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November 23, 1997

Rep. Kennedy lets his
Web site languish

By Timothy C. Barmann

If you've been wondering what Rep. Patrick Kennedy has been doing in Washington lately, turning to his World Wide Web site will give you only a few clues.

That's because Kennedy's Web site (http://www.house.gov/patrickkennedy/) appears to have lapsed into a coma. While it's up and functioning, it has been laying dormant, without any updates since the beginning of this year.

After taking the lead among Rhode Island's congressional delegation by being the first to put up his own site, Kennedy, 30, has now fallen behind two of his three colleagues.

Under the "press release" section, the latest entry is from Jan. 15. If you look under the "coming events" section, you will be greeted by an "under construction" message. That message has been there for several months as well.

Not only that, Kennedy is now the sole Rhode Island member of Congress who does not have a public E-mail address.

What gives?

Kennedy spokesman Larry Berman acknowledged that Kennedy's office has "fallen short" on updating the press release section.

It's not that Kennedy hasn't been issuing press releases -- those are received at media outlets on a regular basis, usually by fax.

Berman said there's extra work involved in posting Kennedy's press releases to the Web site. While Berman works in Rhode Island, the Web-site work is handled from Kennedy's Washington office, he said.

"Now that we're out of session, we're going to work on that and update our Web site and try to come up with a new system that will update them regularly," he said.

He points out, however, that Kennedy Web site visitors can still learn about Kennedy sponsored or co-sponsored legislation. But that is obtained by a link to a different Web site -- Thomas (http://thomas.loc.gov/), which is run by the Library of Congress.

Regarding Kennedy's lack of an E-mail address, Berman gave the same answer that he did when I asked him about it 18 months ago.

"We just don't feel that we would have the ability to answer (E-mail) appropriately," Berman said this week. "We feel that because of his last name and being Ted Kennedy's son, we would be inundated with E-mails from across the country."

"We've been very busy and haven't had the chance with a small staff to do everything that we want to do," he added. "But we are making it a priority of ours now that we have a recess."

Ironically, Kennedy is the only Rhode Island legislator who belongs to the Congressional Internet Caucus, a group of senators and representatives, founded by Rep. Rick White, R-Washington, dedicated to promoting the use of the Internet to members of Congress.

Elsewhere in Washington, staffers at Jack Reed's office have been busy putting up the senator's new Web site.

The site (http://www.senate.gov/~reed/), which went up at the end of last month, employs some of the latest Web-page frills, such as a "welcome movie" and an audio greeting featuring Reed. (To see the video, you'll need Progressive Network's free RealPlayer program available at http://www.real.com). The brief audio message takes several minutes to download.

Reed's site is also the only one of the four Rhode Island members of Congress to have a search feature. That is wisely placed on the site's home page.

Reed has the standard fare for a legislator's Web site -- his picture, legislative information, constituent services, government links, Rhode Island links and Reed's press releases. Reed's E-mail address is clearly displayed on his "contacts" page.

Unfortunately, Reed's office has chosen to put only certain press releases on the Web site.

"To avoid a barrage of press releases, we put up ones that we think are particularly important on the Web," Reed said during an interview last week.

Another reason, Reed said, was because the media still wants press releases delivered the old-fashioned way -- by fax.

"If every news organization was taking their releases off of the Web, everything we do would be on the Web," he said. "We're driven by the dynamics of the way the media collects information."

But that thinking doesn't take into account that there are probably a lot of constituents who would like to see all of his press releases. Many that his office releases to the media never actually make it into the paper.

Constituents deserve to know what their elected officials are up to. Giving them easy access to all their news releases is a simple and nearly effortless way to do that.

Rep. Robert Weygand's site (http://www.house.gov/weygand/) appears to be updated regularly.

Unfortunately, Weygand's "recent news" section is organized by topic rather than date. That makes it difficult to know what is really recent, and what is several months old. That section could also do without the self-applauding tone of the headlines for Weygand's news items. Each one begins with phrases such as Bob states, Bob asserts, Bob delivers, Bob proposes, Bob unveils, etc.

One oddity of Weygand's site is the method for sending him E-mail. Weygand doesn't post his E-mail address. Instead, visitors are forced to click through several Web pages, and complete forms on two of them. You'll have to enter the state you are from, your zip code, then your name and postal address before you are allowed to send a note to Weygand.

Meanwhile, Sen. John H. Chafee appears to be content with the simple Web site (http://www.senate.gov/senator/chafee.html) put online for him by the Senate. It's a default Web site for senators who choose not to build their own. The one-page site has Chafee's portrait, a brief biography and his E-mail address, and little else.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.