Webloggers will be out in force at the Democratic Convention this week. Good!
Bloggers form potent para-media
Unfettered, laptop-slinging observers are to post opinions on the Web about the Democratic meeting, the Tribune's John McCormick writes
Tribune staff reporter covering the convention
BOSTON -- As major news organizations unload truckloads of equipment and thousands of people to cover the Democratic National Convention, Bill Scher arrived here Sunday with little more than a laptop and digital camera.
The New York City resident is one of about 35 bloggers who have been given official credentials to cover the convention. Like most independent bloggers, Scher will work for free and pay most of his own expenses, posting his reports and commentary on LiberalOasis.com, a Web site with a typical daily audience of about 6,000.
"I want to try to fill in the gaps of the mainstream media," said Scher, who expects to spend about $1,000 from his own pocket. In a nod to the growing influence of the Internet in politics, the Democrats and the Republicans are for the first time providing workspace and credentials for bloggers at their summer conventions. The parties face the challenge of trying to harness the power of these irreverent voices without giving them a forum to blast their hosts.
Blogs, short for Web logs, are online journals that often feature commentaries on daily events and provide links to other Web sites. They tend to be far more freewheeling, opinionated and sometimes conspiratorial than the average newspaper or television network.
Scher's blog--his slogan is "Where the left is right and the right is wrong"--offers an array of liberal opinions, taking shots at President Bush for such alleged sins as paying insufficient attention to terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Blogs are emerging as potentially powerful tools for building grass-roots political support, and they have gained popularity ever since then-Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's official blog attracted scores of visitors and contributors.
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Democratic National Convention, said about 200 bloggers applied for credentials to get inside Boston's FleetCenter, but he declined to say how the 35 winners were selected.
The Democrats are going out of their way to make the bloggers feel at home, sponsoring a welcome breakfast Monday and a "Blogger Bash" party Wednesday night.
Some have complained that only those friendly to the Democratic message were given access.
"What it means is that the Democratic Party is looking for more free media coverage, based on who they have credentialed," said Zephyr Teachout, who helped spearhead online activities for Dean's presidential campaign.
Teachout, now doing online work for America Coming Together, a Democratic voter mobilization group, said she is also aware of some credentialed bloggers who are paid political consultants.
"One should not act like they are being journalists when they are writing about someone who pays them," she said, declining to name the individuals.
Most bloggers don't portray themselves as objective reporters.
"I am not going to be a neutral observer. I'm an advocate. I'm an opinion writer or columnist," said Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer and writer of TalkLeft.com.
Merritt estimates her trip will cost about $3,000, and said she already has received about $1,900 in contributions from the more than 7,000 people who typically visit her site each day.
"Bloggers may not be journalists, but we are media people," she said. "I don't know why press credentials require you to be journalists."
Rich Gordon, who heads Northwestern University's new media department in the Medill School of Journalism, said blogs may have their greatest influence when they catch the eye of mainstream reporters, who look to the sites for news tips.
The presence of the bloggers does present something of a risk to convention organizers. Many of the bloggers here tend to be more liberal than Sen. John Kerry, and they may excoriate him if they consider his message at the convention too moderate.
Even the blogging community here has established its own gathering spot to share ideas. Conventionbloggers.com offers such tips as how to dress ("jeans, comfortable shoes ... and no ties") and where to find high-speed Internet access in downtown Boston.
Mainstream news organizations are also posting blogs from Boston. The Tribune, for example, will have at least three reporters writing blogs from the convention.