By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)
They’re at times informative, scurrilous, insightful, self-referential and thoughtful. Often critical of the press, they report on politics and current events like media outlets. They’re liberal, conservative, libertarian and everything else.
The authors all have one thing in common, though: They’re having a great time.
Blogs, aka Web logs, are one of the new crazes on the Internet, giving anyone with a modem a chance to plug in and tell the entire world what they think. Some are simply streams of consciousness made public.
But dozens of the sites devote their space to Virginia politics. One of the more thorough — and controversial — sites out there is run by “Not Larry Sabato,” a not-so-veiled reference to the University of Virginia’s leading political analyst.
“Not Larry Sabato” is actually a group of four Virginia campaign veterans, according to one of the bloggers who spoke with the Daily recently.
“We’ve all worked within the parties,” he said. Two Democrats and two Republicans, the four are friends and have actually worked on opposing campaigns. Now, they work together to prognosticate and report on the 100 races for the House of Delegates.
Why blog? It’s fun to poke the status quo in the eye.
“We’re shaking up the establishment a little bit,” said the anonymous blogger.
Political fun is the reason three-year blogging veteran Norman Leahy, former executive director of U.S. Term Limits, keeps posting on his “One Man’s Trash” site day after day.
“My blog is little more than an electronic version of an 18th century broadside. It’s meant to rile, it’s meant to challenge and, if I’m very lucky, someone just might take a piece of it to heart and act.”
Leahy watches Virginia politics, and has devoted considerable space to the campaign of state Sen. H. Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester, the independent candidate on the Nov. 8 gubernatorial ballot.
“Above all, it’s fun. It’s interesting, too,” Leahy said. “The moment blogging ceases to be either of those things, I’ll give it up.”
It is fun, said former lobbyist, journalist and activist Bob Griendling, whose Commonwealth Commonsense blog tacks left where Leahy tacks right.
“I like the idea of getting ideas out in the public,” said Griendling, who added that he dislikes the gossipy, anonymous nature of some blogs, including the efforts of NLS.
“I come at it from a journalist’s background. I’m opinionated certainly, but I would feel terrible if I put something out there that was false that hurt somebody’s reputation,” he said.
While he has no problem lighting up politicians based on their positions, he said, personal stuff is out of bounds.
“Sometimes we joke around [like calling Creigh Deeds a ‘Charlottesville liberal’],” added anonymous bloggers Old Zach and Addison from “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”
“But for the most part we try to focus on the issues. ‘Sic Semper’ is our sounding board, and I think people will read us as long as we have something to say — be it politics, sports or entertainment.”
The NLS site is “gossipy, but not gossip,” one of the four anonymous NLS bloggers said. At the same time, it doesn’t adhere to the same standards of review that mainstream publications follow, partly because it’s a staff of four.
But the collective “Not Larrys” patrol their blog’s comment section for anything that might be out of line and pull the patently false or scurrilous entries.
Just how many people read the blogs isn’t clear.
The “Not Larry Sabato” team doesn’t have a hit counter, so they have no way of tracking how many people actually read their posts. Hit counters can betray IP addresses, and that could lead to their collective unmasking.
“We can’t do the blog effectively if we reveal our identities,” he said, but noted that NLS gets “four to five times the comments” of other Old Dominion blogs.
“I’ve been in [public relations] long enough to know not to believe your own press,” Griendling said.
The NLS bloggers think they are reaching voters, though, as evidenced by what they say was a swarm of e-mail around the June 14 primary.
“We were just getting bombed by real voters, e-mailing us asking questions,” the NLS blogger said. Voters researching candidates wanted to know more about their potential choices.
“We didn’t anticipate that when it started,” he said.
As of Nov. 9, Not Larry Sabato will go quiet — partly because the fun stuff will be over, but mainly because it’s a lot harder to get the good dirt when the General Assembly is in session.
“In session, the meetings are much smaller,” he said. That makes it easier to get caught.
Sic Semper’s future depends on football. “The first full season of college football will be a challenge, and we might not be working on the same blog by the end of it,” the two bloggers wrote.
Leahy said he’ll keep right on plugging even after the election is over. The 2006 General Assembly will be a good one for political junkies.
“It could be an explosive session, particularly if there’s a move to raise taxes to pay for more transportation projects,” he said. “There will also be some pressure on the [legislature] to get involved in the property tax issue, and I look for a bit of a tussle over ideas like a Taxpayers Bill of Rights.”
And then there’s the 2006 congressional midterms.
“Those races will only add to the fun,” Leahy said.