NEW YORK – The normally hushed corridors of diplomacy are about to get a jolt.
The State Department's first-ever blog was to go live on the Internet late Tuesday in a launch timed to coincide with the buzz surrounding the U.N. General Assembly. It upgrades U.S. foreign policy to Web 2.0 interactivity for the new electronic information age.
"Dipnote" aims to give Net surfers an insider's view of diplomacy and diplomats with informal, chatty posts from key senior players in Washington and abroad as well as a younger generation weaned on e-mail for whom traditional cable traffic communication is foreign.
Its first offerings are focused on the annual U.N. meeting in New York City and the role that the department's diplomatic security agents play in protecting the foreign dignitaries that swarm Manhattan for the event.
"There's an extraordinary amount of diplomatic activity going on right now," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who came up with the idea for a blog during a recent trip to California's Silicon Valley with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"It's a good opportunity to provide people with insight into what goes on here, what we're doing, why we're doing it and how we're doing it," he said.
With a host of planned regular features including video looks at a day in the diplomatic life of the country and specific foreign policy issues, the blog will not shy away from controversy.
"Dipnote" will ask readers weekly questions on topics ranging from whether Iran should be allowed to have a civilian nuclear program to whether the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria over the situation in Iraq.
"This is a lot more creative than what we're used to," said Frederick Jones, the 30-something foreign service officer who will edit the blog and has been wrestling with its challenges for months.
Initially dubbed "Diploblog," the venture has gone through a variety of changes, including its name and format, since McCormack first won Rice's blessing.
Trial runs have been promising, even if some more sensitive topics, such as negotiations with North Korea, preclude the behind-the-scenes treatment the blog intends to provide.
"A lot of diplomacy has to be conducted behind closed doors," said Jones. "The challenge we face is striking a balance between having informed and interesting comment and giving diplomacy the space it needs. Diplomacy is not transparent by nature. Blogs are."
So, McCormack has encouraged officials at all levels to take part in the experiment and post items about their personal experiences in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
"We want to break through some of the opacity that surrounds this business," he said. "We're never going to completely do away with that but we want to make the process, policies and the State Department itself more transparent."
Dipnote is the latest in a series of innovations blessed by Rice and set in motion by McCormack's office to bring the State Department into the mainstream of 21st century information technology.
The department has already vastly expanded its Web presence and multimedia coordinator Heath Kern has set up a State Department YouTube channel, where special briefings and interviews with officials on key issues of the day are posted.
Since the effort began in 2005, page views for the State Department's own Web site, (www.state.gov) have nearly doubled from 8-9 million a month to about 17 million.
A recent three-part series with a diplomatic security agent who played a key role in the case of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had nearly 200,000 hits combined on YouTube.
And a Youtube video of Rice speaking with baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. has had almost 50,000 views since it was posted last month.
That's a good start and demonstrates public interest beyond what long has been the staple of diplomatic information: the mainstream media and fringes of the Internet populated mostly by foreign policy wonks and academics.
"The blog will give them another source and allow them to participate in a conversation about that," McCormack said. "We want them to be active participants."