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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Boston's Bloggers, Filling In the Margins

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2004; Page A07

BOSTON, July 25 -- Jay Rosen sees a basic contradiction in the journalistic invasion of the Democratic National Convention.

"By coming and making news of the event, you're saying this is important," says the chairman of New York University's journalism department. "Then you get there as reporters and say this is all fake. If it's that bad, why are you here?"


Blogger Jeralyn Merritt is part of a tiny medium that reaches politically attuned voters. (Courtesy Of Jay Rosen)

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Other than the parties, the free food and the general sense of a camp reunion with 15,000 buddies, it's a question media people ask themselves every four years, especially with the broadcast networks cutting back to just three hours and blowing off tomorrow night's proceedings.

Is the coronation of John Kerry just an empty, old-politics event being kept afloat by new-media hype? Or do conventions, for all their token celebrities and timed balloon drops, still matter?

Rosen is here to chronicle the convention for his Web column, PressThink, along with about 30 other online entrepreneurs who will be placed on the convention's "Blogger Boulevard" and offer an idiosyncratic take on the proceedings.

Conventions can be interesting, says Rosen, "but it would require a very different lens of journalism to show that. Rituals do have meaning, just not in the category of new information. Journalists tend to think of rituals as inherently meaningless, but they're not."

The dominant theme of the coverage, Rosen wrote online, is "irony about politics, irony about newslessness, and irony on TV about TV. That is where we are marooned today. But the irony ('one big infomercial, folks') no longer instructs or inspires anyone, professional ironizers included. It's a big dead zone in the narrative of presidential politics."

In sheer numbers, these online commentators are a relative blip compared with the combined reach of the networks. But they have a cyber-pipeline to politically attuned voters. And unlike the hordes of anchors and correspondents who at least try to be balanced, most of the bloggers are unrepentant liberals who are here to support the nominee.

"I'm committed to seeing Bush out of office in November and want to do what I can to help," says Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer who writes the TalkLeft blog. "To me the purpose of a convention is solidarity and getting strength from each other and renewed commitment to a joint purpose. I am a cheerleader. I am a partisan. I am an advocate. My goal is to get everyone else stirred up."

Josh Marshall, whose TalkingPointsMemo is one of the more popular sites, says he plans not to push his liberal views but to "capture the mood" of the convention.

"The medium sort of lends itself to that. It's hard to do that in the daily paper. I'll provide an idiosyncratic take, as opposed to being filtered through a large organization that has its own quite reasonable limits and assumptions."

But we're not talking limousine liberals here. Ezra Klein of the Pandagon site wrote after he and his partner got credentials: "It's not that we want to go hobnob with stars and attend top parties, it's just that we want to give you the best damn coverage we can. That said, I have no money. So if anyone is driving to the convention from DC and would like to have my witty conversation on the way there . . . not to mention my gas money, shoot me an e-mail."

Asked why more Web denizens on the right didn't get the coveted credentials, convention spokeswoman Peggy Wilhide says 90 percent of the applications were liberal-leaning. "We tried to make it as diverse as possible," she says.

Patrick Belton of Oxblog, an Oxford graduate student and self-described centrist who worked for Bill Bradley in 2000, sees the convention as "a wonderful time to take a snapshot of all different factions, who's on the rise and who's on the relative wane."

Belton has invited his blogging brethren out for a drink because "we have to cultivate a reputation for delightful alcoholism." The former Richmond resident adds: "There's a lot happening on the margins that the more established media, by dint of time and space limits, just aren't able to cover. Blogs don't have word count limits."

University of Missouri journalism professor Tom McPhail told USA Today that bloggers "are certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo" and "should be put in a different category, like 'pretend' journalists."

But the best bloggers report, prod, provoke and critique the mainstream press, which, as Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley illustrate, has had its own credibility problems in recent years. And this year a spate of regular journalists will be doing the blogging thing, including veteran Walter Mears at the Associated Press. CNN.com will have a BlogWatch digest of other blogs, as will a site called ConventionBloggers, while the "Hardball" team at MSNBC will be sounding off on "Hardblogger."

All of which underscores the central paradox of Boston: huge media hordes for an event with shrinking political significance and shrinking audiences.

Newsweek's Howard Fineman, who will be filing online dispatches from his BlackBerry on the convention floor, calls it "a real-time EKG of my response to the convention as a reporter and a yakker. We're all going to spend our time reading each other's blogs and blog our way to oblivion. If there was any real news, we'd all be too busy to blog."

Wilson, Take 2

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's allegations that President Bush misled the country about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium from Africa was a huge media story, fueled by an investigation into who outed his CIA-operative wife. According to a database search, NBC carried 40 stories, CBS 30 stories, ABC 18, The Washington Post 96, the New York Times 70, the Los Angeles Times 48.

But a Senate Intelligence Committee report that contradicts some of Wilson's account and supports Bush's State of the Union claim hasn't received nearly as much attention. "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News Tonight" have each done a story. But CBS hasn't reported it -- despite a challenge by Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie on CBS's "Face the Nation," noting that the network featured Wilson on camera 15 times. A spokeswoman says CBS is looking into the matter.

Newspapers have done slightly better. The Post, which was the first to report the findings July 10, has run two stories, an editorial and an ombudsman's column; the New York Times two stories and an op-ed column; and the Los Angeles Times two stories. Wilson, meanwhile, has defended himself from what he calls "a Republican smear campaign" in op-ed pieces in The Post and Los Angeles Times.

Pro-Kerry Editor

The San Francisco Chronicle has suspended letters editor William Pates for contributing $400 to John Kerry's campaign this year. Such donations can "create a conflict of interest," says Editorial Page Editor John Diaz, responding to a report by the Stanford University project Grade the News. "We have to be sensitive to perceptions, particularly with someone making judgments on letters to the editor."

Missing Link

"orrections" -- headline on the New York Times column that describes its mistakes.


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