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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 07:38 GMT
Wales-wide web blogs spread word
By Natalie Grice
BBC Wales News website

Blogger homepage, Google
Blogs give users a chance to talk directly to the world
As traditional methods of political engagement appear to decline, some Welsh politicians are turning to new technology to spread their message.

Two more Welsh assembly members have joined Liberal Democrat Peter Black in launching their own web logs, or blogs.

Mr Black has been regularly posting his views on politics (and occasionally even cats) since July 2003 on his site.

Now Conservative David Davies and Labour's Leighton Andrews have joined the fray.

Another AM, North Wales Tory Brynle Williams, launched his last September, but it seems to have lain dormant since the middle of October.

The rise of blogs as a political force was widely reported during last year's US presidential elections. Blog readership rose in the US by 58% last year, with much of it attributed to the race for the White House.

So how does Wales compare? And does having an online diary, albeit one with which people can directly interact, really make a difference to a politician's influence on his or her electorate?

There is certainly a lot of intra-political chat on the blogs, with committed political types commenting on each other's efforts. Which could suggest the intended readership is a small group within the political landscape rather than the greater public.

Take David Davies, the Monmouth AM who launched his foray into cyberspace in December, inspired by Mr Black, his neighbour in the Welsh assembly.

Peter Black AM
Peter Black thinks more politicians should join the blogging revolution

One of his first comments was: "Peter regularly uses his column to denounce my speeches and suggested that this might be a useful way of getting my own back!"

Hot on his heels just last week, Rhondda AM Leighton Andrews added a Labour perspective.

Mr Andrews, to be fair, has obviously considered whether his, or any other political blog, will draw in readers outside those who have an established interest in politics anyway.

"There's part of me that suspects that far from driving up political interest, a blog will simply attract the already committed," he wrote in his first post.

"I may be about to cause political grief for myself or attract lawsuits. We'll see."

But Mr Black is convinced the blog does help his political profile and has urged other politicians to start one.

"It's something I enjoy doing tremendously. I find I'm getting about 70-100 hits a day and I'm getting one or two comments [posted on the site] now and again," he told the BBC Wales News website.

"I get lobby groups reading it and people around Wales. I feel it helps people understand what's going on in the assembly better.

Boris Johnson
The Boriswatch site keeps an eye on the outspoken Tory MP

"It's a convenient tool in that regard. It's not that much effort to be honest - it's about half an hour a day."

But not every politico is so keen, he believes. Lots of AMs have been very suspicious of it," he said. "Some people think it's a hostage to fortune."

It is fair to say the blogging community is quite a self-referential one. Mr Black has (generously, some might say) linked to fellow AMs' sites and less surprisingly, a long list of fellow Lib Dem members.

He described a phenomenon which had already hit some politicians elsewhere: "shadow blogging", where constituents or others set up blogs watching what their representatives were up to.

One honoured in this way is the outspoken - and out of party favour - Tory MP, Boris Johnson, whose own web log is being shadowed by one entitled Boriswatch.

None of the AMs have attracted their own shadows, but the Welsh assembly has picked up a number so far.

As well as the standard website, the assembly also runs its own web log, Assembly Online - in reality a (very slightly) easier form of news dissemination from the institution than that found at the main site.

But for those looking for a more edgy commentary, sites such as "the welsh assembly" and "what's wrong with wales" are happy to inform readers of perceived failures by the assembly.

It's the other side of the blogging sword for politicians - the free-form nature of the internet means that every carefully-written, self-spun site by an MP or AM or party can have another, just as easily set up, telling the world that the politician's black is actually white.

Didn't Peter Black say all you need is half an hour a day? Now where did that internet connection go...?

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