Blogger planet

The electronic essayists at the Democratic Convention stand on the crest of a journalistic revolution. Maybe. Probably.

Brian Montopoli is a staff writer at Campaign

Forty or so bloggers, clad in everything from coats and ties to jeans and T-shirts, gathered for breakfast at the Hilton Boston Back Bay this morning, and they got a taste of what it’s like to be an object of curiosity.

There were more reporters present than there were bloggers, and they swarmed around their startled quarry, interrupting conversations to ask the same question—how do you plan to cover the Democratic Convention?—and to get, for the most part, the same fuzzy answer: “We’re going to try to do something traditional reporters don’t. We want to bring a different perspective.” (For the true Luddite, a blogger is someone who publishes on a weblog, which is a website devoted to the blogger’s observances.)

Organizers brought out the big guns to speak to the assembled crowd, including Howard Dean, Barack Obama, legendary Associated Press reporter Walter Mears. But the real story was the bloggers themselves, who were treated like a cross between contest winners, celebrities and caged animals. As Dean spoke onstage, photographers ignored the near-nominee to take pictures of the dazed-looking bloggers listening to him. One cameraman zoomed in on the fingers of blogger Jesse Taylor, of Pandagon, who was taking notes on Dean’s speech. He wasn’t even blogging—the conference room, after all, did not have a wireless connection.

With 15,000 media representatives in attendance, the Democratic Convention is, almost assuredly, the most overcovered event of the campaign to date. Everyone knows what’s going to happen—there hasn’t been more than one ballot for the nomination since Adlai Stevenson won it in 1952. So reporters, desperate for copy, have been forced to squeeze yet more stories out of the bloggers, who have faced so many media inquiries that they complain of being tired of doing press.

The politicians also seem taken with the significance of the bloggers. The presence of keynote speaker and rising star Barack Obama at the blogger breakfast spoke volumes. But, like reporters, the pols don’t know quite what to make of it all. Hearing mainstream journalists and party lifers talk about blogging is a lot like hearing John Kerry talk about rap music—he knows that “street poetry” is significant in some as yet undefined way, but you can’t quite see him getting his groove on.

At one point, Mears, who started a blog yesterday for the Associated Press, said that by the end of the week he hoped to be accepted as a blogger himself. At the table in front of me, a blogger laughed, shook his head, and mouthed to the man next to him, “No, you won’t.”

Seeing the bloggers at the convention brings to mind all sorts of unlikely (and uncomfortable) meetings between establishment and ostensible outsider—Steven King getting a national book award, Mick Jagger being knighted, the Sex Pistols finding their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The bloggers, happy for the attention and a little taken aback by it, are still trying to maintain their anti-establishment cred, however awkward it may be.

As such, the laughter that greeted Mears’ assertion that he is “objective” seemed a little heartier than really necessary. It was a subtle message, in case anyone missed it, that bloggers weren’t here to be pale imitations of the journalists around them. Dean brought the house down when he told one blogger that she shouldn’t take it as an insult that she wasn’t considered a “real journalist,” since real journalists simply weren’t getting the job done—a message that reverberates daily around the blogosphere. Bloggers, he and the others suggested, were on the forefront of a journalistic revolution.

There’s just one problem: They don’t seem terribly sure what the hell to do at the convention. Having finally been given the proverbial seat at the table, bloggers here are finding that their plates, if not empty, certainly aren’t overflowing. There are a lot of reporters in Boston, but not, however, a lot of stories. Bloggers are having their big moment at last, but with the deck stacked slightly against them. Had they been invited to an event with a bit more substance, they might have had an easier time taking advantage of their access.

Nonetheless, the bloggers, with their defiantly subjective perspectives and unwillingness to conform to the tired conventions of the mainstream media, could have something significant to add to the circus here in Boston. Of course, now that they are being toasted as the saviors of journalism, it’s going to be hard to live up to the hype.