DOD, DHS find voice in blogs

Agencies are increasingly using blogs to communicate with the public, bypassing the mainstream media and engaging readers directly.

As a result, those agencies are distributing their message to a wide audience and creating a forum for government officials to interact directly with people.

Government agencies host 30 ongoing blogs on various subjects, from AIDS awareness to personal blogs of agency officials, such as Robert Carey, the Navy’s chief information officer.

“These tools are really a way to bring people closer to the government,” said Gwynne Kostin, the Homeland Security Department’s Web communications director. By posting on a blog and getting other bloggers to link to and respond to those posts, agency news can reach a wider audience than they can through a TV report or brief newspaper story, said Kostin, who spoke at the American Learning Institute’s Social Media in Government conference last week.

The Defense Department has been one of the most successful agencies at using blogs — both its own and others’. Jack Holt, chief of new media operations at DOD’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, said the traditional method of shopping press releases to newspapers and TV stations is less effective now.

The media, he said, quickly dropped coverage of a heated battle that took place early February in Baghdad, dubbed the Battle on Haifa Street, in favor of reporting the death of former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith.

That experience convinced Holt that he needed to target people who were passionate about military news: military bloggers, a group that includes veterans, warfighters’ spouses, historians and other people interested in the military and current events. Holt organizes frequent roundtables with those bloggers, giving them access to DOD officials to talk about various subjects and events. 

Sometimes, the stories bloggers write from those roundtables reach the mainstream media. In September 2007, the Washington Post ran a front-page story about re-educating Iraqi detainees after DOD hosted a bloggers roundtable about the same subject.

Kostin said DHS gained similar advantages from its “Leadership Journal,” a blog that includes posts by leaders of many of the department’s component agencies, including Secretary Michael Chertoff. ABC News reported on an April 4 post from Chertoff regarding an alleged 2005 plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights.

DHS heavily regulates blog comments. The Transportation Security Administration has no such policy.
TSA communications officials said they found that allowing open comments at the agency’s “Evolution of Security” blog generates broad participation. The blog focuses on the rationale for the security rules and procedures at U.S. airports. 

Neil Bonner, Web strategist at TSA, said the agency decided that open commenting would be the best way to involve as many people as possible and encourage them to argue. 

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