Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Reasons for Blogging

Next month will mark my fourth anniversary of blogging. Four years is not a terribly long time, except in the blogosphere. I read somewhere that the average blogger only lasts about three entries, so my 150+ over the last four years isn't too shabby.

This past year, I was approached by both of the local electronic media sites, PA Today and PANow, asking for permission to put access to the blog on their web-sites. PA Today has put in a direct link to the blog; PANow uploads each blog entry to their site, rather than linking. In both cases I agreed, because one of the main reasons why I started blogging was to improve communication about what goes on at city council, from my perspective. The more people that have this available as one of their reading options, the better.

My very first blog entry in January 2008 was titled "Why Blog - Why Now?", which set out my reasons for making this effort. Since there are some newer readers who may not have gone back into the archives, I thought that I'd repeat some of that now, as well as some of the things that I've learned about participating in this particular form of communication.

As I said, my main reason for starting this blog was to improve communication about what goes on at city council. The local media does what it can, but a typical council agenda is hundreds of pages long, and reporters can only fit so much into a few columns of type or a sound bite. Not everyone can watch council meetings on cable, particularly now that meetings start at 5 p.m., when most people are getting home from work or starting supper. I figure that voters deserve to get as much information as they can about the issues that affect them directly.

Now, obviously, I'm not going to go through each agenda item and the resulting discussion verbatim, (it's bad enough to have to live through some of these meetings) but I thought that it might be worthwhile to highlight a topic or two, and present my viewpoint on it, particularly when my viewpoint differs from the majority. And since I'm often seen to be voting against the majority, I think that it's useful to explain to people why I vote the way that I do, to give them a better understanding of the various perspectives on issues. Council is made up of nine individuals, and it's ludicrous to think that we all share the same opinions or values on any issue.

I don't claim to have the only "correct" viewpoint - what goes in this space are my opinions, my viewpoints, and my values. When you vote for someone for city council, you can't expect to agree with that individual on every vote, but I think that you should be able to expect an explanation for why they voted the way that they did.

The blog has turned out to be a good conversation starter - people often come up to me with a comment on something that I've written. Sometimes I've brought something up that has struck a chord with the public. When I wrote that one place we could save costs was to stop providing a meal to councillors and city staff at council meetings, I was surprised to find out that many people didn't realize that this was happening, and they were offended by the idea that they were footing the bill. The result - we no longer get fed at most meetings, which is good. Unfortunately, the same entry suggested that we stop producing custom-made Christmas cards for members of council - that still goes on, although I still don't take these cards when offered.

I think that the blog has also provided a way for people who have never met me in person, to get to know me a little better. Personal stuff does get in here - I sometimes think that it's these personal details about people that help you to realize that we have more in common than might originally be thought.

The main disadvantage to being part of the new electronic media, in my opinion, is the way commenters sometimes take advantage of their anonymity to post comments that are much ruder than they would be to your face, or in public, I hope. People are also free to post things that aren't true, or they may use the opportunity to raise past grudges that have nothing to do with the topic presented. On my own blog, I have some control; on the other sites, less so. I will say that some commenters do try to raise the bar, providing thoughtful debate, but sadly, these are in the minority.

Still, the advantage of providing people with additional information outweighs the minor inconvenience of being a target for somewhat unimaginative name-calling or inaccurate revisionist history. I see part of my responsibility of being on city council as keeping the lines of communication open. Having the blog is just one of many ways of keeping in touch. Agree or disagree, read or ignore - that part is up to you.

I understand that PANow has offered to all members of council the opportunity to provide a column of their views and opinions. I'll be interested to see how many take advantage of this - it would be good to hear the rationale behind some of the decisions of my colleagues. And it's an election year - a good time to put ideas and opinions out for public consumption.

"There's more than one way to look at a problem, and they all may be right." - Norman Schwarzkopf

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