Friday, March 20, 2009

For Those Attending the PoliSparks Conference in Olympia This Weekend

Hi, Sparkies!

My name is Ryan Grant; I'm a first grade teacher in Medical Lake, president of the Medical Lake Education Association, WEAPAC Chair for WEA-Eastern, and for the purposes of this workshop (and in the eyes of Ann Randall :-) a political blogger of some small note.

I've been writing here at I Thought a Think for 3 years now. It started as a bit of a lark--everyone was doing it, so I will too!--but since then I've really come to see the power that blogging and other internet communication can have as a tool to get the message out. Having the blog has opened up contacts for me with people involved in education that I wouldn't have made otherwise, and for everything that I've put into it I've gotten just as much out.

Below, then, I'm sending you on a bit of a treasure hunt to show you some of the resources that I use when I'm working on my own blog projects. There'll be some video, there'll be some audio, there'll be lolcats twittering memes. Hopefully it'll be educational for you, the same way it has been for me. Please follow the links freely, and have fun doing it!

Part I: Why Blogs Matter
See the PI.

Print, print, print, says the PI.

See the PI....die?

I'm a longtime lover of newspapers; they're how I learned to read, and while it may sound rather trite growing up in small-town Washington (Rochester) they really could take you places that you wouldn't otherwise be able to go. This post at The Stranger from the day that the closure of the PI was announced is a rather stunning look at that moment in time.

And then the Seattle PI went online only, the biggest newspaper in the country to do so. The model that they're apparently running with is to be an online aggregator of other content that is found on the 'net, with some small bit of original reporting thrown in from the few staffers that they have left. Broadband access is becoming more ubiquitous by the day, the reasoning goes--if people are opening their laptops in the morning before they would even think to open a newspaper, then isn't being on the internet better?

Hence, blogging. The immediacy of the internet can be a blessing in getting a message out; take, for example, the League of Education Voters, the anti-school group trying to ram HB2261 through the legislature. They've done good work in liveblogging events like House Education Committee hearings and important votes that give a sense of vitality to the issue being covered that simply can't be matched by dead-tree media. By the same token consider what happened to the Washington State Labor Council last week, where a scandal over an email that killed their most important bill was thoroughly dissected by both the left and the right before the first drop of ink was ever spilt.

The take home here? Something I tried to do around HB1410/SB5444 was to get reasons out there, quickly, why they were bad bills and inspire people to respond. At the link above I was able to get a reason out and have it sitting right next to an email link to the legislators to let their voice be heard, and it worked--Statcounter showed that when people "left" the site it was typically to go and send an email. You can't reproduce that experience with a newsletter, a newspaper, a rally, or a flyer.

Rich Wood and Simone Boe have also been doing great things with the group set up on Facebook; it was originally designed to fight against 1410/5444, but has now evolved into a more general group on the budget crisis with almost 1,600 members. Consider that; people opt-in to join the group, meaning that they want to be there, and that creates an instant list of folks who you know are receptive to the message.

The internet: it's only gotten better since 1994.

Part II: It's All In How You Say It

The website that I use for my blogs is Blogspot, because it was the first one I found when I googled "blog" at the beginning. Coincidently Blogspot is owned by Google, so let's hear it for corporate synergy!

Blogs are almost always automatically indexed by your major search engines, and the "labels" function is also useful if you want to categorize your posts a certain way. I also have a script called StatCounter installed--a tracking cookie--so I can see who's been coming, who's been going, what brought them to my page, how long they stayed, if they've ever come back, etc. It's a real kick in the pants when you see that your blog post has been noticed by someone else, who comments on it on their web page, which moves traffic your way. Again, synergy.

So as y'all think about starting your own political blog the piece that I'd ask you to think about is voice--what tone do you want to take in your communication? I've given you some examples below; which ones best match your personality?

Voice #1: Snark. A shortening of "snide remark," think of snark as the insult comic at the Celebrity Roast who rips the target up and down. Long knives drawn, on the attack, true snark can be a bee-yoo-tiful thing to behold.

Th snarkiest snark on the internet is found at Wonkette, a pleasent alternative universe where everyone is a drunken version of James Carville and has something really funny and really wrong to say. Consider this recent post on the gloriously stupid AIG debacle, which is an update on the current legislative session wrapped up in profanity with a "Go f- yourself" ribbon on top.

For a local example take a look at Horse's Ass, a blog that started with the wonderful initiative to officially label Tim Eyman a horse's ass. They also do a hell of a podcast.

Voice #2: The Storyteller. One of the best blog posts I've ever read from one of the best bloggers around was The Nice Man Cometh at New York City Educator; whenever people talk about alternative routes into the classroom, this is the piece of writing that I point to. NYC Educator is one of the best at taking those slice-of-life stories from the classroom and turning them into (sometimes damning) indictments of the system writ large, and that can be one of the most powerful tools in the internet activists arsenal. Mrs. Bluebird and Dr. Pezz are two more who share their classroom stories while also keeping an eye on the larger prize, and it's a neat thing to see.

One of the basic tenets of lobbying is that the legislators respond to the personal stories, those anecdotes that really drive home what legislation means. With the impending cuts to the school budget, there's so much that could be done to share how the decisions made in Olympia will impact teachers, students, and parents in the schools.

When you think about your school, what story would you tell to answer these questions:

  • How does class size matter?
  • Why does compensation matter?
  • How did ProCert impact teachers new to the profession?
  • Why should we care about National Certification?
  • When you think of a kid who had a good turn-around in life, what was it that helped him get right?
Voice #3: The Wonk. This is, perhaps, the toughest one to pull off convincingly. The Science Goddess at What It's Like on the Inside (a Washington State blogger, too!) isn't a fan of teacher's unions but is always interesting, topical, and has a depth of knowledge in her field that really shows. She presents frequently and is this able to break down sophisticated ideas into bite-sized pieces, which makes her an easy read.

Or, going right to the original, EduWonk, aka Andrew Rotherham, who used to have a position in the Clinton White House as an education advisor and still keeps his ear close to the ground on the big education issues of the day.

The trick to being the wonk is taking something obtuse and opaque, like state law or taskforce recommendations or the lyrics of Morissey, and making it easily understandable. I've been working for a week now on a post about the impact that the new legislation coming out of the Basic Ed Finance Task Force recommendations would have on regional salary adjustments for education professionals here in Washington State, and when the summary is four lines long you can imagine what it's like when you really explain it.

Not that every blog necessarily needs a "voice", mind you. These are only the ones that I've identified that are used to make a point; there are plenty of blogs out there that are simply sharing their day-to-day lives and having a great time doing it.

Something to consider is the potential in group blogs, like Washington Teachers, Stories From School from the CSTP, or Education Policy Blog. Then you can get all the voices of the choir singing together, which is always good reading.

Part III: Tools of the Trade

The absolute best way to follow blogs is Google Reader. By entering the names of blogs of interest you can be notified automatically when they're updated, which saves you from having to check them yourself, and the ability to "star" posts that are especially interesting is handy for when you want to go back and comment on something yourself.

Are you on Facebook yet? If not, think about it. When you hear people talk about Web 2.0 and social networking it's platforms like Facebook that are the next step in the evolutionary process of on-line organizing. Plus they have Bejeweled, which is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine.

And in the "It works for me, maybe not for you" department--Microsoft Word. Typing into Blogger proper has never really felt all that organic to me, so I type most of my posts into Word and then transfer them into Blogger after I've given them some time to digest.

That's it from me. I regret not being able to be there with you for this workshop--my daughter's health made it impossible for me to get away for the weekend--but I hope that the two days were enjoyable for all of you, and here's to political action!





Blogger Dr Pezz said...

Thanks for the shout-out. :)

10:15 PM  

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