Jumping on the blog bandwagon
Web sites offer alternate views of political conventions
Nestled among the thousands of journalists covering this week's Democratic National Convention in Boston are dozens of bloggers, the Internet term for the people — mostly nonjournalists — whose Web sites provide a steady stream of opinion and varying degrees of information on almost anything under the sun.
In a bow to their importance, a handful of bloggers have been credentialed to cover the convention. Alongside Fox News, CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC in the FleetCenter this week are such new media names as Wonkette, Electablog and the DailyKos. They and others who aren't on-site will pass on the latest rumors from the floor, provide almost real-time commentary on the proceedings and turn the spotlight not just on politicians but journalists, too.
That might mean highlighting a speaker whose five minutes on the podium isn't in primetime, deconstructing the meaning of the convention hall's floor plan and maybe even doing a little celebrity watching at the dozens of parties. Bloggers — including pioneer Matt Drudge and his DrudgeReport.com — have broken several stories ahead of the mainstream media, including the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.
"What bloggers are going to be good at covering is not what's traditionally thought of as news," said Glenn Reynolds, a law professor whose Instapundit.com gets as many as 200,000 page views a day. "One of the things that I think bloggers will cover the most will be the journalists covering the news."
That has been a sore point for many journalists who aren't keen on being second-guessed — or worse, beaten on major breaking news — by any number of laptop pundits. They point out the often- partisan nature of most of the politically themed blogs as well as the fact that almost anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can become a blogger. Critics also point out that one of blogs' biggest attractions — its freewheeling nature — is exactly what separates it from the ethical core of traditional journalism.
Most bloggers readily acknowledge that what they do is far from journalism. Bryan Keefer, assistant managing editor of Campaigndesk.org, a Web site on the 2004 campaign that is run by the Columbia University School of Journalism, thinks blogs serve as a check on the media, sometimes forcing journalists to cover an issue they might not have otherwise handled.
"We don't do real reporting as they can," said Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is AndrewSullivan.com. "We're parasitic in a way, but in a good way. We help them correct bias, error and bad judgment. None of that can be bad for them."
CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield doesn't buy the arguments against blogs. He doesn't think Internet-based media has any corner on bad journalism.
"You can be just as sloppy or bad or downright false in established media as you can with the bloggers," he said. "With the bloggers, you have this added advantage that everybody's watching everybody else, so that if one blogger on the left makes a series of assertions, Instapundit will weigh in and say, 'That guy is so off base, and here's why.' I think they've added a lot to the whole political process."
Traditional news organizations have been jumping on the blogging bandwagon: The New York Times, ABC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and other mainstream media all have blogs written by journalists and news personalities. CNN is taking it a step further, offering on-air reviews of how the key blogs are covering the convention.
"For a political reporter to be able to tap into the range of opinion that is swirling around the blogs is incredibly helpful," CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said. "You need to understand what you're seeing and where you're coming from, but it's an interesting new dynamic."
Campaigndesk.org's Keefer, who has co-run a blog called Spinsanity since 2001, thinks that the success of blogs has forced traditional media to work faster and to incorporate the best of blogs into its own operations.
Journalists and media companies are only now beginning to deal with the impact of blogs, said Steve Rubel, a public relations professional who runs the Micro Persuasion blog and spends a lot of time explaining blogging to traditionalists.
"It's a sweeping change that allows anybody to become a media entity," he said. "That was never possible before because the tools have become so easy to use, so easy to choose that it's now put them on the same playing field as the press."
Sullivan thinks that bloggers can help journalists.
"I think they're a security check, a way of making sure you haven't lost your bearings, of keeping your facts straight and your biases clear," Sullivan said. "If journalists want to use them for the good, I think they will help journalists as a whole."
Greenfield, who reads about a dozen blogs regularly, thinks they're invigorating.
"It gives me access to a whole bunch of things that if you just read the New York Times and the Washington Post and watched broadcast networks and CNN you're not going to get," he said.