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BLACK BOX SPECIAL REPORT: JOURNALISM UNDER ATTACK GEORGIA, PART IX

Bill Simon combines wit, info in political blog

Citizen journalists shine light on Georgia

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Since the beginning of the internet, political blogs have informed readers about government and politics in a more free-form format than traditional news sources.

Such blogs can highlight local, state or national news, touching on a wide range of topics.

Blogger Bill Simon has been transmitting information in this format since 2000, when his idea for starting an email newsletter was born. Simon sent out emails to about 300 addresses.

“It was just kind of a funny hobby to start off with,” Simon said. “I was observing how a lot of the mainstream newspapers had a propensity to print rumors and innuendo as absolute fact. I turned that around and started printing facts as rumors, and I titled the publication Rumors Have It.”

Eventually, Simon transitioned to a blog format, writing on his blog the Political Vine and sending out the occasional email as well to a list of 5,000 email addresses.

“I thought it was my duty to communicate to Republicans located beyond the city of Atlanta about stuff that was going on with the Republican Party at the time,” Simon said.

New to the field

Writing is not Simon’s main enterprise. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1983 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, and from Georgia State University in 1994 with a master’s of science in finance. Now, Simon runs his own company, ID Builders, an advertising and marketing consulting firm.

“My background is not political science, or history or any of the liberal arts-related sciences a lot of people take to make it into politics. I got into politics the back way,” Simon said.

Simon’s interest in local politics was sparked through his involvement in Young Republicans, where at first, he was just “following along, participating and observing.”

Eventually, he shifted to writing blog posts.

According to the Political Vine’s About Page, the site’s material is presented in a satirical, humorous environment. Simon’s entries are often sharp and sarcastic, many times starting off with a joke or metaphor, and then laying down facts, opinion and speculation on the topic at hand.

“I have an ability to take boring, mundane subject matter, like law and government, or proposed legislation that’s come about in a session, and turn it into something interesting to communicate,” Simon said.

Simon reports on proposed legislation, actions of local politicians and perceived government corruption. He highlights events around Cobb County, where he lives, as well as other North Georgia counties such as Fulton, DeKalb and Henry.

“Most of the time, I just try to communicate to people why legislation may be bad, why you shouldn’t just trust the fact that it’s sponsored and written by the Republicans,” Simon said.

I try to inform the public and inform the readership of what the unintended consequences are of legislation and laws.”

Simon doesn’t consider himself a journalist. He defines his role as inserting a conscience into the political process.

“I try to deliver the right and wrong of any legal government act about to happen, or that has happened,” Simon said.

Simon is the primary writer for the Political Vine, although he’s invited guest bloggers in the past, including a group of citizen lobbyists in 2010.

Simon said he’s faced roadblocks trying to gain access to government information.

“I have encountered roadblocks in both local government and state government, when I would file open records requests, asking for stuff in accordance with the law,” Simon said.

Roadblocks to information

Simon described one incident in which his request for records from the secretary of state’s office went ignored. The report he eventually received, he said, was unlawful due to its PDF format, which made the data difficult to analyze.

Simon also said he’s faced financial roadblocks. After filing an open records request in Sandy Springs, Simon said he was asked to pay money for legal counsel to review the documents.

“You mean, I’m going to pay you to make sure that you can redact and cover up wrongdoing?” Simon said, it was as though government officials were saying “you can have your information, but we’re going to charge you for it.”

Now, Simon mostly sticks to blogging. He also runs a Twitter account, tweeting out links to his blog entries to 529 followers.

“I’ve reached a point where I don’t engage that much anymore in doing open records, it’s just a challenge sometimes,” Simon said.

Simon’s blog can be found at http://politicalvine.com and Simon is on Twitter at @PoliticalVine2.

 

Resources for citizen journalists

 
 

Apps
Boomerang - create 6 second looping animated gifs
Internet AWACS - powerful tool for analyzing Twitter accounts & social media use
Photoshop Express - simple way to edit photos on the fly
Signal - encrypted, private SMS and voice chat
TapACell Pro - record outgoing calls
Tweetdeck - Manage multiple Twitter accounts, schedule Tweets, powerful view of Twitter searches & hashtags
Vidstitch - create video and photo grids

Fact Checking
American Press Institute
ReDesk

Legal
Digital Media Law Project
PACER Public Access to Court Electronic Records

Research
A Journalist's Guide to the Internet

 

Social Media
Snitch.Name - Website dedicated to finding people online

General
Citizen Journalist's Press-ure
Knight Digital Media Center Tutorials & Tools

Organizations
The Center for Public Integrity
CIR Center for Investigative Reporting
CJR Columbia Journalism Review
CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists
Fund for Investigative Journalists
Georgia Press Association
ICFJ International Center for Journalists
IRE Investigative Reporters & Editors
J-LAB
Poynter
Pulitzer Center
Society of Professional Journalists
Georgia First Amendment Foundation
Common Cause Georgia

 

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