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Project News: Down and Out, Tag, you’re it!, Power to the People, and Reach Out

June 6, 2011

It’s Monday, so of course, its time for Media Monday. However, before we get to that, first, a little housekeeping is in order. You may have noticed quite a few features added to the website, so I wanted to go through a few of those. First, though, I wanted to talk about the direction of this website.

As I often say, somebody’s gotta pay the bills around here. With that in mind, your intrepid reporter has taken on a new gig in the legal world. What does this mean for the website? Well, part of the depth of our coverage owed to the time I had at hand due to the fact that I was only working part time. Now that I’m working (at least) 40 hours between two jobs, there may not as be much time for the plans we originally had in regards to breadth–that is, we may not be able to make all the town council meetings that we wanted. However, we’re going to maintain our focus on County government, at least, and do everything in our power to bring you those meetings in full with the magic of video and will continue to bring you pertinent town documents as we can. Essentially–be patient and understanding. We may not get everything up in 24 hours, but we’re going to keep going with this project the best we can.

Moving in the other direction, you may have noticed we’ve added a new category: State and Federal Representation. This section will host news on those individuals who represent us in Washington and Richmond Again, our focus here is on Shenandoah County politics, so that which we bring will primarily be columns from these candidates, news on the process for electing these figures, and issues that are pertinent to Shenandoah County. We won’t be following the back and forth on national issues (unless, again, the candidates provide us a column), but if something comes up that involves the federal and state governments relationships with the localities, we’ll report it. Mark Obenshain announced his re-election–Todd Gilbert announced he won’t run for CWA–and there are two candidates for the 6th District Congressional race next year from Shenandoah County–Democrat Andy Schmookler and Karen Kwiatowski in the Republican primary–so there’s already some news to report, so we’ll bring it to you.

So how’s bout these new features? Well, first off, there’s tags. Well, essentially tags are placed on each post. You can click on the cloud tag to the right or on the listing of tags on each post. This will take you to other posts that contain information on that topic. You may be thinking, well Craig, you already have categories, why go to the effort to tag everything? Well, think of Categories as our table of contents and tags as the index. Categories represent the broader groupings of information on this site–like specific governmental offices and bodies and their activities. Tags represent individual issues or people that are mentioned across the board. Confused? Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say you’re interested in the Board of Supervisors. You can click on the main category and that will bring all of our posts specifically about the actions of that body. But what if you’re interested specifically in the regional jail issue? You can click on the regional jail tag and that will bring you back just those posts where this issue is mentioned, which could include posts on other bodies or editorials. We think tags are good because they bring a new level of customization for individuals who are interested in local government issues, because it will allow people to view an issue from the first time it comes up to when its put to rest (well, for a time, anyways).

So what other features are new? Well, over the weekend and last week, we started adding more features to help you get more involved with this little project and speaking out on county government. First up, you’ll find on meeting previews and on certain issues in wrap-ups (generally those in the public hearing phase) dandy little polls that allow you to voice your opinion on issues facing local government. We know not everyone wants to comment, so we figured this would provide a quick way for you to have a voice. We think this is an important initiative for a few reasons. For starters, it allows you, after digesting the information, to play the role of decision maker. If you take the time to digest all the information, you’ll see what (or at least should) goes into local governmental decision making. Also, we want to provide these results for the decision makers themselves to get a sense of public opinion that they may be missing. Naturally, online polls are nowhere near a scientifically collected sample of what people think (and we’d argue that “regular” polls themselves have alot of shortcomings), but still, this is your chance to make your voice heard. Finally, we’ve simply found a lack of these sorts of things in the dialogue, so we wanted to experiment with providing them. Maybe they aren’t used because people just don’t respond, but we want to see if that holds as we grow. Results will always be available from the poll itself, but frankly, we’ll only report those results that we think had a fairly decent response (15 people or so, given the current readership of this site).

So how else can you speak out? Well, as we state, well, in pretty much every post, we want you to comment. With that in mind, we’ve posted a comment policy. Its not really so much a policy as a guidelines–we value transparency and free speech, so we’ll try to be as hands off as possible. We ask for your real name, but that’s not required–just respected. Just about the only thing that we’ll take a second look at are truly slanderous remarks, commercial solicitation, and comments that cross the line of decency (i.e. lots of swearing or sexual content that exist purely for the purpose of titillation). We hope we won’t have that problem, but well…..have you been on the internet lately?

We’ve also added a whole bunch of forms for you to reach out to us. There’s a general feedback form, a form for newstips, forms for candidates and local government, and a chance for you to contribute to this project. They can all be found here. You can also read more about how to get involved with Shenandoah Sunshine here.

Finally, but not yet here, is a plethora of links. You can already find links to local media sources on the right hand side, but soon we’ll be adding links to fellow transparency sites, local political groups, transparency resources, and once we get campaign central rolling, links to candidate websites.

So enjoy, and coming up next–Media Monday!

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