About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 2, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 20
The Cyber Road To the White House?

Alexis Rice, seen here by the White House, studied blogs in political campaigns for her master's thesis in the Communication in Contemporary Society program.

JHU grad student peers into the emerging role of Internet campaigning

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Blog. To some people, the word may conjure up images of a creature from a fantasy realm, but for Johns Hopkins graduate student Alexis Rice, the term is the future of political campaigning.

Short for Weblog, the blog in its true form is a regularly updated online journal that allows users to stay in touch with each other. For a political campaign, a blog can be a forum, a mouthpiece and a powerful fund-raising vehicle all in one. Relatively unknown just six months ago, the term has rapidly ascended its rank in the vernacular, thanks in large part to the campaign of Democrat presidential hopeful Howard Dean. The Dean blog,, was launched in March 2003 and by September was generating 30,000 hits per day, allowing supporters to stay on top of Dean's near every move.

The success of the Dean blog in particular caught the eye of Rice, who was then completing her degree requirements for the Communication in Contemporary Society program, part of the Krieger School's Advanced Academic Programs. When the time came to prepare her thesis project, Rice added a chapter titled "The Use of Blogs in the 2004 Election." Little did Rice know the impact the 10-page report would have.

In October 2003, Rice launched, the development of which was part of her thesis project. The nonpartisan site's mission is to promote improvements and understanding in the use of the Internet and emerging technologies in political campaigns. Wishing it to be an ongoing project, the Johns Hopkins Center for the Study of American Government, where Rice is a fellow, has since co-opted the site that is completely designed, written, managed and edited by Rice.

To date, her blog report and Web site have been cited in news pieces by CNN, NPR, Meet the Press and the Tallahassee Democrat, among others. This week Rice brings her one-woman blogging show to Homewood, where she will speak from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, in the Mattin Center, room 160. Her talk, "Blah, Blah, Blog — Weblogs In, As and About the Arts," is part of the Mattin Art Munch series and will look at the impact Weblogs have on the creation, advancement and promotion of the arts.

Rice, who will receive her master's degree from Hopkins in May, says the attention has been a bit overwhelming.

"It's exciting, and there has been just shock from friends about how my little report on blogging has gotten such national attention," says Rice, who works full-time as communication director for a nonprofit religious organization. "It just shows that if a student is writing on something that is so new, and no one else has touched that subject and field yet, you can get publicity. It is such an evolving field. I'm sure in the next few months and years, technology experts, academics and others will be writing major books on the subject."

Rice says that blogs have been around nearly as long as the Internet has. One of the first successful blogs was Matt Drudge's Drudge Report, a news and politics gossip site. The number of blogs has exploded in recent years, she says, due to the availability of free and low-cost blogging software.

In comparison to a traditional Web site, a blog is more fluid and intimate, Rice says.

"I call it an interactive Web journal. You can have a blog about what you are doing on a daily basis. You can share photos. You can rant, you can rave, you can share your opinions, " she says. "Allowed their freedom, users can make a blog a community onto itself."

For a campaign manager, a blog provides a direct link to the candidate's core support, Rice says. She gave an example of one candidate changing his campaign tour attire, even if it meant only switching from blue to red ties, due to comments posted on the blog.

Not quite ranting or raving, Rice shares her opinions on Internet usage by politicians on her blog on For instance, on Jan. 16 she noted on the site that Gen. Wesley Clark's personal blog has not had postings since Nov. 27, 2003. She wrote, "I liked the idea of Clark having his own blog, but what is the purpose if it is never updated?"

Since the early fall of 2003, Rice has diligently followed the trend of other presidential candidates who she says have ridden "the Dean Blogwagon." Taking notice of Dean's early success, three other candidates for the presidential nomination — John Kerry, John Edwards and Clark — launched blogs of their own. President Bush has also started a blog,, but Rice says it's more a public relations tool, as users are not allowed to post topics on the site., in addition to Rice's blog, includes a copy of Rice's original report, news clips on Internet campaigning and links to relevant Web sites, such as those of presidential candidates, political parties and technology resources. This is not Rice's first Internet endeavor. She created and wrote a nonpartisan political information Web site back in her days as an undergraduate at George Washington University, where she studied political communications.

Peter Decherney, the associate chair of JHU's Communication in Contemporary Society program, says that since blogging is such a rapidly evolving field, Rice in a sense hit a bull's-eye on a moving target.

"Her work came right at the peak of the Internet campaign boom. Her timing could not have been better," Decherney says. "People view her as an expert, but it's not that odd when you think that those her senior might have been in the field only all of a month longer than she has."

Decherney says that Rice's success is more than just a case of good timing; her skills as a research and self-promoter have helped her come to the forefront of this young field.

"She is certainly well-deserving of the credit and attention she has received," he says.

What's next for Rice? She says she will continue to update throughout the presidential election. Rice says that what will interest her in particular is what happens to the blogs of candidates who drop out of the race, and what the fallout will be from Dean's relatively poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, since he popularized the Weblog technology.

In any case, Rice says she is just elated that the site will continue into the foreseeable future.

"I think that the use of blogs will filter down to state and local political races, and the use of this technology will only mature," she says. "This is only the beginning."


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |