The day after John McCain announced this month that his top two campaign men were leaving, an S.C. political blog, The Shot, ran the headline, "McCain Going Down, Top Staffers Jumping Ship."
Next to the headline was a picture of an orange life preserver.
The combination of news and analysis with a hint of wit wouldn't be remarkable -- that's what blogs have thrived on -- if the blog weren't run by members of a firm employed by the Mitt Romney campaign.
What used to be the exclusive territory of enthusiastic amateurs has been invaded by political professionals. Some of the most popular political blogs in South Carolina, a crucial state for the primary elections, are run by consultants who are working with the presidential campaigns of 2008.
The people behind these sites do take sides, after all, it's how a lot of them pay their bills. Sometimes, these loyalties may bias what they present, but the more credible ones don't entirely exclude other points of view, block discussion, or make false or misleading attacks from their sites. But it's not like many of these sites proclaim themselves as fair and impartial, and I think most readers are smart enough to know this.
As to concerns about the involvement of those who are involved in political campaigns ... well, I can't think of a time when political discussion online was ever the province of those who were totally neutral. But by having their insights and "inside information", readers can often learn more than they otherwise would have, especially when going to several sources to "balance" what they see on any given site.
Sure, this inside knowledge has helped to strip some of the influence of traditional media political reporters, who once were the sole outlets of political information. With information leaking out and being discussed from people who work in the field, the general public no longer has to rely on a small circle of a half-dozen reporters to tell us what they think we need to know.
Now, we can find out directly, and if one site doesn't tell us, or explain it in a clear enough manner, we can go elsewhere. Democracy thrives in an enviroment of greater openness and competition.
So long as we don't claim false neutrality, make false or personal attacks, or stifle discussions we don't agree with, I believe those of us who take part in South Carolina's online political culture play an important role in making the process of government and politics more open and inclusive, not less.
For the most part, that's what we're doing, and those doors to the shady backrooms are being opened more than ever. Those of us who want a South Carolina that is run by "we the people", and not the good ol' boys, see this as a good thing - and it is.
So ... what do the rest of you think?