How to Bring Blogging to Life: By Writing a Blog, Legislators Can Keep Constituents Informed in a New Way

Article excerpt

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An increasing number of legislators are finding that a blog is a great way to communicate with constituents. A blog--short for "Web log"--is a personal journal on the Web expressing thoughts, linking to news of interest, relating experiences, or commenting on issues.

To understand the power of blogs, let's compare them to legislators' newsletters:

* What would be called an "article" in a newsletter is called a "post" in a blog. Posts are usually less formal, more conversational and shorter than a typical print article, although this varies with the personal style of the writer.

* Instead of storing up news and comments and publishing them all at the same time in a hard copy newsletter every month or two, legislator-bloggers post their ideas and thoughts online as they occur to them, often daily or even several times a day.

* Constituents receive newsletters weeks after the events that they cover occured. "[Blogs] have the immediacy of talk radio," says Wired magazine's Andrew Sullivan. (Of course, that immediacy can be both good bad, just like talk radio: The heat of the moment can generate comments that bloggers might later regret.)

* Newsletter writers can tell their readers about an interesting article or book that is worth reading; bloggers can include a hyperlink that takes readers directly (and almost instantly) to a reading of interest.

* Unlike a newsletter, a blog has no printing or distribution costs.

* With newsletters, the only feedback a legislator receives occurs when a reader takes the trouble to write a letter or fill out and mail a survey form, or makes a comment to the lawmaker when he runs into him or her in the grocery store. But someone who reads a blog can respond with an online comment immediately. Blogs can include online surveys.

* Just as with a newsletter, bloggers can send their thoughts to a mailing list of constituents who want to receive their blog postings. The blog software will automatically send it to subscribed readers via e-mail or "RSS [Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary] feeds." But blogs can also be read by anyone in the world who has a connection to the Internet.

Intrigued? Here's how to start a blog and some advice about writing for it.

1

SIGN UP WITH A BLOG SERVICE.

The technology of blogging is reasonably easy. A wannabe blogger needs to sign up with any number of services that host blogs and provide the software to do it. Popular blog-hosting software providers include Blogger, WordPress, TypePad and Drupal, among many others. Just add ".com" after any of these names and you will find them on the Web. Most of these services provide free hosting of blogs, but premium features may require a small fee.

2

READ LOTS OF OTHER BLOGS.

The best way to learn how to blog is to blog. …