December 12, 2005

20/20 hindsight?

I recently came across a couple interesting blasts from the past in the vault at Rich Miller's Capitol Fax regarding the then newly minted Sen. Mike Jacobs.

Here's Miller's profile of young Mike. I hadn't realized that Rich went to college with Jacobs. The comments from readers are interesting in hindsight. And here's a gem:
"Denny and I are different people -- our styles are different," Sen. Jacobs said. "He is more shoot-from-the-hip. I'm a planner and a plotter. I'm a behind-the-scenes guy."
And here's another which contains Miller's fateful call for someone to start a political blog in the Quad Cities.

This blog launched the next day, showing how much thought (very little) went into it's debut.


At 12/12/2005 5:44 PM, Blogger maybesomeday said...

Very interesting history Dopester. Did you read the other blog and then decide to create yours or was it already being launched when Rich made his suggestion?

At 12/12/2005 7:09 PM, Blogger billyclinton said...

I commend you for your efforts, and think the future of your blog rests on your ability to keep this an issues-oriented communications vehicle about issues of concern, rather than a podium to rip apart personalities. Personality-driven blogging & talk radio are the death of real discourse in America today.

Keep this focused on issues, and not personalities, and you'll do just fine and make a contribution to the public good.

At 12/12/2005 7:14 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Launching The Inside Dope was utterly spur-of-the-moment. There was little if any forethought, other than thinking it might be interesting. I was aware of the accendency of blogs and was reading several a day, but I sure didn't have any ambition of starting my own.

When I read Rich's call for a political blog in this area, I thought, what the hell?

I really was just curious to see if I could actually manage to get one set up and didn't have much of a clue as to how it would go. It was totally seat of the pants. As long as I did it anonymously, I figured, I didn't have much to lose.

So one night I started fiddling around with setting up a blog. I managed... somehow, and a few days later, Rich mentioned the site on his blog, traffic picked up, and 45,000 visitors and almost that many headaches later, here we are.

I had absolutely zero idea of how this was going to turn out, what I would write about or how to write it, what the reaction would be like, or anything else for that matter. I had no idea if anyone would even know it existed, let alone read it.

And it's damn lucky I was so clueless, or I almost surely wouldn't have done it!

But here we are, 45,000 visitors and counting. That's like having every man, woman, and child in Moline visit the site at least once. Pretty wild.

And like at the beginning, there's no telling what will happen in the future. "Blog time" is very rapid and compressed. A blog lasting a year is a real rarity.

I, for one, hope this joint continues to evolve and improve into the future. And as always, a large part of that depends on it's readers and especially those who contribute their thoughts and comments.

At 12/12/2005 8:20 PM, Blogger billyclinton said...

Maybe my eight years under attack from Kenneth Starr, Rush Limbaugh and all of the rest has made me weary of personality-and-attack politics. Why don't you challenge your bloggers to go through an entire day without attacking anyone personally? How about it.

Start throwing out issues Democrats should be debating as we formulate our 2008 presidential policy books. Start challenging your readers in the Democratic and Independent Parties to come up with the policies and issues we need to succeed.

And the minute someone starts "carping" about so-and-so getting a headline for this bill or that bill, cut them off at the knees, they're getting personal, they're getting petty.

The Democratic Party needs a lively, exciting issues debate. Your blog can excite readers, inspire writers, engender lots of new issue ideas -- all as you advance the Democratic Party's communications goals.

You -- no, WE -- can do it. I have faith.

At 12/12/2005 8:27 PM, Blogger billyclinton said...

Anytime someone attacks someone, impugns their motives, snears at their efforts, etc., cut them off at the knees. Personal attacks, impugning motives -- those are the last refuges for the very weak among us.

Aim higher. Push policy. Let's debate the 2008 presidential platform. Make history on this blog.

At 12/12/2005 9:08 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Billy, my boy, you're quite full of yourself it seems.

Before you start slinging around those sorts of things, you better be able to back them up.

I challenge you to explain what brings you to think this entire blog is "focused on personalities".

And DO NOT confuse my posts and opinions with those of commenters over which I have very little control.

And I expect an answer.

This is a "online magazine of news and opinion".

I wouldn't touch an "issues-oriented communication vehicle" with a ten-foot pole! What the hell? How many miles per gallon does one of those get?

I appreciate your opinion, but frankly, it pisses me off to no end, as the following tirade demonstrates.

I humbly suggest that leaving personalities out of politics completely is a prescription for a frighteningly dry and for the most part, terribly boring, and frankly, phoney site.

There's a dearth of material in this area to begin with. Putting narrow limits on it and restricting things to ONLY deadly dull policy discussions is a good way to ensure that only a small handful of people ever visit the site. (unless they want to be put to sleep.)

That's not to say that serious discussions of the issues don't belong here. Hell, that's the thing I've tried to encourage the most. I would hope that that sort of thing would be the mainstay of the blog.

A quick browse through the hundreds of posts I've made will show anyone clearly that the majority of them are about serious issues.

So I dispute your basic premise that the blog is somehow solely about personalities. That's simply not true, and frankly, I resent the suggestion.

And while it might be nice to have this be a salon for learned and sober minds to discuss the issues of the day in a genteel and scholarly fashion, you know what? After 10 months of this, I despair that it will ever happen. Not in this area, not with the figures involved.

How do I know? Because I've tried, and tried, and tried, and tried, and tried some more for almost a year to do every thing I could possibly think of to encourage just what you're faulting me for not achieving. That's how.

I've posted endless serious policy and issue posts. What does the first comment deal with? Personalities. What do 95% of the comment to follow deal with? Personalities.

It's up to those out there who want a serious discussion to post their comments. Period. I can't make them, and I can't tell them what to write.

The fact remains that the comments have been dominated, actually over-run, with comments from a few people who are engaged in personal fights with others. They're nearly all personal and often insulting.

I myself have engaged in some heated battles. That's not to be preferred by any means, but it's not the end of the world either.

The fact remains that if you want serious discussion without personal attacks, politics is probably not for you. But if you want to drown such stuff out, YOU have to participate and offer your views.

The readers and commenters here are responsible for the tone of the blog to a much larger degree than you're suggesting.

Listen. If there was a large audience out there to whom these issues were of importance, and there were lots of people who had given these issues a lot of thought and were willing to offer their opinions here, those few feuding commenters who constantly engage in personal attacks would be far outnumbered and would soon be shamed into not doing it.

Rather than that sort of thing dominating comments, they'd be the minority and would likely look silly by comparison with more serious commenters.

But what do we have here? One of two things.


A. There is a huge audience of hard-core policy wonks, insiders, and intersted bystanders out there who just live to discuss issues, political minutia, strategy, inside baseball, and nuts and bolts stuff.

And they comment about once a year.


B. There's only about 4 hard core policy wonks out there and other than them, no one's really interested enough, involved enough, or knowledgable enough to even hazzard an opinion on these issues.

And then those few thin-skinned wonks get their feelings hurt if heir guy or their views get challenged and they get red in the face, take their ball, and go home, refusing to participate.

If they're not allowed to simply pontificate without argument, they're outta here.

Which is why it seems most comments are about personalities and tend to devolve into eye-scratching and back-biting and bitter personal attacks.

A routine look though the archives at the subjects of the thousand plus posts will show that I deal with serious issues and policy questions about 3/4 of the time, if not more.

The fact remains that beyond posting about serious topics and trying to moderate out the most vile comments, I alone can't determine what the tone of the discussion might be on any given issue.

Unless comments are clearly over the line, I'm not willing to control who comments or what they say. I can't force them to be serious and not call each other names and slander and bash and scratch and fuss and fight each other. OK? That's all part of the open discussion and though I do not encourage it in any way and try my best to discourage it, I'm not going to play nanny.

I'm not going to simply censor it completely. I'd just hope that the serious commenters would outnumber them, that's all.

The ONLY way this will ever be the policy/issue think tank style joint you say I should make it is if there are more people who are willing and able to contribute thoughtful and intelligent comments and discussion.

I've done all but get on my knees and beg for this, offering free posts to anyone with something to say, and constantly encouraging people to behave themselves and join in.

The fact is, YOU collectively as commenters and participants set the tone here. I've done my part, the rest is up to you.

If you want fighting and personal attacks to win the day, fine. If you don't, then I suggest that all those thousands of people you are so sure want to seriously discuss issues start commenting NOW and start commenting a lot.

Got a topic that I haven't posted about? How many times have I BEGGED people to contact me and suggest topics or things they'd like discussed? At least a dozen. No one does. DO IT!

If that happens, then the tone will be set, and those who engage in personal feuds and attacks will be over-run and made to look silly by comparison.

I get steamed hearing comments like yours suggesting I somehow don't deal with anything serious or important and seek to dwell on personalities.

Especially when I've been busting my ass to try to encourage thoughtful and semi-polite debate and discussion here for nearly a year, and suffering all kinds of hell in trying to do so.

And ESPECIALLY when I've provided the forum for those who want to discuss things in a serious and non-personal manner, AND SO FEW PEOPLE DO!

And then you have the nerve to condescendingly suggest that the site isn't quite serious enough and would be much better if it was. ARRRRRGHHH!

The fact is this: The site isn't serious enough because serious people DON'T CONTRIBUTE!!!! That's all.

As to why that is, I can't tell you how much I wish I knew. That's open to debate and suggestion. But I can tell you it's not for lack of trying.

Over 45,000 people have read this site. And the fact that there's only a relative handful who ever offer any serious comment is simply pitiful and contributes more than anything to the fact that comments are often consumed with personal fights and slurs.

If you've got a suggestion for something I haven't tried that would somehow ensure that there were tons of intelligent and thoughtful comments to posts about serious issues, let me know!

As it stands, it's been my very sad and distinct experience that the number of comments goes down in direct relation to the seriousness of an issue.

What that tells me is that, perhaps with the exception of yourself, there simply isn't anyone out there who has an opinion or is even interested in serious issues. Or at the least, if so, they have nothing to say or at least don't say it here.

I've written about 1500 posts, and run this blog for 10 months. And I've tried like hell to promote and encourage discussion of issues.

The result? No one wants to discuss them. The more serious the topic, the more of a dustbowl the comment area is. They're untouchable! Watch and see for yourself.

If you want some discussion, for the love of GOD, PARTICIPATE PLEASE!

If you have a better idea of how to change the tone of comments, I'm all ears.

But don't blythly assert that this blog doesn't focus on issues and focuses primarily on personalities.

That is neither true nor fair.

At 12/12/2005 9:21 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

AND... Billy at 20:20.

I really hate to sound like a smart-ass... well, not really.

But seriously, do you really think it's good form to come on a blog that someone works long and hard on and that you read and comment on every day, and, rather than contacting the owner personally by e-mail with your suggestions, you instead spend your time telling me how I should run my blog?

I think it SUCKS! ... if I may be blunt.

And I humbly suggest you start your own blog which, we can all be asured, will measure up to each and every one of your worthy goals.

Should I appologize for focusing on personalities? ha!

I'm in a foul mood and this isn't helping.

At 12/12/2005 10:40 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Until you can give us the address of your blog, please keep you suggestions to yourself or pass them alone via e-mail. Thank you kindly.

I read hundreds of blogs. And I have never seen people writing in, let alone repeatedly, and telling the owner what their blog should be about or what they should do or not do. And I've NEVER EVER seen anyone suggesting that a blog owner is somehow to blame because their comments are negative or contain personal attacks. Not once, and I've probably read tens of thousands of comments.

People around here just have a mixed up idea about blogs. Frankly, they're just not familiar with them and the way they run, their ettiquette, what goes and what doesn't, etc.

I'm green with envy of the numerous blogs which attract savvy, witty, smart, and interesting commenters and who enjoy a real community, with everyone having a grand old time while discussing serious topics as well. Granted, these blogs usually are pretty monolithic in the opinions of the commenters, who usually reflect exactly the views of the owner to a greater or lesser extent.

This obviously isn't the case here, and that's fine. It just makes it a bit harder to create or even expect peace in the valley and for everyone to play nice.

That's why it's so supremely frustrating to hear what I feel is a criticism that I've somehow failed to establish this near mythical high-minded atmoshere here.

Where have these people been?

Even if they only confine themselves to political blogs, surely they read Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.

Why don't they go urge Rich to eliminate all personal attacks and "focus on issues rather than personalities"???!!!

Miller is doing very well, thank you, and isn't preoccupied with trying to rid his comments of any personal comments. Hell, at least 80% of them are personal. YOU JUST CAN'T eliminate it. You can't stand over every commenter and make sure they don't say anything personal.

I'm already doing the closest thing I can to doing just that by pre-screening comments. But the fact remains that, within limits, people have a right to say what they want, even if it's personal.

Is that what I want? No. Is it what I think is good for the blog? No. Is it what I have to live with? Yes. Do I sound like Don Rumsfeld at a press conference? Why shoot yes!

But in a way I feel that commenters telling me how my blog should be IN COMMENTS is frankly rude and outrageous and is akin to raking an employee over the coals in front of the entire company. Really shabby.

It seems like the original subject of this thread is a distant memory. How it got onto exactly what this blog should be is a mystery.

It's rather ironic, don't you think, that people oh-so-piously pronounce that things should never ever get personal, yet feel perfectly free to suggest how I should run this blog.

Is that not personal, since I'm the one who's put thousands of hours and effort into trying to make it into what they feel compelled to say it should be, but isn't???!!!

They suggest that somehow I could achieve all they demand from the blog, if I'd only try, or that I'm somehow just not willing or able to do it.

Frankly, I sometimes think they just expect this blog to be like some other blog they have in mind. Sorry.

That's bullshit, and I do take it personally. How could I not when I've done nothing to prevent people from having serious, non-personal discussions, yet it's being sanctimoniously suggested by some that I somehow should be making it so?

Billy C., have you EVER come within 25 miles of running a blog? I didn't think so.

Bottom line. If people want to discuss issues seriously and turn this into a Rotary meeting, they're free to do so. What's stopping you. No one's preventing you or anyone else from writing whatever you want.

If this place isn't too your liking, it's because there either aren't any people who think like you, or if there are (and I'd hope so) they simply don't contribute.

Billy, please explain how I'm responsible for that, in light of the fact that I've done everything within my power short of posting pleas on a daily basis to try to encourage all to participate here?

If someone doesn't want to participate, then I humbly suggest that it's their problem, not mine.

There are a few commenters here who comment extensively on almost every post. Naturally, their voice and opinion dominates. But that's not their fault, nor should it be attributed to me.

If you want to change the tone, then the solution is for more people with the tone you seek to participate, participate, participate.
Until you outnumber the others, your style and tone isn't going to dominate.

I'm just not in the mood for someone to come around telling me what to do, even if the intent was well meaning.

This isn't the first time, and it likely won't be the last that it will happen. I've invited constructive criticism on many occasions, urging people to contact me via e-mail. I welcome feedback, and have asked for it many times. But I simply gave up after not receiving any at all. I'm frankly very disappointed.

But for some reason, people feel it's just fine to offer their critiques and suggestions for the blog publically in unrelated threads. This isn't constructive, as all it does is say, "look at me, this is how I think the blog should be run"

Anyone can do that.

It's insulting. If it was offered in a spirit of constructive criticism, it would be sent privately, not posted as a public critique.

I've frankly lost patience with those who feel just fine carping and telling me how it should be. The obvious reaction is, get your own blog and DO IT YOUR WAY THEN.

When papers receive letters or e-mails critiquing the paper, they don't publish them on the front page, or anywhere for that matter, because that's not proper, nor neccessary. They take it into account and deal with it privately.

I've got a complaint with the new grocery store. Every single time I go there, something I want is out of stock. This is really bugging me, and I know it's not helping the store either.

Rather than leaving a suggestion card or speaking privately to the manager about it, I think instead I'll walk behind the service counter and pick up the store intercom and bitch about it to everyone in the store. Makes sense. I'm sure they'll take it as a constructive criticism and appreciate it as much as I do when people do essentially the same thing here.

Maybe I'm going a bit overboard on this, but it REALLY bugs me. I'm hyper-sensitive to the charge that somehow I'm responsible for the sometimes personal level comments devolve to here. Especially when I've struggled and stressed and agonized over how to control it without overly suppressing free expression, when this has been the single biggest headache and dilema I've had to deal with in running this thing, when I've urged people to avoid personal attacks to absolutely no effect. When it's been like pushing waves back into the ocean trying to keep it from erupting again (and trying not to participate myself. Trust me, it's hard to avoid responding in kind when someone attacks you personally, at least for me.)

If you want to criticize the blog, by all means, I'm open to suggestions and critiques. I welcome it. But don't do it in comments. It's very simple to write me in person. That way I can address it and discuss things as they should be.

At 12/12/2005 10:47 PM, Blogger billyclinton said...

Wow ... Hmmm, I thought I would get a couple paragraphs back, saying, "Hey, you're right, but it's up to the bloggers to post policy and avoid personalities."
I mean all this NOT in a personal way toward you, but toward your bloggers.

WOW, you must be in a bad mood ... Holy Cow.

This is a challenge to all bloggers who visit the DOPE's EXCELLENT site ... let's get back to the issues, let's avoid slicing and dicing area Democrats. Let's make history by debating Iraq, by debating how to shrink the deficit, by formulating the 2008 presidential platform, by thinking about ways to start new businesses and grow our economy here, etc.

At 12/12/2005 11:15 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

I am in a bad mood. How could you tell?

I feel like biting a dog. Grrrrr.

See that little shaking tip jar in the sidebar? It must be EXTREMELY hard to spot, as only one sharp-eyed reader who appreciates that this place exists and graciously wanted to give something back has spotted it.

Why doesn't someone start up a Christmas massage fund for the Dope? I'm stressed. Remember, the next tirade might be directed towards you if I don't get some relief.

(and by the way, "bloggers" refers to those who blog, namely, people that own, write, or otherwise run a blog. The term for people that comment is, oddly enough, "commenters".)

At 12/13/2005 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Billy, I hate to burst your "bubble" of self-importance but the voters do have some really solid feelings about our local politicians and it's not strictly tied to the issues, especially when some of the idiots who have been appointed lately into office to represent the voters (who have not yet voted for them at all on a ballot) compare themselves to Icons like Rosa Parks.....

That just invites critcisim and outrage. For you to suggest we should stop stating our opinions is just -- well -- ludicrious. We have first amendment rights in the US last time I checked.

Get over yourself alright?


A very upset and disgruntled voter who will be voting against the appointed & annointed ones put into power by old crusty back door men who took money to do what they did and gave us the buffoons we have in office today!!!

At 12/13/2005 6:28 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Well... this thread went well, didn't it?

I was over caffienated and under rested when I replied, though I still stand by what I said.

I'm just VERY frustrated at complaints that this place isn't some sober minded policy-wonk heaven.

Folks like Billy list all these candy-coated things he thinks should be discussed, 2008 platform, (yawn), debating the Iraq war (as if that very subject hadn't been posted about on about 150 occasions here! And no one, not even Billy, would dare debate it or even offer opinions.), ways to shrink the deficit (what are we? Beltway economists?)how to bring jobs and stimulate the area economically (again, dozens of posts on these sorts of issues. Precious little serious discussion or debate whatsoever).

Not enough people comment as it is, what do you think would be the result if we limited this to discussing pie-in-the-sky over-arching and enormous issues? Should we also debate global warming, abortion, gun control, etc.? That would make for a really enjoyable blog, wouldn't it?

It's obvious that people respond to issues and events in their local area and on which they have definite opinions.

I humbly suggest that if I limited the blog to debating economic development theories and strategies, the 2008 Dem platform, the Iraq war, and the rest, you'd see the most moribund and lifeless blog ever. Comments would be a ghost town. What makes me say this?

Browse the archives. Pick out the posts on large and serious issues of national importance. Now check the comments. 90% of them have NONE, let alone a serious debate or discussion.

Sorry for getting a bit over-wrought over this, but I hope I've made the reasons for my frustration clear.

This blog will only be as serious as it's participants, who can easily suggest the topics it covers, it's content, and which most importantly, can determine the tone and level of discussion and debate, or, sadly as it stands, whether there's even any discussion or debate at all.


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