Well, the new year has arrived and the state of candidate blogs is not good.
The initial enthusiasm for candidate blogs has worn off a bit, and despite some hopeful signs that blogs may yet become a useful campaign tool, candidates are by and large placing blogs on the back burner.
By far the most active campaign blog in state politics right now is the DeStefano blog, which is usually updated regularly with campaign news, messages from the candidate and musings on policy from the blogmaster's point of view. The DeStefano blog hit a high point when it hosted a Town Hall Forum in August, which was an open question and answer session between the candidate and the public. These sorts of Q&A sessions, which have also happened with several candidates on this blog, are wonderful examples of what the flexible, versatile, interactive blog format can do for candidates.
Unfortunately, the DeStefano campaign never held another Town Hall Forum, despite the success of the first. Hopefully, as the campaign moves ahead towards the convention, they will have a few more of them. They are rare, valuable opportunities for members of the public to interact directly with candidates, and I believe that voters, especially younger ones, do appreciate that.
The DeStefano blog has also been distressingly quiet over the last week. Indeed, posting seemed to fall off considerably during December, although the holiday is to blame for some of that. I'm not sure whether this is a case of blog neglect or just a response to a slow period. The end result, however, is that I'm checking their site a lot less than I used to.
Other blogs in state seem stagnant, as well. Dan Malloy's blog, TalkCT, has never really matched the DeStefano blog's output. In a typical month, the Malloy blog is updated perhaps a dozen times. In November that output fell to only three posts. The Chris Murphy blog is rarely updated, and Gov. Rell's blog doesn't appear to be much more than an opening statement (without comments) for the time being. Most other candidates don't have blogs at this time.
Why are campaigns losing interest in blogs? The main reason probably has to do with the lack of any visible interest in them on the part of voters. A quick glance at the Malloy blog shows perhaps one or two comments for some posts, zero for most others. Not even the DeStefano blog gets a lot of comments, unless you count those that are rude or annoying (and even those seem to have dropped off). Campaign managers who see high site statistics and low blog comments might figure that the blog is not something that site visitors are interested in, and scale it back or shut it down altogether. This is the wrong conclusion.
It isn't that visitors don't care about blogs, it's that there often isn't much to comment about. The blog entries that I see can sometimes be good, interesting and provocative, but other times they just stick to the campaign line and parrot talking points. This isn't necessarily always a bad thing, since one of the functions of campaign blogs is to keep supporters informed and armed with the latest information, but it doesn't promote much discussion. Supporters reading the blog will usually agree, so why say anything? Detractors may say their piece, but probably not. Their energies are best spent elsewhere.
Candidate blogs are also usually written by staff. Again, not always a bad thing, but one of the great things about blogs is interactivity. DeStefano's Town Hall Forum shows that people do want to interact online, not with a staffer, but with the candidate. If a person says what he/she is thinking to a staffer, that person probably believes that the information won't get to the candidate. However, if someone is talking directly to a candidate, nothing is getting in the way. The experience is improved if the candidate actually responds, too. Open, unscripted dialogue like this is a refreshing break from the well-spun, tightly controlled world of campaigns and elections.
I am hopeful that, as the campaign starts to heat up, blogs don't disappear from candidate sites. It would be excellent if blogs, or something like them, can become the medium through which candidates are more freely able to interact with supporters and voters. For this to happen, though, campaigns should continue to give their blogs a chance, and keep working to improve them.