By Doug Thompson
I’ve done enough blogging and twittering from the legislative session now to form some impressions. (My Morning News blog is at http://nwasource.com/gov/.)
First off, I get an e-mail every time somebody signs up for my twittering, or instant messaging. My most devoted readers appear to be other blogs and news organizations. That’s OK. It may be a tight little group, but most of the stuff that goes out through twittering is as-it-happens updates.
We’re all going to get it when something big happens like the passage of the tobacco tax. People who want details will read the news story when it comes out.
Where I have the greatest advantage in twittering is when I go outside the Capitol. For instance, there was the state Highway Commission meeting where the members decided to make the Bella Vista bypass the only project they would apply for under a federal grant program. Not many twittering types show up at highway commission meetings.
Blogging gives a lot more detail, and has a lot more potential and freedom. I’ve tried making the blog more specific to Northwest Arkansas. I remember the advice I gave to a predecessor as the Northwest Arkansas political reporter. What your readers want to know, I said, was what those so-and-so’s in Little Rock did to them today.
Another thing I’ve started doing on the blog is giving forecasts or predictions on what will happen. For instance, I wrote that an attempt to change the streamlined sales tax was not likely to get out of committee. I also wrote that I could assume that the Speaker of the House knew how to count when he brought the tobacco tax up for a vote and the question on everybody’s mind was whether he could pass it.
I make predictions because of my impression that there are two types of bloggers: Those who know what they’re talking about and those who don’t. The public has a right to know which is which. The only proof you can offer is to show some foresight.
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Predictions usually aren’t that hard. They don’t rely so much on “inside information,” which is vastly over-rated among bloggers. The impartial application of common sense backed by some institutional knowledge will give you more than enough information to place a good bet on most issues.
A good example is the appointment of former U.S. Sen. David Pryor to the UA Board of Trustees, a very good tip that John Brummett had first. Before it happened, I projected that it would come true with complete confidence. It did. I asked no sources about that. It just made sense. I did ask Pryor, who was unable to deny there had been discussions of his possible appointment, which is all I really needed.
To be blunt without bragging, I’ve more and better sources in state government than most. Use sources to confirm or deny what you think, not to tell you.
The biggest trouble with “inside information” is that you usually have to take sides to get it. If you’re a fair broker who shows some understanding, all sides will want you to know their point of view. If you’re somebody desperate to be told what’s going on, you get used. You become either a partisan or a dupe.
I can’t deny that being a regular guest on the public television news show “Arkansas Week” really helps here, in the sense that it makes people want to talk to you. I don’t know how many people watch that show, but everybody who works in the Capitol seems to. Being on the show brings you instant recognition. Everybody knows who you are. You’re branded as an “opinion maker,” too.
As long as I’m talking about blogs, I might as well give a thought about another. The blog I read more than all the others put together is “Under the Dome” by Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana. Yes, he’s the House Majority leader and has a definite point of view. He’s also tireless and knowledgeable.