Does Blogging Mark “the Return of Thomas Paine?”

I always have a strong response to Arianna Huffington, because she has very strong opinions (I like that, don’t get me wrong). She also has a way of cutting through the hype to convey the essence of whatever issue she’s discussing. So when I heard her interviewed as a blogger extraordinaire (The Huffington Post, is the most compelling group blog I know), I listened hard (scribbling notes even though I was driving–shhhh).

Huffington was interviewed from the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she participated in sessions on all topics media. To jump start the conversation, the interviewer probed her characterization of blogging as "the return of Thomas Paine." That hooked me.

Thomas Paine, of course, is the revolutionary thinker and activist known for his incisive, biting commentaries. His most famous pamphlet, Common Sense , mobilized public opinion in support of the American Revolution. Widely available and written in powerful and accessible prose, the pamphlet appealed to a broad cross section of people, from farmers to bankers. Invoking the democratic spirit,Paine famously argued that "the cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind."

According to Huffington, blogs work in much the same way — accessible (usually more simply written, in a compelling personal voice), shorter, sometimes more pointed. And so blogs have the potential to make a huge impact, including bringing forward issues or perspectives not covered (or not covered well) by the mainstream media. Agreed, Arianna.

She cited an early example (late 2002) when Trent Lott made racist comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. No major media picked up the story, but dedicated bloggers beat it to death, forcing the major media to pick it up in time (they still looked pretty silly).

What this means for your nonprofit is that you finally have a way to reach your known target audiences, and a lot of folks you don’t know yet, via blogging. And you get to do so in an unintermediated way.

On the other hand, other bloggers can frame the conversation on your nonprofit, especially if you’re not tracking that discussion. Read more about why it’s vital to know what’s being said about your nonprofit in this article.

Thanks Arianna, for your doggedly refreshing perspective. And welcome back, Thomas Paine.

BTW, it’s not that I think blogging is the be all and end all of communications, but I do think the medium introduces a huge new opportunity for nonprofits to communicate with (yes with, not just to) target audiences, including other nonprofits.

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Nancy Schwartz on September 7, 2006 in Advocacy, Blogging for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment
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  • Excellent post – thank you for sharing the Huffington interview. I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in this line of thinking. Not that every blogger is Tom Paine (although we often think we are), but that the medium is today’s version of the 18th century pamphlet. At least, when used correctly.

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