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Personal Politics Turn Communal on a Web of Local Internet Sites

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James Joyner, 38, of Ashton, publishes a blog with political commentary and links, which he updates as often as 25 times a day. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)


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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2004; Page E01

When the D.C. Council held a public hearing on the proposed smoking ban for District bars and restaurants, more than a hundred people showed up to voice their opinions. Ban the Ban, a group organized by local bloggers, brought 25 people to testify on that December workday.

Zoe Mitchell, who led the online campaign, says the Ban the Ban turnout that day is proof that blogs are more than a wasteland of rhetoric. A veteran protester at 23, Mitchell has stormed congressional offices, marched against the war in Iraq and traveled the country attending anti-globalization rallies. She is trying to change the world; she believes that keeping a blog, a kind of online diary, will help.

Washington's blogsphere is a galaxy of local Web writers who are tied to their computers and to their connections with each other. There are plenty of gossipy teen blogs and "what-I-had-for-lunch" journals, but like the city itself, Washington's blog scene has a strong base of politicos.

Surfing through directories of Washington bloggers (several exist, including DCbloggers.com and the DC Metro Blog Map, a site that lists bloggers according to the nearest Metro stop) it is hard to miss the preponderance of politically charged blogs. Dedicated, like-minded bloggers have even founded circles of sites that link to one another and discuss similar topics. The Beltway Bloggers fall to the right. The Cato Blog Mafia consists of current and former employees of the Cato Institute. There are wonkish policy blogs, environmental blogs and libertarian blogs. Blogs that promoted the DC primary and track happenings in District education.

Web logs allow people with little technical know-how to create elaborate, quickly updated Internet sites at almost no expense. The growing ease of the technology has enticed hundreds (possibly thousands) of local residents to take their passions to the Web.

Blogging is a lifestyle, the most devoted say, and like the telephone or e-mail, can quickly become a second-nature method of communication.

One afternoon last week James Joyner trolled through the headlines on Google News, and learned that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. The Ashburn resident, who describes himself as a libertarian-leaning conservative, clicked through to the USA Today story on the ruling and decided to add it to his blog, Outside the Beltway.

A quick right-click of his mouse brings up a box giving Joyner, who uses a software system called Moveable Type, the option to link the story to his blog. He writes a couple of paragraphs of commentary and hits the "publish" button, sending an update to his blog. The whole process is done in about 10 minutes. There are options to change the way the text appears and some blogs are fancier than others, but very little technical prowess is actually required, he said.

Within hours Joyner received more than a dozen e-mails notifying him that readers had commented on that post. The replies go up on the site automatically, but Joyner can read the text in his e-mail and if there is a tawdry remark, he has the power to remove it. His site gets between 1,000 and 1,500 hits a day, mostly from people Joyner has never met.

"You get interaction going, discussions. People can get sort of heated and start calling each other names," said Joyner, 38, a former political science professor.

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