Mainstream Blogs Open Floodgates for Political Coverage

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 26, 2007

Last spring, two hours after he used his Des Moines Register blog to ridicule a suggestion by a Hillary Clinton aide that she skip the Iowa caucuses, David Yepsen's phone rang.

It was the former first lady.

"Senator, why are you calling me?" the veteran political reporter asked.

"I read your blog," said Clinton, who quoted from his posting while insisting that of course she wasn't going to skip Iowa.

The mushrooming number of political blogs on newspaper and magazine Web sites has altered the terrain of the 2008 election. Campaign officials have learned to feed the bottomless pit of these constantly updated compilations, leaking favorable tidbits -- a new poll result or television ad -- and quickly disputing negative items.

In short, journalists and political strategists find themselves sparring more and more over smaller and smaller items on shorter and shorter deadlines.

When he worked for John Kerry's 2004 campaign, says Clinton spokesman Phil Singer, "we were essentially at the mercy of the so-called Old Media. You had to struggle to get something into the paper. With the advent of these blogs, it's much easier to get your message out through accredited newspaper channels."

Danny Diaz, a Republican National Committee spokesman, agrees: "They provide another vehicle for operatives like myself to get out a message. They help further a story line."

The Washington Post ("The Trail"), New York Times ("The Caucus"), Chicago Tribune ("The Swamp"), Los Angeles Times ("Top of the Ticket"), Boston Globe ("The Primary Source"), Time ("Swampland") and the cable news networks, among others, have A-team writers contributing breaking news, analysis and lighter fare to their blogs. And these journalists write with more attitude online than in tradition-bound publications.

"The campaigns really care about blogs, and I hear from them a lot more often about smaller things, not just big-picture stories," says Tribune reporter Jill Zuckman. Campaign aides also pay attention to the blogs on Politico.com and from such magazines as National Review ("The Corner") and the New Republic ("The Plank" and "The Stump").

The high-velocity approach is not without pitfalls for journalists who now must divide their time between print work and blogging. The constant pressure to update blogs, thereby drawing more Web traffic, leaves less time for reporting and reflection. Churning out items throughout the day increases the chances of errors and puts a premium on bite-size chunks fed by a single source. On the plus side, reporters writing online can file updates with comments from rival campaigns and correct any mistakes in real time.

Chris Cillizza, a washingtonpost.com reporter, says he constantly had to explain what he was doing when he launched his blog "The Fix" two years ago. Now, he says, campaign aides pitch stories to him every day.


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