Fitting right in at political conventions

The Baltimore Sun

Several hundred bloggers will cast a much larger shadow at the political conventions the next two weeks than they did four years ago when all the convention bloggers could have fit in an elevator.

Whether their presence shakes up all the careful choreography remains to be seen, but the names of many of the blogs indicate this is not your father's political media. They range from the sarcastic to the shameless, from UppityWisconsin to to Connecticut's

Nearly 200 bloggers received credentials for the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul next week, although it isn't clear how many of those are independent bloggers. GOP organizers weren't releasing the names of the blogs. The Democrats, meanwhile, approved about 125 independent bloggers to cover their session, including 55 who are specifically "embedded" for the week with the delegation from their own state or U.S. territory.

On top of those are scores of additional blogs being written by the mainstream press, by delegates, even by politicians themselves. With the TV networks beefing up their coverage, possibly no convention has ever been covered more thoroughly; certainly none has generated so many written words.

If their posts from the first day of the Democratic convention were any indication, the bloggers will bring a much more personal, unvarnished, sometimes wide-eyed, view of the proceedings from what the mainstream media delivers.

"This place sure gets tiring," wrote "Eddie in ME" - otherwise known as Edward Lachowicz, vice chairman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee - on the blog Turn Maine Blue yesterday morning. "Note I did not say 'tiresome.' It's far from that. It's only 11:25 here as I begin to write this, and I'm completely wiped. First thing I did after the Credentials Committee meeting was head to the Big Tent to score my own credentials, and ended up with a swag bag."

More than 400 bloggers applied to cover the Democratic convention. Many may have been drawn to pay their way to Denver - or to solicit donations from their blog readers so they could go - by the historic significance of Sen. Barack Obama as the first black nominee of a major party. But the fact is this is the first convention they're being welcomed as legitimate chroniclers of the event. Blogging may mystify many, but it's far from the oddity it was four years ago.

Radio personality Marc Steiner is the Maryland "embedded" blogger this week along with two colleagues, Justin Levy and Lea Gilmore, from the nonprofit Center for Emerging Media. The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain has arranged to pick up some of their blogs. They're also doing a nightly radio broadcast on WEAA-FM, the station Steiner joined after a messy divorce last winter from WYPR, the public radio station that was his longtime home.

Steiner believes that his is a bit of an oddball at the proceedings: a blog that isn't overtly partisan.

"I think of most bloggers as almost like the 19th-century press. It's a very partisan bunch," he said.

Lowell Feld, whose is the Virginia embed, acknowledges that the conventions may present a quandary for the partisan blogs if they stumble on something that could hurt the candidate they support.

"If politician X gets drunk ... and calls some woman some name, the next thing you know it's up on the blogs. I'd be surprised if something like that didn't happen," said Feld, author of Netroots Rising: How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists Is Changing American Politics who is now working on a "guide to the political blogosphere."

He thinks the presence of so many people blogging at the conventions will test what physicists call the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: The very act of so many people observing what goes on will alter the way people behave.

He launched his political blog in 2005 out of great frustration with John Kerry's loss to President Bush in the 2004 election. He believes it did help propel Democrat Tim Kaine into the governor's office in Virginia, hence the blog's name.

Lee Rainie, who directs the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Washington research group, thinks bloggers will alter the often staid and predictable convention coverage because they bring more attitude to their reporting.

"Bloggers might be the most likely commentators to go 'offscript,' " he wrote in an e-mail. "Bloggers are so ubiquitous they actually might be more likely to be on the scene of something interesting and newsworthy than mainstream reporters."

Even though Robert Hayes' Blogger News Network usually leans a little right of the political center, he was wowed by the welcome mat the Democrats laid out for bloggers, in particular their online communications director Aaron Myers.

"He has treated us as though we were NBC," said Hayes, who was happy to land a second credential at the last minute for a colleague, David Jones. He can't bring everyone who writes for since he has at least 80 regular contributors: "Anyone who can write a sentence is welcome to blog the news."

Hayes, who'll drive the 60 miles from his home in Colorado Springs to attend this week's event in Denver, thinks many bloggers will bring a sharper focus to the coverage. "A blogger who writes about farming will ask delegates about farm policy," he said. "You'll never get that with the mainstream media because they're always focused on the horse race."

Live blogging during the speeches will become one of the most prominent features the new media will bring into American homes these next two weeks, he and others said.

"It's like when you sit on the couch with your friends watching and making jokes, but there are only four of you," he said. "With a blog, there are 4,000 or 40,000 talking about the implications as things are being said."

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