So who exactly is this Rogers character and what gives him the right to weigh in like that in a national publication? Does he have a political science degree? Nope; he's actually a former English composition teacher at L.E. Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma. Has he been covering politics as a journalist for decades, publishing related titles along the way? Not exactly; he only formed his Web site less than two years ago.
But the Denham Springs resident can point to a single credential that substantiates his inclusion in the article: More than 8,000 unique visitors browse news and commentary on his Web site each day, according to Rogers' count. The figure is representative of a trend that has been growing since the late '90s, and Dead Pelican seems to be firmly planted on the cresting wave.
Sites dedicated to Louisiana politics have been sprouting up regularly over the past eight years and, based on forum comments and media coverage, there is a hungry audience. In many ways, it's the second coming of Gutenberg, as far as access to information. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found more than 75 million U.S. citizens regularly accessing or creating political information on the Internet.
"The Internet is the ultimate concept of freedom," Rogers says. "It is very American. You don't have to be a journalist to put out news and opinion. If you put it out there and people like it, you'll be successful. Your only limitation is the audience you can build. The Internet has created a thirst for information at lightening-fast speed, and this fills a void."
As if taking a cue, the mainstream media began embracing some of the same guerilla tactics that has made the political sites popular, says C.B. Forgotston Jr., a Hammond attorney who posts blistering political commentary on Forgotston.com. Bloggers are being added to newspapers' Web sites, he says, and readers can post comments about stories they're reading online under the piece itself.
"The papers themselves are becoming bloggers, and they are posting online," Forgotston says. "Whether we were all part of starting that, I don't know. But we are not moving to print. We are staying electronic and print is moving towards us."
All the Louisiana political sites out there offer something different. For instance, Forgotston, who says his subscribers number in the thousands, is well known for compiling legislative voting records on gambling and taxes. Also, as former chief counsel for the House Appropriations Committee, Forgotston is an expert on most state fiscal matters. Dead Pelican, a knock-off of DrudgeReport.com, offers a simple format and thrives on breaking original news, although he does play fast and loose with reports sometimes. The day before this story went to press, he published that a statewide official was under investigation by the FBI without printing any source at all. Other sites rely heavily on forums, where users can communicate directly, or on email lists to disburse information.
Every purveyor of this alternative news source, however, seems to have a love-hate relationship with the mainstream media. Still, nearly all of them depend on mainstream news for content. Major stories are highlighted and commented on; inconsistencies are pointed out and party-oriented shots are taken.
The media, on the other hand, aren't shy about tapping these "kooks" -- a label coined by former Gov. Mike Foster and embraced by the alternative media -- for input. And when it happens, the news travels quickly within this tight-knit community.
Forgotston has been interviewed on several occasions by The New York Times and recently was quoted in an editorial by WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge. Moon Griffon, who hosts a syndicated statewide radio show, was also interviewed on cable news giant MSNBC a few weeks ago. When asked about President Bush's visit to New Orleans on the anniversary of Katrina, Griffon flipped the question and schooled the national media on the "real problems" being created by state and local governments back home -- also known as the "good ol' boy network," he told MSNBC.
It's no wonder why some in the mainstream media love these alternative sources. A study conducted during the most recent presidential election by Intelliseek, a technology solutions company based in Ohio, found that bloggers often kept major news items alive on their Web sites until the mainstream media caught up with them. The Internet's influence on political discussions in general, and that election, is evident, says company CMO Pete Blackshaw.
"The Web-enabled public is relying on a variety of sources, including blogs, traditional media and other Web sites, to inform themselves, find unfiltered opinions, and to guide their votes," Blackshaw says. "And bloggers, in some instances, are pushing the envelope in defining the political agenda and news coverage."
In Louisiana, the now-defunct DeductBox.com is credited with starting it all in the late 90s, but the tradition is being carried on by many, such as LaPoliticalNews.Blogspot.com, BayouBuzz.com and PoliticsLa.com. Even independent journalist John Maginnis, known nationally for his political reporting, has moved some of his writings online, as has former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown. Emily Metzgar, a columnist for The Shreveport Times, has also been taken in by the kooks because she now has her own blog.
Rogers, who recently started making regular appearances on Baton Rouge television and running paid advertising on Dead Pelican, says there is only one goal: "The impact we're trying to make is to help people think a little more about what is going on in Louisiana, instead of just taking things at face value."
The approach might be raw and in your face, but it gets the job done, says Forgotston. He says the voting records he publishes on his Web site have helped challengers defeat incumbents, but now the challengers are upset because their own voting records are being disseminated. When it comes to making an impact, Forgotston says that's all he can hope for. As long as someone in elected office is expressing anger over the alternative media, the impact is being felt.
"I don't know if they respect us as much as fear us," he says, "but I consider that a badge of honor."
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.