Web loggers get their credentials

Comments enliven convention dialogue


July 28, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

It was Monday, the opening night of the Democratic Convention, past 10 p.m. Over on ABC, anchor Peter Jennings was expounding on the latest horse-race poll pitting Democrat John Kerry against President Bush. On Fox News Channel, Alan Colmes was wanly defending Bill Clinton against the charge that he was a liberal.

As reports from the mainstream media fall into familiar patterns, a new form of political coverage is emerging online. The upstarts are approximately 30 Web loggers - bloggers - who for the first time have received credentials from the Democratic National Convention to file their own brand of political reporting.

Some are longtime media professionals. Others are Democratic delegates who are keeping online diaries. Still others, including a high-school student, a Web designer and a lawyer, have no journalistic affiliation or political experience. Many don't consider themselves journalists but observers who simply are filing thoughts and opinions from their assigned desks in the nose-bleed seats of the FleetCenter in Boston.

The Web log discussions are lively, partisan, trivial, weighty, irreverent or irrelevant. They incorporate visual cues such as maps, photographs or political ads with written analyses and online links to reports from the traditional press, sometimes with cutting commentary. And they encourage responses and rebuttals from readers - the conversational "threads" that often feed further commentaries from the bloggers themselves.

A good fit

Web logs offer a perfect format for an event invested with political emotion but little true news, says Jonathan Dube, managing producer for MSNBC.com and publisher of cyberjournalism.net.

"The most interesting information tends to be tidbits of observations, gossip and news nuggets," Dube says by e-mail. "The bloggers - particularly the delegate bloggers - are doing a good job of capturing the excitement the Democrats at the convention are feeling. There may not be a lot of news, but for a lot of people this is a big deal, and that really comes through."

Here's the introduction to the Boston Globe's coverage of Monday night: "Democrats raised the curtain on their four-day presidential nominating convention last night with spirited speeches urging voters to elect Senator John F. Kerry for his national security credentials and the economic and social programs he promises."

On www.talkleft.com, Denver lawyer Jeralyn Merritt wrote this from the convention hall:

"The crowd is electrified. We knew Bill Clinton would be worth the wait, and he is! We're trying to type but we keep jumping up off our stool to cheer and clap for him. What a giant. How we miss him as President. He was a true leader. Bush is so junior by comparison."

The Web log world has caused ripples within mainstream media and politics. Some influential sites, such as www.DailyKos.com, receive more than 100,000 visitors daily. ABC News and CNN now e-mail viewers daily roundups of political coverage with wry asides. MSNBC.com has hired Howard Dean's former campaign manager, Joe Trippi, to offer online commentary from the convention. Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate hopeful who is to deliver the keynote address, spoke Sunday at a breakfast for the credentialed bloggers.

There are about 15,000 credentialed media staffers with ties to establishment news organizations (far more than there are credentialed bloggers). But reporters and commentators for mainstream news outlets are posting regularly, too. Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry filed what he called a "vaguely disturbing convention report" that featured a photograph of him with a presidential candidate named "Vermin Supreme." The Associated Press has brought back the veteran political writer Walter Mears for its own blog.

Democratic press aides will not issue formal lists of credentialed independent bloggers, but said they sifted through applications and read past postings to see which sites seemed most credible. (They revoked some credentials - including those of several conservative bloggers - saying they were forced to do so because of space concerns.)

Are blogs a kind of journalism? "Journalism in the old-fashioned sense has standards of objectivity and fact-checking," says Jane Hall, a Fox News media critic and assistant professor at Washington's American University. "I think of these as more partisan and more personal."

Some do not find the postings insightful - even within the Internet commentariat. Robert Cox, who runs www.thenationaldebate.com, lamented his decision not to go to Boston. He mocked his fellow bloggers for their self-absorption and included links to their complaints about poor Internet access and hotel accommodations. "Tell me I was wrong," Cox asks his readers.

Food for thought

Peter Rukavina, a Web consultant from Canada who's behind www.reinvented.net, wrote this from Boston:

"There are non-Mcdonalds food options in the entrance of the Media Center. They appear to have cases upon cases of Red Bull. What is Red Bull, anyway? There are also salads, breakfast cereals, and what looks like fruit salad."

Later yesterday afternoon, Rukavina expressed a broader concern:

"This is not a national town hall meeting; it's more akin to a televised debutante ball. I'm afraid that politics here in America is so abstracted from reality that it is, in fact, impossible to understand on a level other than the superficial."

And that, Dube suggests, may be what the bloggers can do best, scratch the surface, but deeply.

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? David Folkenflik can be reached by e-mail at david.folkenflik@baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6923.

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