Sunday, July 08, 2007


There is occasional flirting with reality going on around the Burgosphere recently, a few voices wondering whether the general public cares about what gets the Burghospree amped up. Of course, the answer is probably not. The Burghosplat is supposed to be like a 30 minute Sunday pre-primary visit from Pat Dowd, a chance to learn and interact. But the persistence of the same voices makes me think its not even like an Ellis classroom where the same 5 smart people raise their hands, its more like the same five people are all that are out there in the Burghocube universe. Few or no lurkers here, I think.

Instead very little of the general public is reading blogs, and it’s likely the general public isn’t convinced by the main stream media that Luke's antics are much ado about anything. It will remain to be seen whether any ethics committee will deal with this. “Any” ethics committee? It will be interesting to see whether the *County* ethics committee will look at Mr. Onorato's behavior. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had gone to the Mario tournament for years, and no one batted an eye. But still, someone may look at it now, and there is some likelihood that the city ethics board will follow suit based on what the county committee does.


jtogyer said...

Bless you for saying what I've long suspected, Ed.

I look at my server logs and I see the same visitors over and over. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, because it's fun to interact with them.

But the subset of people who read blogs is still tiny at best, and there are so many blogs competing for attention (some of them really good!) that it's hard to get noticed:

General Population > All Internet Users > Internet Enthusiasts > Blog Readers

I'm not saying blogs aren't useful or interesting, but I don't think do-it-yourself media is having the kind of impact people think it is ... at least not on a local level.

The smallest newspapers in the Pittsburgh MSA still have larger readerships than the biggest blogs.

Paul Burr said...

I think thats ok. Blogs are good practice. They are good civic duty.
They frequently put two or three news items together to reveal things that would just fall by the way side. And besides, its good to know that there are good people out there watching things. You should consider that when blog readers are out in the community and speak with their friends about the things they read they are often overheard by the people who don't visit Blogs. This has happened to me a number of times in restaurants and supermarkets. Ordinary folks will over-hear something I'm sharing with a friend and speak up to say that they were unaware and surprised by what I was saying. I think Blogs have a further reaching grasp than their owners realize. I know that politicians are afraid of them and that the major media admires them and sees them as a threat. I like that. The more Blogs the more evidence that people are watching what the government is doing.

EdHeath said...

JT, yeah, it’s hard when you are focusing on the blogs to turn around and realize there aren't that many people around our little universe. But for me it is only a suspicion too, although the inspiration was a commenter on the Burgh Report named Rico, who uttered the heresy of saying that the many ordinary people he spoke too were all still Ravenstahl supporters, and I believe it was him (might have been someone else) who said the ordinary folks were annoyed at the media for making a mountain out of a molehill. Still, I wonder, if the local national organization for women turns against the Mayor, if that might catch public attention.

Personally I vacillate in blogging between simply speaking my mind and trying to actually get and give a sense of which way the political wind is blowing. The political blogs have not only internet enthusiasts, but also mostly political partisans (mostly, but hardly entirely, liberal). So, as Paul says, they are useful for hearing interesting pieces of news that verge on gossip, but (I say) they are less interesting for finding what might strike the average Pittsburgher who is likely to vote. Which is something I’m interested in. But regardless, it is quite interesting. Although I feel like I’ve come late to the blogging game, I think they are still evolving, right before our eyes.

Thanks for the fairly kind words, too, Paul. I’m not sure the blogs have quite the social dynamic you give them credit for, but I am myself constantly surprised with the resources some bloggers bring to bear, in terms of research and quoting the city code and what not. There may come a time when the blogs become a force in local politics.

Bram Reichbaum said...

It's not how many experience the blogs but who, and how it affects them.

EdHeath said...

Ahh, Bram, do you remember the Simpsons where Lisa created the "Lisa Lionheart" doll with the creator of the original Malibu Stacy doll; Stacy Lovell (thank you, Wikipedia; I only need to remember Google-able phrases now)? Where they were outsmarted by the Malibu Stacy people (who added a hat to Malibu Stacy). But one little girl walked over to the Lisa Lionheart dolls and picked one up. And Lisa said how that one girl made it all worth while. And Stacy Lovell said, “Yes, as long as that little girl pays $46,000 dollars for that doll” (after which she says “Kudos to you, Lisa, kudos”).

Sure, it doesn’t matter so much how many read a blog, but who, and how much it affects them. Especially if they pay $46,000 for the doll.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Here's the thing, Ed. I'm personally not out to change the world, or to convince an enormous number of Pittsburghers that I'm right. But it keeps me out of the pool halls and off the streets, so my wife let's me blog.

But the blogs also can be something of a canary in coal mine. Think about how close the Murphy-O'Connor race was all those years ago. If there had been a vibrant burghosphere operating back then, with even a few hundred people piling on Murphy on a daily basis, maybe it would have turned out differently and O'Connor would have gotten at least one full term before his death.

For a more recent example, Pat Dowd's race was close enough that the burghosphere may have been one reason why he edged out Bodack.

And there's still four months to go here. Four months before the primary, you were writing posts where you mentioned that this guy named Dowd came around knocking on your door, but you really couldn't recall exactly what he was running for. And look how that turned out. Here we are four months from the general election, and you already know a huge amount about DeSantis and are in position to learn even more. There is a certain buzz around the man and his ideas. The press has already paid more attention to DeSantis in the past month than they paid to Weinroth or Carmine during their entire campaigns.

And meanwhile, Luke is taking some serious hits. Some people are trying like hell to divert their eyes, but others are beginning to turn their gaze upon him.

I'm not predicting anything about how the election will turn out. I'm just saying that there is no reason to despair about how much impact we are making. At least we're out of the pool halls and off the streets.

EdHeath said...

Well, Admiral, it's not despair, it’s an attempt at analysis. One thing I will say is that the blogs seem to run a bit ahead of the media, but what shows up in the blogs eventually airs or prints. But what is the effect of the media criticism of the (interim) Mayor? I wish Pittsburgh had some money for some polls.

And I guess that is one danger of the Burgosphere, thinking it might be close to a representative poll of the likely voting public. Chris Briem has sobering statistics on Null Space about republican candidates. By the way, (per Briem’s numbers) the numbers for the 7th council district's primary were very close to the previous ‘03 primary, despite the fact that Dowd was a new candidate (the difference, with no third candidate running, Dowd won). Dowd had done something new, going door to door, which should have influenced the election, but other factors I guess pulled the numbers back (Bodack’s incumbency, backlash because of the Thompson firing, whatever).

Back to the media criticism, I wonder whether there is going to be a backlash among the voting public, people thinking the media is being too hard on the Mayor, or even (gasp) trying to help a republican. I think we are in the dark on whether that’s a factor or not, or whether it could develop into one. I do think DeSantis is the more serious candidate, and I do think the problems the city faces are big enough to warrant wanting the more serious candidate to win. But who knows if my last couple of readers have gotten this far.

C. Briem said...

The District 7 results in both 2007 and 2003 were so close that even attempting to attribute them to one reason is a fools game. Lots of stuff that went into both results.

On the relevance of blogs..or at least the burghosphere. I suspect even active internet users generally ignore most of what is being said because so many blogs say the same thing over and over again.(yes, I am sure I am as guilty) Thus what you get on many blogs is preaching to the choir. It gives the illusion that the audience is a) bigger than what it is and b) is representative of a broader group. The long tail can be very self-selected is another way to explain it.

I will also say that I am pretty sure a lot of partisan blogs actually hurt the candidates they were trying to support. Lots of reasons for that. Take any of the pre-election issues that dominated the burghosphere. Many just reinforced the idea in a lot of peoples mind that blogs were filled with kooky ideas. I suspect that will change, I do… but as an example of where we are at for now: I don’t think the average public, certainly not the average voter, makes any meaningful distinction between the original Motznik blog, its Notznik successors and any of what we now might call A-list bloggers…. From afar, it all looks like one big cloud. but it means that all blogs get tainted to some degree the same. Candidates know the power of the soundbite... the same sort of minimalism is true of how much the public takes away from any blog entry as well.

I am at a loss why anyone thinks Desantis has more media than Weinroth did at this point. Granted there is some media angst over the lack of a contended primary. But back then JW participated in many of the primary debates and group candidate events through the spring. He had far more media exposure than MD has accumulates as yet, by far. In fact, given the indirect way MD got on that ballot, I am quite sure that if there was a public poll to this question, you would find that many people in town do not even realize there is a Republican on the ballot at all as yet. That was not the case 4 years ago. It also is the reason that the first thing the MD campaign spent money on was the push polling going on. The goal was to get the name out there more than anything else.

EdHeath said...

How big is the burghosphere anyway? I honestly don’t know, so I feel bad commenting on its relevance. It is surely finite, but every so often I find another blog I think might be worth paying attention to. How many blog readers are first time visitors versus long time participants? I would guess not many, though every time a story about the blogs runs in PG or City Paper I am sure there is a flood of new readers (that’s how I got hooked). The may be the point where visitors see how kooky we are.

There is an interesting synergy between the blogs and the media right now. The fact that a couple of reporters have blogs and others clearly read blogs in their spare time, and that bloggers pore over media reports and post anything remotely interesting as quickly as possible means that items in the media are treated as a constant series of turning points, whether in a negative sense for the Mayor, or a positive sense for DeSantis. That Mark Desantis has had a bio piece in the city paper I think means bloggers form the impression that the whole city has now heard of him. That the PG has questioned the Mayor’s ethics (and it was linked to in the blogs) means the Burghosphere now thinks the whole city knows the Mayor is loose about accepting favors. The result is that when Pittsburghers *fail* to riot in the street demanding Luke resign, the Burghosphere starts to comment about the stupidity of the average Pittsburgher.

Still, there are people who may read blogs and also matter. I wonder if the anyone on the ethics board reads blogs?

Hey, taking a guess as to why an election runs a certain way may very well be a fool’s game, but it is often a fun fool’s game, and fairly harmless *as long as you realize the limitations and don’t generalize to other elections*.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I think you misunderstood my previous comment. I was not suggesting that every individual counts. Shyeah.

What I was suggesting is that a lot of the *right* people read the blogs. Not all hits are created equal.

Just let's keep blogging. What good has self-consciousness ever done anyone?

EdHeath said...

Just yesterday I read an essay on Orwell. I forget whether I read “1984” in high school, I think I struggled through just enough to pass a test. I should pick it up again.

"Some animals are more equal than others"

I do plan to keep blogging. I may just dive into and wallow in *some* self-awareness once in a while. Good for my immortal soul, assuming I accept Pascal’s wager.

Richmond K. Turner said...

That's not "1984". You are thinking of "Animal Farm".

EdHeath said...

Admiral Admiral Admiral ... I'm thinking of reading 1984 because of the essay I read yesterday; I quoted Animal Farm because of Bram's line about not all hits being equal. I was remarking on the irony or serendipity (or whatever) of thinking about Orwell before Bram said that.

But you are certainly right about the origin of the quote. And I was being a bit (maybe a lot) oblique or at least not clear. Drives my wife crazy, she probably wishes I would spend more time blogging.

patrick dowd said...

Ed, I would like to return to a point I made back in the spring. I think we should encourage open and honest dialogue, which is the essence of our democracy. Anonymity undermines the credibility of a debate and can give false impressions regarding the size and significance of a dialogue. I might be wrong about this, but I would welcome a lesson on the importance of anonymity and/or false identity in our society.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I can only offer that some of the best comments I've read have been from the anonymice ... it can allow for whistle-blowing and the "underground, unspeakable" talk that MD recently described to me as a net good thing.

I guess I can understand "undermined credibility"; that's the only reason I don't go anonymous. But I hardly think its a pernicious situation.

And thank you for demonstrating my earlier point, above. :)

patrick dowd said...

For what it's worth...
Weblogs have tremendous potential in a democracy. They function as an open forum in which many different folks can participate. However, in order to fulfill their potential they have to foster constructive debate. People have to be honest about their assumptions and their positions. They have to be open to criticism and the possibility that they are wrong. They also have to want to find points of agreement with others. That all becomes very difficult if identities are masked. If we come to know each other, if we can share some information and history, you and I can work to find common ground. We can work to build alliances. We could come to an understanding and work on crafting a policy that coincidentally meets both our needs. Without that knowledge, you and I cannot discern the authentic from the rhetorical, the non-negotiable from the negotiable, the real from the false. Without that knowledge, we would have real difficulty communicating effectively with each other. Without that knowledge we cannot start to build alliances.

As to whistle-blowing, Bram, didn’t the whistleblowers of the Progressive Era use their real names? Today, unlike then, aren’t their laws protecting people?

I would also say that a consistent false identity is better than total anonymity.

EdHeath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EdHeath said...

I demonstrated, Bram?

Patrick, have you heard the Gandhi story? (
acrobat/gandhi_and_sugar.pdf) So many bloggers, let alone commenter’s, are anonymous or semi-anonymous. I chose consciously not to be, and I hope people will choose not to be on my blog. But my first statement on anonymity in the blogosphere is that it is a fait accompli. I could require all commenter’s on my blog to have a Google ID, but that would not be a guarantee they would not be anonymous, just that they would be forced to register with Google, and make up a handle. I don’t really want to do that because I am still interested in allowing the widest possible discussion, because holding people responsible for their expressed ideas isn’t a serious option.

I absolutely agree that in a perfect world blogs would have no anonymous or deceitful commenter’s. I don’t think I agree with Bram (or MD) about the value of underground, unspeakable talk; something you say that you don’t want other people to know you said maybe shouldn’t have come out. But I will say this, anonymity shields us from any gender and some racial prejudices we might have based on names. It is a leveler, and we still need levelers for the playing field.

And you are right, one of my current and past pet peeves is that anonymous commenter’s have the option of commenting repeatedly and agreeing with themselves, of changing their handle (and agreeing with themselves). I’m not sophisticated enough computer wise to be able to track IP’s and identify comments coming from a particular computer. I do work at a place full of people who are able to do that, I may have to my programmer and operator neighbors about how that is done.

Of course you know about the concept of internet trolls (
Internet_troll). It is definitely worth it to tread lightly in the Burgosphere (advice I should probably take myself sometimes). I try to let the extreme views roll off my back, and to talk to the more moderate people. Of course, now that the primary is done, many of the most extreme people are gone from the Burgosphere.

So I’m not sure what you were looking for; I have no lesson on the value of anonymity in blogging, I just accept its existence. As I say, I reject anonymity as a personal choice for my own blogging, but I can’t force responsibility on others, only applaud it when it is there. The bloggers I respect the most are decidedly not anonymous, for what it is worth.

patrick dowd said...

Ed, I definitely suggest reading 1984. It's a favorite.

Forgive me, but I don't accept anonymity as a fait accompli. At the same time, neither you nor any blog host should make this a requirement. Folks should step up and do what's right.

My general point is that you would have a better sense of the community of bloggers if the community would be more honest with itself. Additionally, if people saw it as open and honest they might be more likely to join. The lack of transparency might lead some to see the blogs as a closed community.

Mark Rauterkus said...

We were asked to think about how close the Murphy-O'Connor race was all those years ago. If there had been a vibrant burghosphere operating back then, with even a few hundred people piling on Murphy on a daily basis, ...

HOLD the re-write of HISTORY again. I jumped on Murphy -- plenty. And, I jumped on O'Connor too. Plenty. O'Connor started the campaign season with a 40-point lead over Murphy. In January 2001 -- O'Connor was a clear cut victor.

Gosh, did BOB blow it.

If bloggers were around and active then -- they would have helped to elect Josh Pollock, not Bob O'Connor.

Much of the Murphy vote ran back to Murphy - the devil that was known.

Mark Rauterkus said...

If there are lots of reasons for why partisan blogs hurt candidates --- I'd sure like to hear a couple.

I do THINK that the AVERAGE PERSON in the PUBLIC does understand meaningful distinctions among various bloggers and candidates -- with a few wrinkles. First, I think people are smart. Funny how some smart people don't think others are like themselves.

Next, it is blasted impossible to understand the distinction between one person and another when both are signed in with a PEN NAME or Anon. People who use their real names and are really in the communities they talk about are known for what they do and what they say and post about. That big cloud of confusion goes away quickly when you put YOUR NAME and cell phone number (412-298-3432) next to everything you say, do and post.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Whistle-blowing laws didn't protect Jason Phillips.

The point is, most everyone who knows enough about city government is IN city government, and their bosses don't pay them to have opinions, let alone express them and risk complications.

And that just cover the ones with GOOD excuses. In a one-party town like this, where the one party can be so vengeful or vindictive, not even committee-people or professionals / vendors / hangers-on can speak freely.

Sure they could use an anonymous "handle" -- but over time, the info they bring to light, together with their writing style, will give it away.

I can understand your point about anonymity making the blogs seem ugly and scary. I am not defending the really crass rumormongering. However, I guess I don't see the blogosphere as being a vehicle for mass democracy ... I see it more as a selective, graduate-level course in democracy for the highly motivated and the not-faint-of-heart.

Matt H said...

"If bloggers were around and active then -- they would have helped to elect Josh Pollock, not Bob O'Connor."

And that would have been pretty stupid.

publius said...

"It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes."

Justice Hugo Black

EdHeath said...

The thread that would never die...

How do I look you up in the phone book, Publius? Under Via Appia?