Dickerson, who recently was examined in the blogosphere for a 15-year-old domestic violence arrest (where there was no conviction and charges were dismissed), offered up his viewpoints about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a blog—good and bad.

 

GOP Dickerson and Dem Wagner had the most pointed words to each other. Wagner not only posted Dickerson’s 15-year-old arrest report and mug shot on her state party blog site, she also failed to redact the candidate’s personally identifying information—his Social Security Number. Wagner apologized publicly. Dickerson said it was wrong. She also disclosed in this forum that she was a victim of domestic violence and had once filed for a protective order.

 

The information about Dickerson was leaked to the Star’s editorial board by incumbent Julia Carson. That information, according to Biddle, was then turned over to editors in the newsroom. He also declined comment on Dickerson’s complaint that he was “essentially convicted” in the editorial pages. “Ask my editorial page editor,” Biddle said. (His editor, Tim Swarens, declined an invitation to participate due to out of town travel.)

 

Dickerson said he wants discussion on this race, whether it is posted on a blog or in a barber shop. “I want there to be discussion,” he said.

 

Wagner summed up how readers and followers of blogs will likely respond to bad information: “If you’re wrong enough times, people will stop reading you because you’re useless. I think the standards are public consumption.”

 

While Shabazz and Wagner admitted to publishing potential rumors or items overheard on the street (sometimes without corroboration), Biddle said it can’t always be done—even in a blog format. “You start looking at it based on what’s in your hands. If you can’t find it, there’s nothing you can do with it.”

 

(ICOG and SPJ wish to thank Kevin Finch, assistant news director for WISH-TV, who moderated this event.)

 

Look for more blog forums and topics coming up in 2007. If you have an idea, subject or speaker to suggest, let us know on www.indyblog2007.com. For more information about blogs and a national association for bloggers, visit www.mediabloggers.org.