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Monday, August 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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E-conomy / Paul Andrews
Bloggers clog up news at convention


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I'm hoping that Web loggers will do a better job on the upcoming Republican National Convention than they did with the Democrats.

Blandished with full credentials, their own seating and loads of media attention, bloggers raised high expectations for breakthrough Internet coverage of the DNC. With bloggers on the case, the reasoning went, a new spikiness would supplant the blasé, pro-forma-convention coverage of major media.

Bloggers, who post daily journals consisting mostly of links to and brief commentaries on TV and newspaper coverage, tend to carry contrarian viewpoints. As an intermittent blogger myself, I've found the medium to be useful for disseminating facts, perspectives and observations that elude major media.

Bloggers shine when they bring to light significant information not otherwise reported. Two notable examples: U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's racially charged comments at Strom Thurmond's birthday party, which a blogger monitoring C-Span coverage drew attention to after journalists did not report them. And an Iraqi blog that reported street-level perceptions of the war far more meaningfully than "embedded" American media.

But at the Democratic convention, the handful of bloggers permitted entry unfortunately committed independent journalism's cardinal sin: They became part of the story. National print and broadcast media, on the alert for an easy target, seized on bloggers as the upstart newcomers and highlighted them in fawning feature stories.

Convention speakers attended blogger breakfasts and curried opinions on how to make their own political blogs more effective. All the attention had the blogosphere buzzing for days afterward.

Regrettably, the commotion also neutered any real objectivity and rawness that bloggers might have brought to convention coverage. Monitoring C-Span, news media and blogs, I watched eagerly for insights that only a blogger on site in Boston could provide.

Instead, bloggers for the most part mimicked major media. Commentaries were trivialized by observations on speakers' clothing and appearance rather than their message. Most blogs regurgitated quotes and reported themes that were meaningful only if you failed to watch the speech or see TV and newspaper coverage.

Awarded celebrity status, bloggers got distracted from their primary mission of informing Netizens about stuff we otherwise could not see or hear. One problem may have been logistics: Bloggers were given their own section, but it was in the cheap seats and far from the floor action.

Although I was not in Boston, I assume nothing prevented bloggers from leaving their assigned corral and venturing into the fray.

What went wrong? Dan Bricklin, a software pioneer and early blogger (but not one invited to the convention), noted in his own blog that "bloggers need to learn to be watched as well as do the watching."
 
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As Bricklin pointed out, covering multiday events and stepping back to look at the "big picture" are skills most bloggers have yet to hone. And when you're competing with some 15,000 paid professionals, he suggested, you're going to have to work pretty hard to distinguish your voice.

My favorite report on the bloggers came from Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" via cable's Comedy Central channel. As much as bloggers like to make fun of others, they seemed clueless when the tables were turned: Celebrity blogger Kos popped up like a prairie dog when the "Daily Show's" Samantha Bee cooed his name, and another blogger stood rigidly nerdlike when Bee coyly came onto him — unaware even of her advances, let alone the joke being played.

The oldest trick in the world is to flatter a reporter into thinking he or she is as important as the story at hand. The Republican convention may tell us whether bloggers, having been suckered once, will fall for the same line again.

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of "Gates." He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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