Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy to Be Ignored!

There is a comment at this post -- "Reforming Mt. Lebanon Government" -- that misses the point of this blog so self-righteously that it calls for a new post all its own.

In defense of the proposition that Mt. Lebanon's elected School Directors and Commissioners *should* ignore this blog, and the taxpayers who express themselves here, the commenter writes: "This blog has a certain entertainment value, like the comics or the horoscope, but certainly cannot be taken seriously."

If we get as much attention as the comics (ask the Danes) or the horoscope (Nancy Reagan brought an astrologer to the White House), then we're doing reasonably well. But here's the thing:

I long ago gave up any pretense that anything posted here would have much of an impact on the closeted "we're-in-power-and-you're-not" decisionmaking that characterizes Mt. Lebanon's two elected government bodies. I know for a fact that many of the municipality's senior staff and elected officials *read* the blog -- sometimes they call me and other commenters privately, and sometimes they email us privately -- but I also know that they are almost never willing to acknowledge that publicly. But that's OK. The posts and comments here say things that we think need to be said. Sometimes, posts and comments say things that some people think don't need to be said, or wish hadn't been said out loud. Reactions of both kinds are fair game, and they show up in the comments, too.

I'm fully aware of the fact that a relatively small proportion of Mt. Lebanon's adult population reads the blog. With a marketing budget of zero and a zero-effort marketing campaign, if we've reached 10% of Mt. Lebanon adults over four years solely by word of mouth, then we're doing pretty well. In fact, we're ahead of 10%. Last month we had more than 3,000 unique visitors and more than 28,000 page views. So that's OK, too. We don't reach everyone, but we reach a lot of people who care.

Among our readers are many of the most involved Mt. Lebanon volunteers; I know they care. Who else cares?

I know that the blog has an audience among prospective Mt. Lebanon residents, families with young children (I speculate about that, but with reason) who are deciding whether or not to buy a home here. Just about no one moves to Mt. Lebanon today just because of the reputation of the town and its schools. Just about everyone who moves to Mt. Lebanon today does research -- and that research includes a lot more than reading some back issues of mtl magazine or browsing the School District's website. I am not trying to discourage anyone from moving to Mt. Lebanon. Quite the opposite: I like it here, and I would like lots of people to move here. But I would like them to know that there is diversity of opinion in Mt. Lebanon about the past, present, and future of the town. Lots of people care, but they care in lots of different ways. And that is a *good* thing.

I also know that the blog has an audience among "traditional" media -- again, even if they are reluctant to acknowledge it publicly. Maybe a relatively small number of Mt. Lebanon residents read the blog, but a much larger number look at the Post-Gazette, the Trib, and Pittsburgh's television stations. Many reporters and editors at those organizations live in Mt. Lebanon, and they know about the blog. (Even some reporters and editors who *don't* live in Mt. Lebanon know about the blog.) The blog has an audience *outside* Mt. Lebanon, among ex-pats who are reading news about the town where they grew up, or where they used to live, or where their parents (or children) now live. It has an audience *outside* Mt. Lebanon among people in Pittsburgh and across the country who are watching the emergence of various forms of citizen journalism, non-professional writers who are bringing scrutiny to School Boards and town Commissions. Surprisingly to me, this blog was one of the very first town-specific citizen media websites in the Pittsburgh region.

Read the blog, get motivated by it, ignore it, laugh at it -- react as you will. Even treat it like you might treat the comics or your horoscope, as something to check every day. Tell the truth to yourself: You've *never* read a comic strip or a horoscope that didn't make you pause for a moment about your day or your life? Maybe Joe and I have made you pause from time to time, even if you disagree with us (especially me!). But Blog-Lebo isn't going anywhere.
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Anonymous Tim Nolan said...

Mike and Joe,

I find your blog a great service as a source for dialog about our community.

I found Mr. Cannon's retort to be an accidental testament to the First Ammendment. It also, perhaps, reveals his misunderstanding of the purpose of this or any blog.

The point is dialog about issues--even it it is to simply vent a little. I know that what I write here is no more likely to change the actions of elected officials than say, a conversation with friends at Coffee Tree. But the point is hearing one another out.

I had a great experience last year while attending a Commission meeting. I sat down and upon meeting several people around me, found that I was sitting with several individuals with whom I often have the pleasure of sparring on Blog Lebo. It was a real pleasure to get to meet and talk with these guys in person. It was also nice to know that while we often disagree, our views stated here were in the spirit of an exchange.

In short, I feel like I now know people in my community better. In that regard, it has more utility for me than any of our local news media.

Mr. Cannon: If you don't like it you don't have to participate.

September 07, 2009 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Dave Franklin said...

I think a couple things come to mind when I read Mr. Cannon's comments. First, I don't think Mike and Joe host this Blog "to be heard" or to sway policy. Instead, I think they do it to (a) keep people informed and (b) give folks the opportunity to share ideas, opinions and even good news and words of thanks. If Mike and Joe wanted to BE the news, I think you would see more posts that spew opinions on issues that they support. There's not a lot of that here. More importantly, if Mike and Joe really wanted to sway policy etc, they're both smart enough to know that they can do so in more effective ways.

Personally, I think this blog is an amazing resource. I read news here that I would otherwise miss. For that reason alone, Mike and Joe receive considerable thanks.

Importantly though Mr Cannon, I can tell you that your elected officials (both at the Lebo level and the State level) read this blog. I have received personal visits, phone calls and emails from Commissioners, School Board members, State officials and candidates in response to things that I've posted. Some have even asked me to post comments that include information that they have provided to me. Does that make me special - heck no. In fact, I'm about as far from being a political insider as you can find. I don't go to many meetings. I don't serve on political committees. But amazingly, when I post a comment here that hits a nerve, they reach out to me. That shows me that when you express an opinion here (without being obnoxious) it is heard. It also demonstrates to me that those in charge care about what people have to say here. And if you think about it, when these folks only get to hear the opinions of the few regular attendees at their meetings, the opinions expressed here by others must be refreshing.

So, Mr. Cannon, while it may not be the Washington Post, this site does give people information. And more importantly, its gives us access.

September 07, 2009 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Faith Stipanovich said...

Mike and Joe:

I am one of the elected officials who read the blog and I am not afraid to admit it.

The blog has been a good source of dialog between several individuals in the community, many of whom I have had personal conversations with regarding a past blog post. While I may not agree with all of the opinions of the bloggers and those commenting on the site, I believe it is important to know all sides of the issues, and this blog is one way for me to gather some of those opinions that I may not otherwise hear about.

Social networking, such a blogs, is just another way for people to communicate with one another. I applaud both of you for the service you provide.

September 07, 2009 5:14 PM  
Blogger Matt Kluck said...

Mike and Joe,

I read the blog and find it very informative. While it keeps me up to date on issues I enjoy the debate and views of the participants. I will continue to enjoy the banter.

Keep up the good work.

Matt Kluck

September 07, 2009 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Kluck-

Since you read this site I was hoping you can answer two questions for me. (I will assume that you are the same person who is running for commissioner since your name is unique but correct me if I am wrong...)

1) Are you the same person who sued the town a couple of years ago and if so, does your campaign have something to do with that?

2) Your website mentions that you are running because you are concerned about "social chaos." I have no idea what that means- Can you fill me in?

Nick Jones

September 08, 2009 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Dave Franklin said...

Congratulations Nick.

In the context of a discussion about whether our elected officials already use or should use this site to listen to and communicate with the community, you've managed to perfectly underscore why most won't.

Well done - thanks for playing.

September 09, 2009 8:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Madison said...


Maybe this thread isn't the right place and time for posing questions to Matt Kluck, and maybe the questions above are phrased poorly. But aren't they legitimate questions?

Matt Kluck did sue the Municipality, in federal court, for age discrimination. The case was settled in 2007 with neither side admitting wrongdoing. The case and the settlement were covered in the news media and here on Blog-Lebo. Does that suit and settlement have anything to do with his reasons for running? The answer may well be "no." But I'd like to hear that, or any different answer, directly from him.

And on his campaign website, Matt Kluck does refer to a concern over "social chaos." That's a striking phrase, whether we're talking about Mt. Lebanon, New York City, or American society at large. Matt Kluck is a candidate in my Ward. I'm interested in what he means by the phrase, and I'm interested in what it has to do with his campaign.

If the candidate doesn't want to respond on the blog, he's free not to do that. There may be better places and times to communicate with voters. Regardless of the forum, I think that he owes them answers to those questions.

By raising questions about Matt Kluck's candidacy, I don't mean to suggest that there are not questions about other candidates. I do think that it is fair for the voters to ask all of the candidates challenging questions about their backgrounds and their plans.

September 09, 2009 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Dave Franklin said...

Matt is certainly capable of defending himself so I don't feel compelled to do that for him here. Although I would point out that Nick's questions were far enough out of context to make me wonder if they didn't have a different motive.

My point is simply this - if we want or expect our elected officials and candidates to use this forum PRODUCTIVELY, it makes sense (at least from where I sit) to invite or welcome their participation appropriately. I could easily post a comment that calls out every Commissioner or School Board member (or candidate) on a variety of issues, knowing full well that their silence could be interpreted by many as "ducking the issue". For example, Ms. Stipanovich, a school board member, also responded with a benign comment on this post. Should I therefore use that opened door to launch into a questionnaire or critique about how she has handled the high school project? Do you think I'd get a response? Do you think she would be inclined to comment in the future?

Alternatively, should I take this opportunity to blast every elected official/candidate who HASN'T responded to the open questions posed to them over the years by residents on this site? Would that generate participation?

Should I ask Jo Posti and the Going Forward campaign why they continue to email me pictures and videos of their kids rather than an email explaining their position on the high school project? See my point?

Understand that no elected official or candidate is going to engage the blogosphere in a full on debate, or even a random Q&A session. I hope we are not that naive.

I also agree that Matt owes you answers to those questions, as do all candidates. However, I also think that there are better, perhaps more efficient, platforms in which to ask them -ones in which you are more inclined to get a thorough response, or perhaps just a response. I know you'll now accuse me of being too nice or soft on Matt, but if you've seen the emails or heard the conversations that I've had with Raja, Dan Miller and others off of this site, you'd know that's not the case.

September 09, 2009 9:53 AM  
Blogger Tim Nolan said...


You raise a good point, but I also think it is a risk that elected officials and candidates take. They can either choose to respond, or ignore. Hopefully, they weigh those risks and think ahead about how they might respond to tough questions--whether they seem tangential or not.

I have resigned myself (as I think many of us on this blog have) to the fact that very rarely will elected officials and candidates spend much time responding in a forum such as this. At the same time I don't think that reality diminishes the quality of this blog.

September 09, 2009 5:01 PM  
Blogger Matt Kluck said...

I post his response in respect to the site and to those who inquire.

My campaign has nothing to do with the law suit. I have great working relationship with Mt. Lebanon as an independent contractor for the past two years and am currently in negotiations for a long term agreement.

Potential social chaos is the result of a societal, economic decline.


September 10, 2009 12:45 AM  

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