Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mayor Dave's blog

Today a member of my family made a Facebook link to a blog post by the Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. The post says the city needs to sustain the professional reporting of its one remaining printed newspaper. Here's an extract:
So, here's a modest proposal. Charge me. Please charge me. Why is it that I should expect to pay for news delivered on paper, but not expect to pay for the same story I read online? It costs something to hire reporters and editors and why shouldn't I, as a consumer of the news, pay for some of that cost?

So first and foremost, charge me. Second, charge me twice. Competition is a good thing. The blending of our two daily newspapers into one is not a healthy thing. When I see a Cap Times byline in the State Journal I wonder what that means. I know who wrote it, but who edited it? And what does it mean for competition between the papers? Are reporters tripping over one another to break a story or are they sleepily cooperating?

I'd rather not have just one daily news outlet. It would be better for democracy if there were a bunch. So, I'll pay to subscribe to both "papers" as long as both are hiring good reporters and competing against each other. I'm betting that for all the scrutiny and tough questions and pure aggravation that professional journalists present me with, in the long-run I'm better off with a well-informed constituency. And whether or not I am personally better off as a mayor, I know democracy itself depends on it.
The post is interesting for a few reasons. First it seems to me to be unusual for a politician to welcome competitive news gathering since it surely results (as the post suggests) in competition to uncover real or supposed dirt in city hall. And then it seems unusual because he's not discussing any government policy; he's giving a personal opinion; no more. Further, the tone is conversational. The post has nothing in common with the self-promoting literature that it seems most politicians send out via mail, press releases, and whatever means they can capture.

The mayor's other posts are similarly informal, but their topics vary greatly. Some record local events in which he's participated, each with what seems to me to be a genuinely self-deprecating charm. For example: a bowling contest between the mayor's office and city council and a fundrasising event called Men Who Cook. Others explain his position on legislative initiatives; for example one on the city's purchase of hybrid buses and another on fast-tracking proposals for federal stimulus money.

I thought it might be interesting to see whether other mayors blogged so effectively and with such a light touch. A Google search reveals that while there are quite a few mayor blogs, almost none are as interesting and personable. Most are stiffly official, written either in passive or third-person voice. Some are blatantly boosterish. One or two are more like wikis than blogs, with the mayor responding to contributions sent by constituents. The only one that seems to approach Mayor Dave's from Madison is Mayor Joe Curtatone's in Somerville, Massachusetts.

My search turned up no mayor blogs at all from my own local jurisdictions; just a couple from county council members (here and here).

Here are links to some of the blogs I came across:

Here's a smattering of mayor-blog images. The last one shows Mayor Dave.

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