Madison alders recently got a new way of talking to their constituents with blogs hosted on the Common Council website.
Ald. Bridget Maniaci first posted on her blog this week with a lengthy criticism of the media. "That media here doesn't go for the gusto, and just runs press-releases verbatim is so disappointing," she wrote. "The phrase around city hall I've heard is that the press is baby birds with their mouths open going 'feed me, feed me.'"
Her rant indeed gave the press and blogosphere more to squawk about (read the post in its entirety at Forward Lookout). Other local politicians joked about it. Maniaci removed the post this morning, after a request from Council President Lauren Cnare. Maniaci says Cnare thought the post was too negative and didn't follow city policy on blogging (PDF).
Cnare could not be reached for comment. Ald. Mark Clear had also recommended it be taken down. "She took some cheap shots at city staff that were unnecessary and inappropriate," Clear says. "And it really didn't relate much to city business... . It was more personal opinion."
Maniaci says she needs to revisit the policy and isn't certain about what is or is not considered appropriate to blog about. "There's going to be growing pains. You're sitting there with a blank sheet and canvas, where do you want to go with it," she says. "I don't have an editor, someone who is going to say, 'Is this what you mean to say about this?' It's valuable to have that feedback."
She adds, "I'm not trying to write a polished news article. I'm trying to give a personal perspective on a situation at hand or an issue."
Maniaci says her complaint about the media was meant to express how she misses the valuable role the media plays in public debate. In the current media climate, many meetings go uncovered and valuable information doesn't get passed on.
Many of Maniaci's constituents are young adults, who don't always know how government works she says. "Constituents have really simple questions about how does this work," she says. "At the end of the day, I want to make government a positive thing in people's lives."
"After two years, I'm finding it's very difficult to keep people informed through the various news outlets," she adds.
Alders have been able to blog on the city's website for about four months, Clear says. So far only five have done so. It's the first time someone was asked to remove a post, though he says, "I'm sure it will happen again."
Clear replaced his email newsletter he used to send to constituents with the blog. He says it could become useful on controversial votes, such as the Edgewater Hotel project, giving alders a forum to explain how they voted.
"I use it in the same way I'd use a paper newsletter or an email list," he says. "For me, I am representing the city when I'm writing. Almost all the time, I stick to what is happening with a particular project or in the district."