This just in: Anybody can blog the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Despite there being 30-odd "credentialed bloggers" -- a first for national political conventions -- a lot of the blogging action was taking place outside of Bloggers' Row.
The Associated Press launched its first Weblog ever for the convention, with veteran salt Walter Mears at the helm. CNN.com launched its first blog, a group effort by producers at the confab. The respected National Journal started a group blog that was open to the public (their site is usually subscription-only).
And MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews took the cake with a star-studded group blog that includes posts from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, and conservative pundit Pat Buchanan (but no Matthews). Geez, even CBS anchor Dan Rather had an online "journal" with observations each day.
And if it wasn't their own talent doing the blogs, the media were hungry for top blogging talent to come on board. Political gossip Wonkette, a.k.a. Ana Marie Cox, was vacuumed up by MTV for the convention, leaving a guest blogger in her place. Author David Weinberger, a.k.a. Joho the Blog, did a blog for Boston Globe site Boston.com. And 18-year-old Cablenewser blogger Brian Stelter was bought out by Mediabistro.com, which rechristened his blog TVnewser in time for the confab.
Add to that the assorted delegates who had their own blogs, as well as bloggers on the outside who had the time, energy, and home-court advantage of blogging from their usual spot above the fray. What you end up with is a real melange of coverage of the convention, from the colorful insider reports to the outsiders trying to get in, to the inevitable complaints that the whole blogging phenomenon was over before it even started.
All this I learned while experiencing the convention exclusively via Weblogs. No TV, no print, no radio. It was a blog-only diet for four solid days. But unlike PR blogger Steve Rubel and his blog-only media experience, I made one important change in the regimen: I could indeed check out stories or video that were linked from a blog.
That's not easy for a political junkie like me who is ready with a remote control when it comes to conventions, debates and election nights. After a couple days of reading the transcripts of speeches, I was just itching for a better visual than bloggers taking photos of themselves at the Blogger Breakfast, so I found some video of speeches linked to from the Democratic National Convention Committee's blog. But the video of Bill Clinton's rousing speech was edited down, including removal of all applause, draining some of its power.
Where's the there there?
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the blog-only experience was knowing where to go for what, and when. With so many blogs in on the action -- or commenting on the action from afar -- it often felt like trying to find a snowflake in an avalanche. On TV, you might have the choice of the networks (for an hour each night) or Fox News, CNN or MSNBC. But with blogs, you had to choose between a smorgasbord of offerings. Read Dave Winer's one-liners or Jay Rosen's journalistic treatises? Dave Barry's blog parody or the party-hopping of Stone at ArticleOnline.com?
The gatekeeper efforts to collate political blogs were a mixed bag. Jonathan Dube had a nice comprehensive list of bloggers at Cyberjournalist.net. ConventionBloggers.com, Technorati and Feedster all had interesting computer-generated offerings that simply ran unedited feeds from various blogs covering the convention -- in reverse chronological order. Technorati even got plugs on CNN throughout its TV coverage, and used real people to help sort blogs into "liberal" and "conservative" columns, running on the left and right sides of the page, naturally.
More useful was the special Convention Blog Watch at LATimes.com, a running "best of the blogs" blog from Lisa Stone. The entries were quick, usually no more than a paragraph, and mixed mainstream and independent bloggers on topics from late-night parties to a Knight Ridder blogger's scoop on Michael Moore's big secret (a yet-unnamed broadcast journalist reportedly had to change the tone of his or her reporting at the behest of Vice President Dick Cheney).
Stone's Blog Watch was better because it gave me less. The robo-gatekeepers gave me more to sift through and only ranked entries by time of post. In other words, I could see what posts were being made by everyone, but no one was separating the wheat from the chaff. Of course that doesn't mean that Technorati or Feedster won't figure out a way to rank blogs by influence and audience, and provide a more concentrated take on a big story or event in the future.
I also used Bloglines, an RSS feed service, to help me keep up on the main convention blogs. It was a good way to see the latest posts on the blogs I subscribed to, even though it took some time to set it up and subscibe to the feeds I wanted. Needless to say, some of the new mainstream blogs didn't have RSS feeds set up, leaving them off of the map for people who prefer syndication.
Pluses and minuses of Big Media blogs
It's easy to criticize many of these first blogging efforts from the media companies. Many of them don't include links to each separate post and don't include comments from readers with each post. MSNBC's Hardblogger and CNN's Convention Blog both included reader input only as an occasional post with vetted comments in a mailbag format.
Longtime liberal blogger Atrios, now unmasked as Duncan Black, predictably railed against the new breed of Big Media blogs: "It's sort of funny seeing the media try to grab a medium, insult all the people who are currently doing it, and then turn around and do it really really really badly themselves," he writes on his Eschaton blog. "But, hey, I'm not sure why blogging should be much different."
While Fox News' Greta Van Susteren uses a personal voice on her GretaWire blog, and Dan Rather's personal thoughts are clear on his journal ("This convention really is duller than those the parties held four years ago"), the efforts from MSNBC and CNN both rely heavily on show producers who are behind the scenes. Still, the entries from high-powered consultant Joe Trippi on Hardblogger and his efforts to get into the convention were amusing.
The Big Media blogging efforts are sure to be messy to start with, usually buried under so much other content on their sites, and not always the top priority of the news division. But when star pundits are taking turns writing for Hardblogger, and the posts are made under a name-brand news site, the mass audience unattuned to the blogging elite might just pay attention.
Knight Ridder, in particular, did a smart thing, hosting its blogs through Blogspot and using a format that is consistent with traditional blogging (without the comments on). It might be good sport for bloggers to knock Big Media, but look who owns the top rated news and information Web sites consistently: the same "old media" companies that focus on TV and print. How short-sighted is it to believe they won't do the same thing with blogging?
In fact, the co-opting process has already been in full swing. InstaPundit blogger Glenn Reynolds has a blog/column for MSNBC.com, CalPundit Kevin Drum's blog is now the main attraction at Washington Monthly's Web site, and Mickey Kaus' Kausfiles is a big attraction at Slate (which also has William Saletan blogging the convention). Add to that the fantastic work of David Weinberger for Boston.com and you're seeing true crossovers happening from the core of popular bloggers right into mainstream media. (Important side note: Bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall are also making a nice living as journalists.)
The disadvantage of Bloggers' Row
Weinberger, in particular, has made some gutsy posts at Boston.com, none more than his critique of a Boston Globe front-page story on the tone of the convention getting negative Tuesday night. Weinberger points out that real objectivity is impossible.
"There literally can be no objective account of a political speech, for in every case the account must transform a different rhetorical form, and that requires an act of literary interpretation," he writes. "And what in human experience escapes all forms of rhetoric? Rhetoric ultimately means the structuring of experience through and in language, whether spoken or not. And even if you can find something we experience outside of language, the imposition of the rhetoric of journalism would be even ruder."
But even in their embrace of the subjective, the credentialed bloggers faced a problem. They were all on the same side, almost all being progressive, liberal or leaning toward Kerry (in the case of Centerfield's centrist Rick Heller) -- so how could we trust them to dig up dirt on the Democrats when they would be the last to run something that could hurt their own cause?
Though a lot of bloggers were excited about candidate Howard Dean speaking at their Bloggers Breakfast on the first day of the convention, not too many quoted him from this comment: "I read blogs from time to time," Dean said. "Not because I sit down and intend to, because I don't have that much time, but because supporters send me e-mails with various blogs that they read...We have two people that we pay to read blogs, 25 or whatever it is per day."
(I found Dean's comments via an interesting video blog by Steve Garfield, an uncredentialed gate-crasher.)
So even Dean, a politician out of the running who made a name for himself via the blogosphere -- and who was speaking to a room full of bloggers -- still admits he has to pay staffers to read them for him.
Bloggers inside the FleetCenter had the headaches of traveling to the convention, getting through security, finding food or water, and then being so far away from the action that they couldn't even hear the speakers. Some even wrote about going to their hotels earlier at night so they could actually hear and comment on the speeches. Sounds suspiciously like the setup for bloggers who decided to stay home.
Probably the most prominent of those is blogger Jeff Jarvis, who decided there was no point attending the convention if there was no news to report. While the bloggers on the scene were trying simultaneously to blog what was going on, do interviews with the media, talk to and meet delegates, go to parties, etc., Jarvis couldn't resist a jab from the catbird's seat outside, with a post titled "My Convention Coverage." The text: "I didn't watch the convention last night. I went to sleep. Aren't you jealous?"
Quotables and favorites from the DNC blogosphere
"If blogging were a car, it would be a Honda Element: it was fascinating at first, when there were only a few out there. Then suddenly they were everywhere, and even your great-aunt Beth (the "character" of the family) had one. What was once radical and 'edgy' is now normal and mundane. So it with goes with all things hip. Still, the descent to mainstream-ness is always a little tragic to watch. Credentialed bloggers now attend official blogger breakfasts. CNN is doing a blog 'round up.' You're reading a blog on NationalJournal.com. Need I say more?" -- National Journal's William Powers
"The blogs can sort of break the ice and make it clear that there is something pretty strange or pretty unique or pretty interesting or pretty awful about something that, given our way of looking at things -- which tends to be very straight line: is it illegal, is it this, will somebody criticize it? That kind of stuff. They have the potential and actually do open a lot of doors. There's a lot of junk, but there's an awful lot of good stuff too." -- Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall, interviewed by Jay Rosen on his PressThink blog
"There continues to be virtually nothing happening here in Boston. We will continue to provide you with our personal blog-style "take" on this situation as warranted by the constantly developing lack of events..." -- Dave Barry, the Official Dave Barry Blog
"I really think Kerry has a great shot at winning the presidency even if he is outspent by Bush. But I do predict this ? that if John Kerry opts to stay in this messed up [the public funding] system and Bush somehow wins this election, we will look back in hindsight and realize that Kerry's decision to stay in the system probably was the mistake that cost him this election." -- former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, writing on Hardblogger
"In the end the words mattered less than the image, which was of a man who, fairly or not, may seem too apple-cheeked for the nasty world he might be called upon to run. Of course that's what all those corporate defense attorneys thought, and Edwards, in the courtroom, destroyed them." -- Newsweek's Howard Fineman on John Edwards' speech; Fineman's special MSNBC.com diary was filed from his BlackBerry wireless device
OxBlog's Patrick Belton does a fantastic blow-by-blow account of Day One at the DNC. Two sample entries:
4:55 Woman behind me already asleep.
5:00 I can understand the longing, particularly pronounced among people one generation older than me, to actually have something go massively, extraordinarily, democratically wrong, such that the platform and slate are junked, and the delegates rise up in a Jeffersonian parliamentary fury to junk the nominees presumptive, and instead nominate, say, Peter Jennings.
"I would really hate to hate Bill Clinton. The bottom line is that the guy gives ridiculously good speech. If Monday's speech hadn't included nearly every topic, I would've half expected an encore. ('Come on dude, play the one about growing up in a place called Hope.' ... 'What is is. What is is...')" -- Dave Pell, Electablog
"I found myself chatting with ABC's Peter Jennings. He was very pleasant. I introduced myself as a blogger and he even made a put-down seem polite. 'You bloggers are getting quite a lot of attention but lousy seats,' he said. I wasn't the least bit offended. Perhaps it's because I'm sitting in the CNN suite with lousy seats instead of in the rafters on Bloggers Boulevard." -- Bryan Long, CNN.com
"A woman at the door asked if I was a credentialed blogger. I told her that I was a video blogger covering credentialed bloggers as a citizen blogger for my video blog. I think the number of times I said the word 'blog' got me in. I signed in on the media sheet." -- Steve Garfield, who's doing a video blog
washingtonpost.com's Convention Diary is an interactive diary that actually looks like a diary.
America Amnesia's Kirk Johnson did an in-depth interview with controversial former ambassador Joe Wilson.
The Nation magazine's site had an audioblog with many speeches from outlying convention events.