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Is blogging too risky for politicians?

There have been a number of local politicians with active blogs - including Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi, and Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard's spot on BlueOregon - but none have quite taken the giant flying leap into blogging that Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams has just taken.

Not only is Sam Adams blogging every day, the entire staff of his City Hall office is also blogging. They're posting on exciting policy developments, mundane administrative meetings, and outside-the-office adventures.

While it's unclear exactly what direction CommissionerSam.com will take in the future, it's clear that Sam Adams is well on his way to being the most bloggerific (blogolicious?) elected official in the country. (At least, until someone else pops up and steals the crown.)

"My goal is to create the most expansive blog-oriented site of any elected official," Adams said. "Commissionersam.com gives Portlanders' another avenue for direct interaction with my office. My hope is that with this site, I can increase participation in our city's government-one of my top priorities."

Of course, there are risks. A politician might say something astonishingly stupid on his or her blog; certainly, opponents will be examining every post, every comment for nuggets that can be used in a campaign.

But, as I commented on the Portland Communique, there are always risks when speaking out in public.

Of course, politicians have been talking in public forums, talking to reporters, and writing letters to constituents for time immemorial. Blogs are just another place for them to alternately brilliant, stupid, inspiring, or mind-numbing.

As always, it comes down to what they're saying. If you can't trust your candidate to be their own best advocate on a blog, well, you can't trust your candidate period.

The only question is this: Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Does developing rapport with supporters and increasing visibility in the broader community translate into more name recognition, more buzz, more volunteers, more money, and - ultimately - more votes?

In our view, in most cases, the upside is absolutely huge compared to the risks. As we told the Oregonian, what better place to energize your supporters and corral your critics?

That, says blogger and media consultant Kari Chisholm, is a good starting point for any successful blog. He points to General Motors' site -- fastlane.gmblogs.com -- as an example to emulate. GM executives use the blog to preview future designs and toot their vehicles' horns, but they also take questions and complaints from readers.

One recent post from the company's vice president for design prompted 103 responses, most from customers who wanted to complain about how ugly car interiors can be. (To the chagrin of readers, the executive didn't explain why all car interiors seem to be decorated in drab shades of gray or beige.)

"That's really the vital element -- to energize the audience, to give them that back-and-forth," said Chisholm, whose company, Mandate Media, designs Web sites for political campaigns. "Sure, it opens you up to people who are going to criticize you. But I almost think your blog is the best place to have it happen."

And if you energize the audience, good things will happen.

Oregonian: Portland commissioner joins the blogosphere
Portland Communique: What? Sam Adams Has A Blog? Who Knew?!
BlueOregon: Sam Adams Starts Blogging
Notorious Blog: "I think that he's going about it in the right way."
Metroblogging Portland: All this and some governin too!

While we consider Sam a friend, and have provided some informal blogging advice, we were not involved in CommissionerSam.com (contrary to some reports).