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Student Blogs Way Through Presidential Primaries

Published: Mar. 2, 2004 at 8:40 PM EST|Updated: May. 5, 2004 at 3:27 PM EDT
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(LOUISVILLE, March 2nd, 2004, 4 p.m.) -- While his classmates studied, partied and went to basketball games this winter, Justin Walker was chasing presidential candidates and recording his observations on his Internet blog.

Walker, a 21-year-old Duke University senior from Louisville, spent two months chronicling the chase for the Democratic presidential nomination on his campaign blog -- which is short for Web log.

Little known four years ago, blogs have become an increasingly popular and controversial feature in presidential campaigns this year. Writers file blogs on Web sites about any subject that catches their fancy. Blogs can be filed daily, hourly or even up to the second to chronicle any event or issue.

They often include a place for readers to write back. Campaign blogs can take almost any form: journalism, personal diary, fund-raising solicitations -- even fiction.

"Blogs are very democratic, and that's very healthy," Walker said. "It's the least hierarchical way for people to get information and share information."

Because blogs bypass traditional media outlets, supporters say, they can provide unusual, unfiltered perspectives on politics. But critics caution that the credibility of blogs varies with the credibility of the writer

Alexis Rice, a fellow at the Center for the Study of American Government at Johns Hopkins University who has been studying the rise of blogs in politics, said the phenomenon has become more mainstream, with candidates blogging while on the road.

"I don't think four years ago people in politics knew what a blog was," Rice said.

Walker's blog has been fairly straightforward: he's looked for people and stories that he finds interesting and that often haven't been covered much or at all by newspapers or television.

Walker is a political science major at Duke and a self-described "political junkie." He came up with the idea of trailing the candidates and filing reports for the Duke University News Service. His professor approved the idea, and Walker pointed his Volvo to Iowa, then New Hampshire, and into the following states with primaries.

"He's a really smart kid, he writes well, and if you were going to send anybody out to do this he's just great," said Scott De Marchi, a Duke political science professor who is Walker's adviser.

The advice Walker was given by De Marchi for his blog was this, he said: "Think of yourself at a bar at the end of the day and tell your friend the most interesting thing you saw. ... Sometimes I write about a candidate, but most of the time I write about the people I meet."

For Walker, his travels have reinforced his faith in the democratic process.

"The most striking thing from the very beginning -- and this especially applies to Iowa and New Hampshire -- is what an impressive sense of civic duty they have -- to a man, to a woman,"
said Walker, a self-described "tax-cutting, Iraq-invading Republican."

"They believe they are making a difference and are doing what they believe in," he said.

Walker's life on the campaign trail, which started Jan. 9, ended with Super Tuesday, so he can return to school where he's scheduled to graduate in May.

"It's been just a great adventure," he said. "I'm going to miss waking up in the morning and not knowing what's going to happen during the day."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)