The first thing to notice about Ethan Millard, the proprietor of www.SLCspin.com, is that his personality doesn't match his posts.
His Web site traffics in incisive, sardonic commentary about local politics and Millard certainly has his favorite targets and topics. But the man is mellow.
He's nonchalant about who does or does not read his blog ("When you start a blog, you should be ready for it to be just you"). He doesn't participate in local politics ("I'm not involved so much as observant"). And he favors iterations of the same modifier ("They're really, really, really under the gun").
Millard said his interest in politics isn't traceable to anything cogent. It's just been a long-standing fascination of his.
He's parlayed that fascination into a popular site within political circles. Millard picked up an award from Salt Lake City Weekly in the publication's annual "best of" issue, and he gets between 250 and 500 hits a day.
The one thing that speeds his speech is soccer: specifically, Real Salt Lake soccer.
Millard, a season-ticket holder with his brothers and a friend, attends all the home games at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but he's not sure yet whether he'll make the jump to the Sandy stadium in a few seasons.
The blog reflects that conflict as he aims at Real owner Dave Checketts, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan and Salt Lake County Council members. The council technically holds the public-money purse strings but politically may be obligated to fork over millions to save credibility with the Legislature, which endorsed a Sandy stadium site by clearing a path for the team to seek tax money.
Millard, 29, lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood a scant 10 minutes from Rice-Eccles Stadium and his front-row seat and heralded last fall's Sandy stadium announcement with a "DISASTER!!!!" headline. Since then, he's stayed on message, particularly hitting the County Council for its role in the debate, with blog entries including "When Fat Men Attack!!" featuring Dolan and County Councilman Randy Horiuchi on Feb. 13, and "Today's Jackass" about Councilman Joe Hatch on March 1.
Hatch took his roast in stride.
"To be rightfully indignant of something like that would be absolutely foolish," said Hatch, who reads Millard's site and four others each morning along with his dose of daily newspapers. "I took it as an enormous compliment to be called a jackass. That means he actually thinks that what I'm saying is important. I see (that) blogging should be more of a guerilla aspect, and clearly, SLCspin has that."
Millard puts himself directly in the center of the political spectrum. "If you want to know my political opinions, they're all right on SLCspin," he said. "I don't carry any political banners that are not what I really believe."
He jaunts around town in a cherry-red 1979 Fiat convertible. He makes no money from the site and pays his bills by working as a server at Samba Grill, a downtown restaurant. He's a few assignments away from a University of Utah undergraduate degree in history and started a master's degree at Central European University, in Budapest, Hungary, studying the same subject.
Millard said that his site gets hits from servers at the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, but staff members in Sen. Orrin Hatch's office said they hadn't heard of the site. SLCspin has a "Hatch clock" that monitors how long the Republican senator has been in Washington on Utah's behalf. The site also has a pervasive pro-Pete Ashdown slant. Ashdown is challenging Hatch in this fall's elections. Millard posts nearly once a day about the 2006 Senate race.
"There's just hundreds of blogs springing up here and there," said Heather Barney, a spokeswoman for Hatch. "Some may advocate for Sen. Hatch and some don't. Some might be amusing and some might be annoying. I guess that you could spend all day reading blogs about yourself, but he doesn't want to spend his time doing that. He would rather spend his time advocating for Utahns."
Mayor Dolan doesn't read the blog, spokeswoman Trina Klingler said, and frequent target Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson doesn't read either, the mayor said.
Salt Lake City Councilman Eric Jergensen, for whom Millard worked during Jergensen's first run for council in 2001, and Jergensen's 2005 challenger Janneke House both checked the blog during last fall's race for the Salt Lake City's District 3 seat. Millard skewered House for her youth and inexperience. All his observations came from his living room in Budapest, where he spent fall semester, some 5,600 thousand miles from the race.
House was frustrated with Millard's posts, but she and her former campaign manager Cliff Lyon also acknowledged that his commentary was right for the forum.
"Somebody else's blog is not a great place to have a political battle," said Lyon, who founded and moderates another blog site, www.oneutah.org.
Millard's influence is likely small, as Joe Hatch, Barney, Dolan, House, Lyon and Millard himself said. The politicians believe that Millard's sphere includes a select cadre of civic-minded Utah residents. But that small sphere might be the right sphere, Hatch said. Hatch compared it to the leaflets he distributed in his 1960s high school days, and to Revolutionary War pamphlets.Comment on this story
"There's always been that undercurrent of criticism to elected officials, (and blogging) is just the new part of that culture that's always been there," Hatch said. "I suspect that a surprisingly large number of opinion leaders do look at this."
Millard said that the blog was, and is, a personal page."I'll never get used to the fact that people read SLCspin, because the people you pay attention to (are) journalists and politicians and people who have positions and education," Millard said. "In the end, I'm just a dude with an Internet site. If everyone stopped reading it tomorrow, I'd just disappear."