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PoliticOle blog attracts attention

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When Martin Raabe ’14 started as editor of Political Awareness Committee’s blog, The PoliticOle, last summer, he was focused on recruiting a group of student columnists to build the site’s momentum. Raabe did not aim to market the blog to a non-St. Olaf audience. However, the new-and-improved PoliticOle nonetheless caught the attention of MinnPost, a state-wide online news publication. Since August, MinnPost has republished one of The PoliticOle’s posts in its entirety and linked to three other stories.

The PoliticOle is a forum for student political discussion that publishes on topics ranging from U.S. economic struggles to the Syrian civil war. In his editing process, Raabe strives to keep posts readable and understandable for a general audience.

“We are not The New York Times,” he said. “The main goal of the blog is accessibility to students.”

Madeline Burbank ’16 wrote the article that MinnPost republished in August. Her post critiqued abuses in the U.S. prison system and the industry’s increasing privatization. The post called out the Correctional Corporation of America CCA, one of the biggest names in the private correctional industry, for prison-management negligence. Burbank cited seven lost contracts as evidence of the CCA’s misconduct.

“I had noticed a lot of prison horror stories in the news, but the media has a way of presenting them as isolated incidents when they are really symptoms of bigger problems,” Burbank said. “What struck me the most in my research was how the privatization of prisons has a dramatic negative impact on not only prisoners, but also our society as a whole.”

Shortly after MinnPost published Burbank’s article, the Senior Director of Public Affairs for the CCA contacted Burbank and Raabe asking for a correction. He explained outside circumstances that he said motivated three of the contract terminations in question. Raabe appended an Editor’s Note to the post detailing the CCA’s objection.

“I was concerned because I take being factual very seriously, and I was glad to have the correction posted” Burbank said. “Perspective makes a big difference. The CCA…wanted to distance themselves from the more general problems I discussed about for-profit correctional corporations.”

Meanwhile, during August and the beginning of September, three other posts from The PoliticOle appeared as links in MinnPost’s Minnesota Blog Cabin, a daily compilation of notable blogging from around the state. Every weekday, the Minnesota Blog Cabin editor “surveys hundreds of Minnesota’s best blogs looking for the best of the best,” according to the MinnPost website. Blog editors can apply for inclusion in this daily aggregation.

In their PoliticOle posts that appeared as Minnesota Blog Cabin links, Joel Jaeger ’14, Sam Botz ’14, and Will Lutterman ’15 wrote about the decline of warfare, problems with “war on women” rhetoric and the Syrian crisis, respectively.

Lutterman mentioned his appreciation for the broader audience that The PoliticOle gains from MinnPost’s attention. However, to him, a wider reach does not equal a shift in the blog’s student focus.

“There is a really untapped audience of students in higher education and youth looking for voices from their generation in the media,” he said. “There are no organized media for youth at this point, so [The PoliticOle] fills a very valuable niche.”

Lutterman emphasized the importance of the youth voice in political discourse.

“It’s an underrepresented but very valuable voice,” he said. “We’re going to be inheriting these problems, and if we’re smart enough to solve them now, why can’t we have a part in the process?”

Raabe agreed that The PoliticOle remains a forum created by the students and for the students. As for the future, Raabe hopes that The PoliticOle’s momentum will carry it to new heights as the blog’s mostly-underclassmen columnists continue fostering political dialogue in upcoming years.