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Ben Smith, Blogging New York Politics


Even political junkies can't read more than five or six newspapers every day, but there's a growing list of political blogs that distill the news into a heavy blend of who's up or down, what's rumored, who's indicted and what the polls will say. Ben Smith writes a New York political blog called He's also a reporter for the New York Observer, and he joins us from New York.

Mr. Smith, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BEN SMITH ( Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Now, I followed your blog this week. Could you see the interaction between you and the newspapers and what you made a story, what they made a story, and everything going back and forth?

Mr. SMITH: I mean the thing, I guess, this week that kind of popped out of the blog was a local weekly here called New York Press' editorial staff quit when they weren't permitted to run these controversial Danish cartoons. I got the editor on the phone who said, who first, you know, told me about it, sent me a statement, which then got into the press and got into the, it wasn't a statement, it was really just his email to me, and popped up all over on the national blogs. And then, you know, when his company put out a press release, which I posted, saying, Oh, you know, we didn't print these cartoons because we felt they were not appropriate, I again called the editor, Harry, and said, you know, Is that right, is that what they told you? And he said, Oh, no, actually they told me that they didn't publish them because they didn't want to get blown up. And so I put that up there.

And it's just sort of a way to keep kicking a story forward and keep following it that's, both stay ahead of the papers and you can just take more cracks at it than the papers can.

SIMON: How many posts will you put up a day?

Mr. SMITH: I don't know. Between maybe four and ten.

SIMON: Where do you get your information?

Mr. SMITH: Well, having this blog kind of amazingly brought in my network of sources, which begins, you know, with just sort of the usual political operatives and just kind of brought it to this incredibly wide world of people who read it.

My favorite one of those was when I was writing about Freddy Ferrer's mayoral campaign a lot...

SIMON: This is the Democratic candidate for mayor who lost to Mayor Bloomberg.

Mr. SMITH: Who got decimated by Mike Bloomberg last fall. But at some point, a reader of mine who's also a Bob Dylan fan emails me that he's, and this is a guy I've never met before, but that he's been reading some really obscure Dylan fan site, and on there he's seen that D.A. Pennebaker, the filmmaker who made the great Dylan documentary Don't Look Back, you know, had told somebody he met on the street that he was working on a Freddy Ferrer documentary, which turned out to be a great story, and I only found out about it because this guy who happens to read my blog sent me this sort of random little link.

SIMON: That would also suggest, and I wonder if it's happened, that you've been taken advantage of.

Mr. SMITH: I mean I know the beat quite well, and if it sort of feels right to me, you know, I'll usually make a call to check it, but if that person doesn't get back and it's sort of a solid piece of information, I'll put it up, and once in awhile, sure, you get spun. But the nice thing about the forum is you then correct, or you push it back with another post, which is in a newspaper harder to do. I mean I think that's the main difference between blogging and newspaper reporting, is that sometimes you won't wait for the response because you figure you'll get the response and you'll put that up too.

SIMON: Let me put you on the line a little bit if I can, Mr. Smith. We hear from people who will say, Well, you know, I don't bother with mainstream media anymore. I can learn everything I want just by reading the websites and blogs that I want to. Do you think somebody can be truly well-informed if that's what they do?

Mr. SMITH: No, I mean that's ridiculous. Like half the blogs are footnotes on the New York Times in a given day. Or you know, a number of other sources, but it's then chewed over and analyzed, and people find a public document or link it to something that makes it more interesting in some way, but the raw material is not being generated on the blogosphere mostly.

SIMON: What do you read?

Mr. SMITH: I mean I read a lot of stuff, a mixture of local New York things. There's a couple, they're sort of budding attempts to start liberal and conservative kind of group blogs. One's called Urban Elephants. The other's called Daily Gotham, and I try to kind of keep an eye on those. And then I read, of the national ones, I read Talking Points Memo, Daily Coasts, I try to read Instant Pundit. I mean a lot of these guys are basically, in newspaper terms, just brilliant assignment editors. You know, they see stuff and they see why it's an interesting story and just put up, say, Hey, take a look at this.

SIMON: Ken Smith, speaking from our New York bureau. He writes Thanks very much.

Mr. SMITH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.