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Political Blogs are Making News

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, September 17 2008

Two current examples of how bloggers are not just commenting on the political news of the day, but actually making it:

Al Giordano and Bill Conroy of NarcoNews were the first to report that one of Sarah Palin's first acts upon becoming Governor of Alaska was to equip the governor's mansion with a tanning bed. How did they come up with this fact, which has been confirmed by Alaskan officials? Giordano explained on his blog:

"The investigation began as the result of a comment posted here by a reader (you know who you are; uncloak if you like and share the credit!), a comment I didn't approve because it made a rather fantastic claim: that one of the first things Governor Sarah Palin did upon taking office was to have a tanning bed installed in the Governor's Mansion for her use.

Given, it's not as big a deal as her policy positions and other mighty matters, but it offers a new piece of hard information about the nominee that nobody knows: Who would of thought that for all the hype about hunting and fishing and outdoorsy-ness, the governor is really a pioneer of the Great Indoors?

Still, we had to make sure the story was true and backed up by the facts. Too many bloggers - upon receipt of that tip - would have posted it, probably even exaggerated it, only to have a claim backfire if the facts behind it couldn't be readily documented. We've seen that dynamic at work too much in the past two weeks.

And so we worked the phones, researched, developed and talked to sources in Alaska and found that not only is the tanning bed story true, but by pulling at that thread it lead to others about authenticity, ethics, energy conservation, public health policy and who this person really is.

Giordano and Conroy's story has since been picked up by ABC News, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, etc. Not bad for two bloggers, one of whom lives and reports from Mexico!

Then there is Eartha Jane Melzer's September 10 story in the Michigan Messenger, "Lose Your House, Lose Your Vote," which reported that "the chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Melzer in a telephone interview. The story is rapidly going national, with VP candidate Joe Biden mentioning it while on a campaign stop in Michigan, the Obama campaign suing to prevent such acts of "voter caging" and the Republican party of Michigan threatening a libel suit against the Michigan Messenger.

In both cases, it should be noted that these bloggers aren't pure amateurs. Giordano (who is an old friend of mine) has many years of reporting experience under his belt, including years with the Boston Phoenix. And the Michigan Messenger, where Melzer works, is one of an array of state-based news blogs supported by the Center for Independent Media, which trains bloggers in reporting and also gives them serious editorial support. Part of the Center's mission is to bolster state-level political reporting, which has withered as commercial newspapers slowly shrink and cut back on their news staffs. It looks like they're getting a good return on their investment right now.

[Full disclosure: I am a senior advisor to the Sunlight Foundation, which gave CIM $100K in 2007 to "support an effort to establish a national branch of its New Journalist Program in Washington, DC for training of political news bloggers who will cover Congress, federal agencies, the presidency, Supreme Court and the influence of lobbying, the national press corps and campaign finance."]