Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Why we call it the Official Blog - and more meta goodness

Seattle Times chief political reporter David Postman published a post at his blog today excerpting an earlier post by our very own stilwell which critiqued a Times editorial about the Democratic response to escalation. Near the end of his post, Postman asked:
(Why is it the "Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog"? Is there a proliferation of unofficial NPI sites?)
Many people have either asked or (we're sure) wondered this very question. It certainly wasn't named that because we were worried about a "proliferation of unofficial NPI sites". It also isn't meant to imply that any other blog or blogger is somehow any less authentic or genuine than we are.

About three years ago, when NPI was only about six months old, I was looking for a way to easily present our members' commentary and analysis. We tried retooling NPI's front page to allow for easier updating, but manual updating was still a chore.

I eventually realized that what we needed was a blog. Blogs, of course, are powered by software that takes care of publishing, archiving, and allows for people to leave feedback - as well as automatic feed generation. Having a blog would allow contributors to focus on writing, which was the goal.

Defined rather simply, a blog is just a type of web page that is easy to update with new material - and usually in chronological order. That's a broad characterization; some people prefer more specific definitions.

Blogs have become popular because you don't have to be an expert at coding HTML or any other web languages to publish your thoughts online.

We wanted to create a blog not just for sharing commentary on news and events, but also to publish announcements about completed projects or endeavors in progress - any release that we "intend for the notice of the public", as Random House notes in its definition of the word official.

We envisioned the blog as the primary periodical for the organization itself - a one-stop shop where you can read about what's new at NPI, plus follow our perspective on current events.

And we have indeed used the blog for just that purpose. When Pacific Northwest Portal is updated, when we release a new podcast, or a white paper, we disseminate the completion of such projects here and often provide in-progress reports as well, before we announce the news elsewhere or through other means.

That's the story behind the name of the blog and use the word official. We aren't worried that someone might try to set up an online journal and claim it represents the view of the Northwest Progressive Institute.

At a couple points during the last two years, we considered renaming the blog to eliminate confusion, but we never settled on a new name we liked, and we ultimately decided a name change was likely to create nothing but more confusion.

Some self-appointed critics of this organization (you know who you are) point to the name of the blog or even the name of the organization itself as evidence that we think too highly of ourselves. They're mistaken. It's true that you have to have some ego to be involved in politics, but we're way more humble than they believe.

NPI is much more than simply a blog (something critics have apparently not figured out) though it is certainly true that NPI is not on the level of other, established think tanks yet. We aren't in a position where we can be directly compared. Our beginnings and our approach make us all the more revolutionary.

You know you're uniquely different when you have critics who sneer, "How could they claim to call themselves an institute?"

We are completely aware that some people will never take us seriously until we have more impressive resources - like a significantly sized budget, a paid staff, and office space. Our goal is to take NPI to that level, but even when we get there, our mission, focus, and grassroots commitment will remain unchanged.

Some of our critics have attacked not only NPI itself, but also me personally. I'm always disappointed when I observe someone point out my age and then attempt to mock me. I remember years ago being shocked that people would try to marginalize me by using my age to discredit me. Such behavior no longer surprises me, but I still find it sad. Nobody likes being disrespected and insulted.

(I do, however, have to chuckle when critics bring up my age and then get it wrong - as they often do. If you're curious, I'm twenty).

Many civic-minded groups have launched or participated in projects aimed at getting young people registered to vote and then getting them to vote. Despite this admirable work, the number of young Americans who vote is still dismally low. And politics is actually about much more than voting.

There is general agreement in society that apathy among young people towards the democratic process is not a good thing.

Political leaders are making decisions that affect me and my peers - yet, most young people are uninterested in politics. The Internet has lowered the barrier for political participation of all ages (and especially young people, who tend to be technologically savvy), but the Internet is not a cure all. America has a long way to go before this problem is even slightly alleviated.

I won't go into any more depth at the moment, but I will add that this is an issue I plan to write about more frequently in the future.

I and NPI remain undeterred by contempt or ridicule. We will continue moving forward, battling hostility whenever and wherever necessary. We're pursuing a vision. I doubt anyone who is dismissing us today will be dismissing us for very long.

We are receptive to constructive feedback and we are perfectly capable of laughing at ourselves now and then, but we're serious about what we're doing.

I want to address one other thing in this post, which is the button on our sidebar which urges readers to support the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. David Postman noticed it and wrote the following:
I also see that my friends at the PI are marketing to the blog's liberal readership, with an ad that says, "Support a two-newspaper town." I'm not sure I've seen any local papers advertise on independent blogs before. Interesting development.
Postman is actually mistaken. That's not an advertisement from the Post-Intelligencer, it's a badge we created ourselves - and without a "please" or "thank you" from the P-I. We don't accept or allow advertising and have no plans to change our policy.

Unlike other groups, we don't want newspapers to collapse and disappear. Print as a medium still has tremendous value. But it's very likely that the companies that own newspapers now will find themselves out of business in the near future, or at least they will find themselves struggling, unless they start thinking of themselves as a news operation and not simply a newspaper.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a valuable resource for all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute. Reporters such as Neil Modie offer excellent political analysis and quality journalism that benefits the entire community. Columnists like Joel Connelly offer great insight and steadfast viewpoints (which while we don't always agree with, we do enjoy).

David Horsey, a two-time Pulitzer winner, is one of the finest editorial cartoonists in the country. He's extremely creative and an avid thinker. And in general, the P-I editorial board has been a voice for common sense, a better society, and wise investments in our future and our children's future.

The P-I's owners (Hearst) operate the paper under a Joint Operating Agreement with the Seattle Times Company, which is controlled by the Blethen family (and more specifically Frank Blethen) who now want out of the agreement.

Because the Seattle Times Company manages the P-I's business operations - advertising, classifieds, marketing, circulation, delivery, etc. - its owners are and have been in an excellent position to sabotage the P-I's circulation and position the Seattle Times as Washington State's newspaper of record.

With respect to Times journalists, including David Postman, and columnists like Danny Westneat, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is simply a better newspaper at present. That is in part because management at the P-I cares greatly about what is best for the community and not just what's best for its ownership.

This stands in stark contrast to the Seattle Times, where Frank Blethen has used the paper as a blunt instrument to further his own personal agenda (for example, Blethen's efforts to repeal the estate tax - which benefits him but isn't in America's or Washington's best interest)

Additionally, the Times editorial board has been producing editorials recently that are unnecessarily vicious and or dishonest (the Mike McGavick endorsement, which actually contradicted past Times editorials, was perhaps the most outrageous).

The Times is also in a better position, circulation wise, with 212,691 subscribers to the Post-Intelligencer's 126,225. The P-I, as mentioned above, is disadvantaged because the Times Company runs its business operations and can thus easily give priority to its own paper while still claiming it is a good "representative" for the P-I.

Like fellow members of the Committee For a Two Newspaper Town, we think Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region benefit from competition between two newsrooms and two editorial boards. At present the better of the two newspapers is smaller and faces a more uncertain future. So we've put up a badge urging readers to show their support by subscribing to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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