Blogs Play Key Role in Election

With the number of readers running into the thousands, online campus blogs have emerged as a new presence in the run-up to the Undergraduate Council (UC) elections this week.

Blogs such as Cambridge Common and Team Zebra have risen to prominence in the last week, when the UC election race began, with their constant stream of coverage and ability to provide a more interactive forum for discussion than the traditional campus media.

Daniel A. Koh ’07, the campaign manager for the John F. Voith ’07-Tara Gadgil ’07 ticket, said that the blogs helped to supply a medium that was lacking before.

“Conversation goes on as a result of Crimson articles,” he said, “but [the blogs] are a great way to engage in the larger public forum. People like to express their opinion in a real-time environment, keep in touch with what’s going on, and make their opinions heard quickly.”

Andrew H. Golis ’06, the editor of Cambridge Common, said that part of the motivation for the blogs’ UC election focus was to broaden and clarify the discussion.

“There are a group of people who find The Crimson’s coverage fairly superficial and meaningless,” said Golis, who co-created Cambridge Common last year as an alternative to the opinions expressed in The Crimson. “I think that people have got a lot of inside information [from the blogs] on the machinations of campaigns, how they work, a lot of which was unknown to people outside before. Not knowing about the dynamics and inner workings and context [of the UC campaigns], why should people care?”

But Crimson President Lauren A.E. Schuker ’06 disagreed with Golis’s assessment.

“Our reporters and editors have worked extremely hard to produce coverage that I think is both fair and comprehensive,” Schuker said.

Golis said that Cambridge Common’s readership has increased over the campaign period from about 400 unique hits per day beforehand to 1,100 on Sunday, a record that he expects the site to break over the course of this week.

Greg M. Schmidt ’06, one of the creators of the Team Zebra blog—which has had 4,991 unique hits since last Monday—agreed that the blogs serve to bring greater awareness of the UC election to the campus and get students more involved.

“We are bringing them in and giving them a notion of why it really matters and why they should care,” he said.

Both Golis and Schmidt were involved in the Matthew J. Glazer ’06-Clay T. Capp ’06 UC campaign last year (Golis as campaign manager and Schmidt as field director) and both cited this experience as a reason they were particularly interested in making the student body more aware of the campaign process.

“We are more familiar with but also much more connected with the workings of it all—we are in constant contact with campaign staffers,” Schmidt said.

The campaign managers this year unanimously agreed that keeping an eye on and responding to the blogs has been one of their priorities.

Joshua Patashnik ’07, the campaign manager for the John S. Haddock ’07-Annie R. Riley ’07 ticket, said he did not think the blogs would have a large influence on the vote.

“It gives another avenue to get your message out there,” Patashnik said. “But you do pretty much the same stuff regardless. It makes it maybe a little more fun for us involved in the campaign.”

Koh and Gabriel M. Scheinmann ’08—campaign manager for the Magnus Grimeland ’07-Thomas D. Hadfield ’08 ticket—saw the development as more significant.

“[The blogs] seem to have a large readership,” Scheinmann said. “They do fill a void—all the other publications...may have an even coverage but are still the campaigns portraying themselves, as opposed to students having a forum for discussion on their own....It creates an impetus for people to do more research on their own.”

“It adds a new dimension to the entire campaign,” Koh said. “You can gauge student opinion and see what’s going on, engage in dialogue about it. I find [the blogs] very exciting....There’s this great ability for them to constantly update.”

Golis, however, was dubious about the true extent of the blogs’ influence.

“I don’t think you can claim—much as I would like to—that [the blogs] gauge a wide opinion,” he said. “They are not representative [of the student body]...but it probably has driven the debate in different directions.”

Some students who have used the blogs said they were satisfied with their experiences, although none said that they had altered their opinions at all as a result of it.

Benjamin E. Click ’06 expanded on why he thought the blogs had gained such a sudden increase in popularity.

“There is something of a shortage of mass venues,” he said. “And I think people have a lot to say about this UC election because of the catastrophic disasters we’ve seen recently. Team Zebra’s damn funny as well—like the ‘Daily Show’ for the UC.”

—Staff writer Alexandra C. Bell can be reached at acbell@fas.harvard.edu.