A Web site operated by two District activists, Dorothy Brizill and her husband, Gary Imoff, received national recognition this month for its efforts to keep D.C. residents informed on political and government news.
The Web site, DC Watch (www.dcwatch.com), was mentioned in the September edition of the political magazine Campaigns & Elections as one of the top five state election sites. As a news site covering local politics, the magazine said: "DC Watch is particularly good, with several articles and a weekly e-mail forum that keeps interested residents involved."
Imoff, a Columbia Heights advisory neighborhood commissioner who maintains the Web site, said it began in 1997, after the D.C. government didn't follow through on plans to offer a Web site to keep residents up to date on government business. When Imoff and Brizill learned that they could provide a Web site for $20 a month, they decided to pick up the expense and do it themselves.
"We put it up first to post pending bills and government reports that we thought would be interesting to civic activists," Imoff said. "It was cheaper to put it up than to Xerox and mail information. At first, it was an alternative to faxing and mailing. Putting it on the Web makes it accessible to anyone in the world who wants to look at it."
The response to the site has been more than Brizill and Imoff ever imagined. In 1998, they added an e-mail discussion group called firstname.lastname@example.org. Besides Campaigns & Elections, the Web site also has been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this year, the Federation of Citizens Associations presented Brizill and Imoff with an award.
The latest mention in Campaigns & Elections recognizes the Web site's campaign coverage. Visitors to the site were able to go online get campaign literature--a service for voters that no other local site offered.
"What we did with campaign news was something that the government can't do," Imoff said. "We took every brochure, flier and position paper that any candidate issued and put it on line. We did it without favoritism and without editing or making any changes at all. The only thing didn't put online was requests for money."
Although Imoff, who describes himself as a computer amateur, puts in the information, it is Brizill who attends hours and hours of government meetings, collecting paperwork and taking copious notes. For Imoff, who is a writer, operating the Web site is the equivalent of working a full-time job.
"If we had tried to do this five years ago, we would have had to publish a tabloid newspaper," he said. "That would have cost hundreds, even thousands a month in printing and distribution costs. Then you would have only what's in that month's newspaper. With Web site, you can add to it and it keeps growing.
"You have to be willing to volunteer the time. This is what makes the Internet age different."