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Wednesday, 28 March 2007 00:00

Life in the blogosphere

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Go to scoopscott.squarespace.com on the Internet and you enter the world of Macon County resident Bob Scott.

 

Want his philosophy on life? No problem.

“I consider the day a total loss if I don’t annoy or aggravate someone.”

Interested in his take on the First Amendment? You’ll find that, too.

“I believe that freedom is fragile and we must preserve and protect the First Amendment as well as exercise it!”

How about his opinion on an issue in Franklin, where he serves on the Board of Aldermen?

“It’s Sunday morning and the weekend’s litter is scattered along our streets and highways. Perhaps it is time to begin looking at ordinances which would ban drive through windows as one North Carolina town, Davidson, has done.”

At first blush, 66-year-old Scott is an unlikely Internet blogger. But along with at least one other Web site owner in this immediate area, the Franklin alderman and former newspaperman has discovered the power of citizen journalism — unfettered by the constraints of traditional media.

 

Listening to the people

Scott covered the state’s westernmost counties for the Asheville Citizen-Times for 12 years as a reporter before leaving the newspaper to become a law enforcement officer. He said he didn’t know what a blog was when it was suggested that he start one.

Scott was hooked when he figured out that a blog would let him create an electronic town hall for Franklin, and give him his very own bully pulpit to air opinions on other subjects.

“As an alderman, I just feel like I have somewhat of an obligation to let people know my views,” he said. “I put up my point of view, then I want to hear other points of view.”

The response has been good, Scott said, with a mix of voices responding since the site launched about a month ago. Scott sends email notification to about 90 people whenever he updates the blog.

Encouraging citizens to participate in local government issues is critical, he said, because elected officials can’t rely on traditional media to fill that role given the staffing shortages and economic constraints most labor under.

“We need to hear from the public,” Scott said. “But we also have to listen out for the minorities — government exists to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.”

Linda Harbuck, longtime executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, said she believes that Scott is helping encourage public participation in local issues.

“It gives people an opportunity to speak to issues without having to go to a public meeting,” she said. “Many people are uncomfortable doing that.”

Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, described Scott’s concept of reaching constituents via the Internet as a “neat idea.”

“Anything that can get more citizens involved and thinking about politics is good,” said Knotts, who added that he believes public debate will increasingly shift to the Internet as more people become comfortable with the medium.

“You can really see it with fundraising, too,” he said. “The amount of money you can raise (through the Internet) has become kind of a sign of a successful presidential campaign.”

 

Focusing on Cherokee

Though Scott’s opinions might be disagreeable to some, his training in journalism is evident in the measured tone of scoopscott.squarespace.com.

“All comments are welcome — but I reserve the right to exclude crudeness, vulgarity, and unfounded, non-factual personal attacks,” Scott warns users.

That’s not the case at easternband.com, which welcomes anything but porn. The no-holds-barred Web site has generated 198,247 page views so far this year.

“Re-elect Mao Chell Hicks,” the Web site’s homepage screamed recently, playing on the name of Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Owner Bill Killian, a candidate for principal chief, said he actually doesn’t create most of the site’s content. Instead, it is generated by users, including the “Mao Chell Hicks” jab, he said.

“These people have been stifled, and this has opened up a little venting area on the boundary,” Killian said. “We really don’t enjoy civil rights here, and a lot of people can’t really speak out because they are fearful of losing their jobs.”

Killian started the site in December 2004.

“(It) didn’t go anywhere until I turned it into forums and opened it up to comments,” he said. “It really took off when I started allowing people to post anonymously.”

Killian said his site received 123,359 views in 2005. That jumped to 527,294 in 2006, he said.

Comments in the forums range from attacks on individual tribal leaders to blanket condemnation, such as the following from a writer identified only as TheRaven:

“... the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (is) being used to make a few people multi millionaires. They have managed to get to this point by blatently changing our governing documents and corrupting our tribal Enrollment. Do they care whether your indian children get an education or not? NO with political influence peddling they have made themselves and theirs wealthy.”

Killian and Scott said maintaining their sites is time consuming. Killian described his as virtually a full-time job, and Scott recently spent the better part of a weekend updating scoopscott.squarespace.com. Both agreed the time spent is worthwhile.

“What I really like about the Internet is that I can set myself up as an expert whether I know anything or not,” Scott said jokingly. “It’s fun.”

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