D.C officials set up blogs

Two elected D.C. officials launched Internet-based outreach programs this summer to increase their constituents’ involvement in political affairs.

Mayor Anthony Williams and Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), whose constituents include Foggy Bottom residents, have embraced new forms of political technology. Williams has introduced an online Web log – or blog – to better communicate with the city, while Evans issues his weekly newsletter as digital audio files called podcasts, which are sent to users’ MP3 players.

Sean Metcalf, Evans’ communications director, said the idea for a podcast was based on a desire to increase Evans’ constituents’ participation in local politics. Constituents who sign up for the podcast on Evans’ Web site, http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/EVANS/website/ started receiving the newsletters in June.

“We started discussing why the political outlet in D.C. doesn’t use this enormous outlet,” Metcalf said.

While all D.C. Council members have a Web site and most have a weekly newsletter, Evans is the only one whose site features a podcast. He is part of a nationwide trend of politicians turning to the audio messages as a new way to deliver their messages. After Metcalf and Evans decided to implement the podcasts, they brought in an expert to explain how podcasts work and to demonstrate the technical details.

“After that meeting … we actually put one up,” Metcalf said. “It’s that quick.”

He added that Evans’ decision to offer podcasts was due to an interest from constituents coupled with a relatively easy and quick process. Metcalf said that the time spent on production and editing the podcast takes about 6 hours.

“It’s a new medium,” he said. “People are going to catch on the same as they did with e-mail.”

Similarly, Williams was the first local D.C. officeholder to implement a blog where city residents can post concerns and compliments.

Sharon Gang, Williams’ press secretary, said that his decision to start the blog, which was first posted Aug. 16 on his Web site, http://dc.gov/mayor/index.shtm, was not a public relations ploy suggested by his communications staff.

“We didn’t decide it,” she said. “This is completely up to the mayor.”

Several constituents said they thought Williams’ blog was getting off to a rough start when replies to his first post were left unanswered for more than a week. Williams’ second post was an apology for the delay.

“The guy’s pretty busy,” Gang said, referring to the one-week lapse between posts.

Metcalf said that Evans has likened his podcasts to the fireside chats of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. While some Foggy Bottom residents have lived in the area for more than 20 years, Metcalf said he does not anticipate elderly members of the community will have a problem accessing the new media. About 600 of Evans’ constituents have subscribed to the podcasts and Metcalf said the councilman has received a lot of positive feedback.

“Seniors send us e-mails constantly because they’re fully retired,” Metcalf said.

Gang said that Williams’ blog is now fully operational and successful. The average time between posts from the mayor is two days.

“(The mayor is) talking about things that he cares about,” she said. “He knows what people are interested in.”

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