Alaska boom: Bloggers finding gold in Sarah Palin

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 12, 2008 

ANCHORAGE — AKMuckraker, anonymous left-leaning Anchorage blogger, was born in May on a Web site called "Mudflats." With a pair of yellow galoshes as her mascot, Muckraker started writing just before Mother's Day, ranting about Rep. Don Young's vote against a resolution honoring moms. A few people may have read her post, but no one left any comments.

Then, two weeks ago, came the big day. Sen. John McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and it unleashed a torrential Googling frenzy unmatched in the history of Alaska media. And Muckraker, who has refused to identify herself except to say she's an East Coast transplant who's worked in the publishing field, was rocketed into the national conversation.

In a little over a week's time, Mudflats picked up nods in The Atlantic, Chicago Tribune, Time, Salon.com and Huffington Post. Her posts now routinely garner hundreds of comments.

An unquenchable hunger for local Palin info thrust Mudlfats, along with a posse of other Alaska bloggers, into the big time.

Everyone in Alaska has an opinion about Palin and, it appears, the world wants to hear it. Suddenly Mommy bloggers are political commentators. Juneau lobbyists are crafting whimsical Web allegories. Twenty-something online diarists are posting pictures of Wasilla City Hall.

Disproportionately Palin-critical, the bloggers are truth-checking, rumor-mongering, pontificating, You-Tubing, news-breaking and chronicling the every move of "Sarah Barracuda," "First Dude" and their brood.

All of it is bringing them Web traffic, and some of it is shaping the national debate.

Among the most-established in the far north blogosphere is Sarah-critic Andrew Halcro, the former Republican state representative and unsuccessful candidate for governor against Palin. He said his site averaged thousands of visits a day before the big announcement.

He said he got a million that day.

Most of the traffic was looking for his take on 'troopergate,' the scandal over Palin's firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, which Halcro's blog played a role in igniting. Halcro has fielded calls from every major cable news channel and a half dozen newspapers. Tuesday, mid-day, he was looking at a list of 12 reporters he needed to call back.

"The world has changed and suddenly this is the center of the universe," he said. It's cool and scary all at once.

There are high profile pro-Palin blogs out there, like the "Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President" site started in 2007 by a University of Colorado student. But the majority of the well-trafficked blogs in Alaska seem dubious or even hostile toward her as a vice president.

Why? Matt Moon, an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from Alaska, has been blogging about Palin from the right on the site thenextright.com since the nomination. Bloggers have a tradition of going against the mainstream, said Moon, who now lives in Washington, D.C.

The lack of conservative pro-Palin bloggers in Alaska reflects different organizing tactics between the parties, he said. The left takes advantage of "netroots," using blogs and the Internet to organize and spread information. The right is more grassroots, he said, relying on on-the-ground infrastructure, face-to-face contact, talk radio and institutions such as churches.

The question is, who are all the anti-Palin bloggers talking to? Moon thinks they're mostly talking to themselves. Are they changing minds? Moon thinks not. He doubts they will have any real influence.

Liberal blogger Linda Kellen Biegel, writer of "Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis," disagrees. If no one is reading the blogs, then why did she get a call from The Wall Street Journal on Thursday? The blogs have been a source for non-Alaska media, which has been investigating Palin from the moment McCain announced her as his choice.

"Most of the stories that people are putting out now have been fed to them by bloggers who have been writing about it for a long time," she said.

In a time when local and national media outlets are shrinking because of financial woes, bloggers are stepping in, doing the investigating, she said. Information helps change minds. People are paying attention; just look at the traffic on her site. Before the Palin announcement, her site was getting a few hundred hits a day. Afterward it soon topped 5,000.

All the attention makes her think more critically about what she does. She's trying to be a fact-checker, vetting things said by Palin on the campaign trail. She's also keeping an eye on the national media, who are churning out all kinds of info she takes issue with. Even though she's an Obama supporter, she won't stand for false rumors about Palin.

She tangled recently with a Canadian blogger who claimed Palin made racist remarks, and she's constantly battling the Trig-is-really-Bristol's-baby people who won't stop writing in.

"God, let it die!" she said.

All the attention from big time media outlets is a little freaky, too. One reporter from a major newspaper called right after the news broke, asking about Palin and 'troopergate.' Biegel gave the reporter a list of people she should call. Later she read the reporter's story and there were all the sources she'd suggested.

"That's how little anybody in the media knew," she said.

The Palin news is coaxing more people into the conversation. Michelle Mitton writes "Scribbit," a parenting site, from her home in Anchorage. After Palin's nomination, among the recipes and child-rearing tips, she slipped in an entry about Palin, whom she didn't support for governor, but will likely vote for now that she's sharing the Republican ticket. Comments came pouring in.

Mitton never thought of herself as a political writer, but watching an Alaska mother ascend to the national stage was empowering, both for her and her readers, she said in a phone interview.

Another Valley blogger, Democrat Party activist Phil Munger, writes "Progressive Alaska." He is no fan of Palin as a VP and has focused on her like a laser since the nomination, writing essays and aggregating the many political mini-scandals as chapters in a Web dossier he calls "Saradise Lost." Along with a bump in hits, Munger feels the political climate getting intense and polarized, and that's getting uncomfortable. It's not so much the Internet but the local rumor mill that worries him.

Everyone knows everyone in Wasilla and the stakes are suddenly very high. What if someone hears about what he writes, misinterprets it, and then wants to hurt him? Though he lives on a lake outside of town, he's started locking his doors.

Sometimes it's not opinion but just plain spectacle that drives Web traffic. A Photoshopped Vogue cover, depicting Sarah Palin in a bedazzled-white top, posted on "Kodiak Konfidential," written by a blogger who calls himself Ishmael Melville, made rounds on dozens of other sites since the announcement and some international newspapers ran it, apparently without realizing it was fake.

Maia Nolan, writer behind a quirky personal/political site called "own the sidewalk," was used to a few hundred daily hits. She woke up on Labor Day to 60,000 on a post debunking myths about Palin. Among the info-nuggets: "She was never Miss Alaska. She was Miss Wasilla. She lost the state pageant to Miss South Central, Maryline Blackburn."

Later Nolan got a call from the National Organization for Women and spent an hour digging up Palin links for them.

She doesn't think Palin should be vice president of the United States, but she's happy for the traffic. Like a lot of bloggers who have new-found readers, Nolan's looking at ways to turn it into profit. She's had Google ads on her site for a year, but they've never had enough hits for the company to cut her a check. Until now.

"Sarah Palin has definitely generated some ad revenue for me," she said. "And for that, I am grateful."

Blogs in this story:

Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis

Kodiak Konfidential

Mudflats

Progressive Alaska

Own The Sidewalk

Scribbit: http://scribbit.blogspot.com/ Andrew Halcro’s blog: www.andrewhalcro.com Matt Moon on The Nextright: http://www.thenextright.com/blogs/matt-moon

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