Heath Kern Gibson, Editor in Chief at DipNote
Heath Kern Gibson graduated from Denison University and received a master's in public administration from Harvard. She is the director of digital media in the public affairs office of the State Department in Washington, where she is responsible for its Internet operation.
Mrs. Kern Gibson is also the editor in chief of DipNote, the State Department's blog, which is an alternative source for US foreign policy information. It provides the opportunity to discuss important foreign policy issues with Department officials.
1. What are your main priorities at DipNote?
We launched DipNote in September of 2007 in the hope of starting a dialogue with the public. The first priority is creating a community of foreign policy enthusiasts who are eager to engage in a conversation about international affairs. Secondly, we want to take you behind the scenes at the State Department and give you information you're not getting from press releases. There are so many people at the State Department, at every level, doing important work that is often not seen. For example, one of our Foreign Service officers served in the Saudi Arabian embassy. She was the perfect blogger for us because there are very few American women who have experienced Saudi Arabian culture, and this is quite important in the foreign policy realm right now. Finally, we want to continue to provide engaging content that motivates people to become interested in foreign affairs, or further their engagement.
2. What sets DipNote apart, what makes it unique?
From the very beginning we were determined to launch a legitimate blog, meaning, a blog where people could post comments whether critical, positive or contrary. This is an enormous departure from what government typically does, and certainly no cabinet level agency had done it. Yet, we knew in the world of emerging social media, this was really the only way to legitimately launch a blog. DipNote posts all comments with the exception of those using vulgarity, personal attacks or hate speech. I believe it was because of this openness that DipNote has gotten so much positive attention so quickly.
3. What are the biggest challenges in running a blog for the State Department?
The biggest challenge has always been generating content. Because we are a government blog, there are still some people within the State Department who are reticent to give us material. It is a constant effort on the part of our staff to generate content every day.
4. When people have expressed opinions, what has been the quality of these comments?
One of the things that surprised me right away was how high the quality of comment was from almost all quarters. We launched a "Question of the Week" feature in the beginning, where we ask the public their opinion on a wide variety of policy issues. The comments and dialogue that followed have been very erudite, comprehensive, and really show a strong and deep grasp of foreign policy issues.
5. What do you hope to do with DipNote in the next six months?
More video on the blog, particularly more original video. I would also like to see us include postings from people outside of the State Department, but who are still affiliated with State. Perhaps former employees and educators.
6. In your field, what do you perceive as the greatest challenge to transatlantic relations?
Although not specific to transatlantic relations, a general trend I see is a desire for greater transparency on the part of government. That being said, blogs go a great way in increasing transparency. The world and the public want to be included. Nowadays everyone wants to have a say, and for the most part they do get to have a say. In government, that is not always the case. Therefore, a government blog goes a long way in solving for what is one of the big challenges in communication, particularly with a global audience.