WASHINGTON – U.S. diplomats are revealing their personal sides on the new State Department blog.
In posts over the past week, contributing envoys have written about being "mesmerized by the images of brave Burmese monks and their supporters" as the Myanmar junta launched a bloody crackdown on protesters, and the heartbreak of hearing news of another bomb explosion in Beirut.
Although the blog, launched Sept. 25, has its dull aspects — the "Dipnote" name being one — it lives up to its promise of providing glimpses of diplomatic work and what it is like to serve overseas.
"As a person who, prior to coming to Iraq, was not accustomed to the whistling sound of rockets overhead, or being jolted out of bed by the sound and reverberation of a car bomb exploding outside the IZ (International Zone) I have conditioned myself to take each day however it may come," writes Noel Clay, a press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
It is not all about war zones, though.
"I've never witnessed so many impeccably dressed people in one place," writes 25-year-old Masharika Prejean, who works in State's public affairs office, about her visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in late September.
"The Europeans walk through the lobby of our home for the week, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, in their grays and blacks. The Americans in their shiny lapel pins, power suits, and blackberries. The Africans in their colorful garbs and stylish headdresses."
Still, State's "official blog" can't escape classic signs of bureaucratic swagger. An eagle crest overlooks the day's postings, which are written in white font against an austere dark background.
And postings almost always tout details of U.S. foreign policy. Some read like official statements from the department. A series of posts by press officers who attended the United Nations General Assembly offers details on diplomats' schedules.
"First thing this morning, President Bush met with President Karzai to discuss progress in Afghanistan," writes Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of Bureau International Organization Affairs, in a Sept. 27 post. "... The Security Council this afternoon issued a statement of concern about the events in Burma, which were also discussed at today's G8 Foreign Ministers lunch."
Many readers have said they like the idea of the blog, although some are skeptical.
"We'll see if this is gonna be another partisan hack job," writes a reader named Joe in response to the welcome post by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who came up with the idea for the blog.
Conrad from Washington was more kind: "Hi Sean, Great idea, can't wait to see how this develops. Lots of interested people will be reading!"
Will the State Department be reading what the public says?
"Oh yeah," said Heath Kern, director of digital media at State and editor-in-chief of the blog. "This is a pretty big deal in the State Department right now, and people are interested in what the public has to say."
The public has had a lot to say about the blog's "Question of the Week" posts. Last week's question, on who should be able to possess nuclear technology, elicited more than 80 comments.
Knox in Florida responded: "I think only peaceful democratic nations with strict nuclear watch dogging should be allowed to have nuclear power."
Jennsy in China writes: "Two choices: NO one can have it; Everyone can have it. So, if you want to forbid others have it, first, drop yours."
Kern said that by the blog's fourth day, the department had only filtered out four comments — those that used profanity or weren't written in English.
"We draw the line at profanity. But if it's just a negative comment, absolutely (it will be posted)," Kern said.
Despite its official nature, State allows readers to share its posts on other sites, including some catering to a younger community — such as the social networking site Facebook.
The No. 1 improvement readers have suggested is to drop the blog's name: "The name DipNote has to go ... the blogosphere can be quite cruel sometimes ... you'll be referred to as Dip and another 4 letter word," writes SD in Washington.