Blogs are interactive, they're a community, they're partisan, they're a conversation and they're more likely to harm you than help you, but they're something with which politicians must deal.
Such was the message Tuesday night at the Dole Institute of Politics' "Blog to the Chief" event, which featured five prominent political bloggers from the national blogosphere in a panel discussion.
Though the five panelists represented the different edges of the political spectrum, they seemed to agree far more often than they disagreed. They all agreed that blogs are useful for politicians only when they become a part of the conversation - when they get involved by posting their thoughts and then discussing them in comments.
They also agreed in their distaste for the conventional media.
"All my friends across all the spectrum have the same complaint. It's the media," said Patrick Hynes, who is the blog consultant for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "They're not honest people. They don't have what's best for our country and process in mind."
The five panelists also were filled with advice for potential political candidates. Hynes said candidates almost always fail when they try to use blogs.
"They should be trying to work with blogs," Hynes said. "Have a dialogue with them. We do want to have a conversation with them."
For Joan McCarter, contributing editor for DailyKos.com, the main point is that politicians can't talk at blogs.
"This isn't a static medium," she said. "They'll be most successful when they interact."
McCarter also cautioned the potential presidential candidates not to treat a blog like an ATM, or a source for campaign cash. They're more than that, she said.
The bloggers who took part in the panel didn't quite fit the stereotypes that exist about the online blogger, a fact that the event's moderator didn't neglect to point out.
"None are in pajamas, none have tin-foil hats, and you would probably let them near your children in the supermarket," said David Perlmutter, associate dean of graduate studies in KU's School of Journalism.
It was a stereotype that was not disproved, however, that provided the tensest moment of the night. A woman in the audience, who identified herself only as Tammy, asked the panelists why they were all white, wealthy and almost all - save one - men. She said this was indicative of not just the panel, but the blogosphere as a whole.
She asked the panel what was in it for her. The panel protested the descriptions of wealth and challenged her to start her own blog. At this point, Tammy and the panelists engaged in a bit of back-and-forth that was only ended when Perlmutter reminded the audience of the ban on making speeches and the rule allowing just one question.