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Digests & Round-ups:

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July 7, 2004

Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials

No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing. The blogs come at this fresh. I'm going.

Just heard today that I have been credentialed to report on the Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Boston, July 26-9. So PressThink will be there, working. There will be 15,000 other media people (journalists, producers, and support staff) in Boston and 35 or so approved webloggers, all trying to make sense of the event, and tell the world what happens at it.

And what a puzzle that is. As far as I know, no one has a convincing notion of what a political convention is, anymore, or why 15,000 people are there to cover it. A giant incoherence has overtaken both the event and everything reported outward from it. Two successive regimes for making sense of a party convention have collapsed—meaning, they no longer explain anything to the nation—and I am not aware of a third that has risen or even declared itself. But this, perhaps, is where the bloggers come in.

  • The first regime held that a convention is a political event of major consequence, where big news happens. There the parties conduct important business. They set themselves on a course before the eyes of the nation, and a candidate emerges to lead them into the election. That’s news.
  • The second regime held that a convention is a media event, but with consequence in politics. There the parties try to impress us, and get their message across. Above all they play to the cameras in a manner that is calculated to “work” on the largest number of people. These are the things a disillusioned but savvy news tribe informs us about. For they are, in a sense, news.

Thus the successor regime has tried to govern not with politics or news so much as 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, to which 15,000 flock every four years, so they can be there when the parties pound the message home and try with all their might to make zero mistakes.

Long ago, conventions were actually a time when the big parties came together and chose a candidate. Forces could be set in motion that might lead to a suspenseful outcome— in the classic case, a floor vote. You can hear reporters reflect on the old narrative, and introduce its echo, when they mention “the last time there was a floor flight,” or “the last time a convention actually decided anything.”

They might also refer, just as the history books refer, to Chicago 1968, with its epic battle between the cops and the New Left on the streets of the city. A general impression of “chaos” came through the lens, the awareness of which swept the convention floor, upsetting everything. Richard Nixon ran against chaos and won. Some say the Democrats never recovered. After Chicago, the city that hosted the convention was understood to be part of the party’s message, a kind of background character at the proceedings. After Chicago, angry petitioners outside would threaten to become part of the story. Both posed severe problems of control for organizers.

By general agreement the “live” convention came to an end no later than 1976, where there was almost a ticket pairing Gerald Ford with Ronald Regan as Vice President. So to understand the party conventions today (and I warn you, this may not be possible) we should remember, especially if you weren’t born yet: there was once a real time event there. The politicians were in control, more or less, the party was doing something real—picking leadership and a direction for the campaign—and press coverage was justified on traditional, “new information revealed” grounds. But that regime ended 28 years ago, and began crumbling well before that.

In with the rise of television as substitute national stage came candidate-centered politics, made possible by the primary system, which starting in 1972 decided the nomination before the convention began. It also opened the nomination to anyone who could raise money, gather momentum, and win some crucal primaries. The primary system depended on the broadcasting system, which gave birth to a new group of experts, strategists and players— the pros with their savvy take on how to get elected in the one-to-many media age.

In a fateful move, which was more like a drift, political journalism developed in imitation and celebration of these pros, as the two groups shared an insider’s fascination with behaviorist accounts of how the public might react, how the electorate may vote, and, derived from this data, a dialect that I call inside baseball, sometimes termed “analysis” by the press. (See PressThink’s “Die Strategy News.”)

By 1976, then, a second regime had overtaken the narrative emerging from convention hall. Its powers began with television’s powers over the political, specifically live network television; and that meant TV journalists— stars in the skybox like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Roger Mudd, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the executives who planned the broadcast behind them, along with the reporters who walked the floor below them.

These folks, it was widely said, were the forces in charge. Here’s the Museum of Broadcasting summarizing what happened to create a second regime:

Party officials condensed the length of the convention, created uniform campaign themes for each party, adorned convention halls with banners and patriotic decorations, placed television crews in positions with flattering views of the proceedings, dropped daytime sessions, limited welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization procedures, scheduled sessions to reach a maximum audience in prime time, and eliminated seconding speeches for vice presidential candidates. Additionally, the presence of television cameras encouraged parties to conceal intra-party battling and choose geographic host cities amenable to their party. (See also this review from former CBS News executive Martin Plissner.)

That’s recognition of a new power in place. The convention changed to completely predictable when it became televisual itself, rather than a self-standing political event able to be televised. For journalists, this posed an immediate problem. If information is a measure of uncertainty reduced, then a political event without uncertainty crashes the old regime of newsworthiness.

Poof. There goes the major rationale for why the networks are there in the first place, why many thousands of journalists congregate at the conventions, why politics and public life is dominated for three days by several thousand people getting together in a hall to hail their candidate and hear speeches about him.

Now let us grant that with speeches still on the schedule there remained the dim but not impossible hope that one or two orators might break with routine, step forward and say something urgent, important, artfully divisive, newly clarifying, memorable or charismatically real. There was also the possibility that some new voice could “emerge,” someone barely known to the nation but a brilliant performer under pressure, the way some NBA players do if their team makes the finals.

Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is said to have done that with her 1976 keynote address. And Bill Clinton had this outcome in mind when, by all accounts, he bombed during his debut on the national stage in Atlanta, 1988: (“… a long and rambling keynote address that received its loudest applause from the restless convention crowd when he uttered the phrase: In conclusion…”)

There were problems with these residual possibilities: the powerful political speech by a key figure that triggers a response, creating “action” in politics; the debut speech on the national stage, which is also a kind of action, since it introduces to the narrative of politics a new player, who may figure in later, as Clinton indeed did. Both are suited for the television regime, and could make it worthwhile to watch the conventions.

But they also play havoc with a bigger imperative, enforced by the candidate’s people and by party officials, which is to test, design and control every single detail of the presentation in prime time, seen now not as a national stage where politics could happen within the party and before the public (the old regime’s definition) but as an advertising window, free for the claiming, that would be “there” for a few dwindling, precious, make-or-break prime-time hours.

For once the parties agreed, in a practical way, that the convention equalled the program the networks televised, they handed over to television the power to shrink the convention, re-frame and re-title it, leaving the party desperate to make a good showing in the tense hours that were left. Bit-by-bit the parties abandoned politics and its symbols in favor of national marketing and televised entertainment— with its symbols. This is like getting on a bus that has only one stop.

The re-definition of what the hours during a convention meant—away from political time before a national public, toward prime time before a captive, and target audience— actually failed on its own terms, a fact that no one talks about today. The parties were unsuccessful in keeping the big national audience tuned in during an era of viewer choice, but the new script worked in one sense. It allowed for high-stakes professional practice in control-the-message politics: the ultimate high for the handler class.

In fact, the whole culture of command and control that developed to such a high point during the era of media politics came to its dramatic hour during convention week. And if anyone doubted the necessity of this grip from above, there stood some reminders— not only Bill Clinton’s individual flop in ‘88, but the Republicans’ 1992 adventure in Houston, when in the words of one observer, Paul Starr of the liberal journal American Prospect:

the Republicans proclaimed a “cultural divide” (Dan Quayle), and even a “religious war” (Patrick Buchanan), trying to stoke the embers of old antagonisms into a roaring blaze that would consume the Democrats.

There was enough truth in Starr’s hostile description that the Houston convention was widely seen as a public relations disaster that contributed to the elder Bush’s defeat— an instance of “lost” control. And so by means of the keep control thesis the conventions were plunged into news-less absurdity. Nothing happens except the unfolding of a promotional plot. This created a crisis in narration, as well as information— to which the press accomodated itself by means of hyper-informed irony. The eclipse of dramatic content was summed up in the word “scripted,” as in: “the conventions have become scripted affairs,” an observation made many thousands of times from the 1970s on.

What’s fascinating to me is that journalists will still offer this observation today, at least twenty years after its SELL BY date, as if it they were tuned to something the rest of us did not grasp: it’s a show, folks… On Tuesday, July 6, the Washington Post disclosed news that had been out for months: “Parties to Allow Bloggers to Cover Conventions for First Time.” This strange article on page A4, which contained no new information, reminded us: “The conventions have become carefully staged productions intended, primarily, to reintroduce the parties’ nominees to the general public.”

Carefully staged, we have learned, means no floor fights, no major decisions, no votes that mean anything, no confusion— except on minor platform matters where losing factions could expend themselves and claim a moral victory. The reason was obvious: with the cameras watching and journalists—the narrators— ready to seize on any conflict in hopes of generating a marginally better story, the potential costs of allowing reality to break out were too great. That’s the opposite of the NBA Finals, where you never know who’s going to win.

And this is how the second regime came to a narrative dead end. As television took charge, the parties re-defined the convention into a marketing and make-no-mistakes moment. This trashed the event’s newsworthiness (also called “spontaneity”) and reduced all reasons to watch, yet it was done under the premise that Americans were watching, and so the show had to be carefully scripted to introduce or re-introduce the candidate and his “story.”

By 1976 the big three networks were no longer doing gavel to gavel coverage. In 1984, ABC cut away from Peter Jennings and David Brinkley to show an old episode of “Hart to Hart,” featuring a car chase. This underlined to party bosses that their competition was not other parties but other programming options in prime time television. The Republicans that same year featured during prime time A New Beginning, literally an infomercial from the Party, a canned film about Reagan and his leadership. The Republicans thus said to the networks: just show our ad, for this is what the convention has become, anyway, a three-day ad.

By 2000, the situation was known to be grim. Here’s Howard Kurt’s summary one night on CNN’s “Inside Politics:”

Al Gore and George W. Bush are both hoping for some convention magic this year. But what if many Americans never see the conventions? NBC, CBS, and ABC are now so dismissive of the quadrennial ritual, they plan to cover only a couple of nights during each four-day affair, and then only for an hour at a time. ABC is blowing off two evenings for “Monday Night Football,” pre-season “Monday Night Football” at that with new anchor, Dennis Miller.

The conventions are increasingly becoming a cable-only affair, with CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CSPAN carrying the action, along with PBS. The political parties once used their conventions to actually choose their nominees. Now, with voters picking the candidates during the primaries, the broadcast networks complained the conventions have become scripted, pre-packaged infomercials.

There it is again: scripted. “All this has turned the conventions into a show,” Kurtz concluded, in a judgment that had been pounded into the audience for more than twenty years, “a show with less scintillating ratings, a show so dull that Ted Koppel walked out of the ‘96 Republican convention.” That really happened. Koppel’s surrender eight years ago, a symbolic statement to the rest of the news tribe, announced that a dead end had been reached. Television had taken command of an event that it mocked from the sky box into meaninglessness. Koppel said: I’ve had enough.

And consider: it caused almost no uproar, no argument back about the importance of a journalist with his stature staying in San Diego. I found that significant. (The regime has workers, but they aren’t big believers.) “Nothing surprising has happened,” Koppel told his audience that evening, “Nothing surprising is anticipated.” (Plus the ratings were low, down 16 percent from 1992, with only 22 percent of the audience tuning in.) This is what I wrote about his decision in my 1999 book, What Are Journalists For?

Here was Ted Koppel, perhaps the most gifted television journalist of his time, host of one of the most intelligent and innovative news programs in the medium’s history—a program that in 1985 produced the first public dialogue ever between a black leader and a white official in South Africa, and in 1988 persuaded Palestinian leaders and Israeli officials to debate each other on live television, with Koppel perched on a makeshift wall between them—here was that that Ted Koppel, declaring that neither he nor his staff could think of anything useful to say or do as the Republican Party and its leadership gathered to make their statement to America.

Because the party’s statement was scripted for the cameras, a polished work of political propaganda, Koppel concluded that the event was worthless, journalistically. But what of a journalism that was worthier than the event, a report that gave Americans a better understanding of the Republicans than the Republicans cared to furnish themselves? It was hard to believe that this was beyond the capacity of “Nightline” and its veteran team. So if “the emperor has no clothes” was one way of reading Koppel’s early flight from San Diego, “I’m out of ideas” was another.

And there have been no new ideas since then. Again, this is where the bloggers come in. Maybe they will have some. I see that Kurtz in 2004 is still interested in calling the conventions “stage-managed extravaganzas devoid of any hint of spontaneity.” But are you still interested in that, after all this time? Is anyone, even Kurtz?

In fact, the search for spontaneity, drama, controversy has begun to focus on smaller and smaller decisions within the scripted plot. Here’s John Harris of the Washington Post, Kurtz’s colleague, talking with Judy Woodruff on CNN around this time four years ago:

Nonetheless, it is kind of a ticklish thing. Hillary Clinton also sees herself as a leader among national Democrats. Many of her people feel that she’s due a prime-time spot on her own, on a separate night from President Clinton. He’ll be on Monday. A lot of her people feel she should be on Tuesday. The problem with that is if you do that plan, then it becomes a 50 percent Clinton convention and only the final two days for Gore.

The Gore people really feel to address this problem that we’re discussing, this image of him as a leader, this convention has to be a defining event, in other words three solid days of Gore’s speakers and Gore’s message dominating. So it’s a little bit of a juggling act.

Three solid days of Gore’s speakers and Gore’s message dominating… That’s how behaviorists speak. In 2000, the control thesis—which had transformed the conventions into marketing, entertainment and propaganda, and then failed to hold a majority of the viewing audience with this formula—was still in place. A failed regime, continuing in office because it has no successor. Kurtz again:

But while the broadcast networks have cut back on live coverage amid declining ratings, 15,000 expense-account journalists still show up for the quadrennial gatherings, as they will this summer in Boston and New York. The cable channels will go wall-to-wall, newspapers will be awash in front-page stories, the newsmagazines will put the nominees on their covers — even though no real news is unfolding inside the arenas.

Why this army, then? Here is what I mean by a giant incoherence overtaking the event. Over the years, more and more journalists have shown up to report on political conventions that those journalists have said mean less and less. Thus did the second regime undo itself. The crisis in narration is not a problem you solve. Instead, you turn the crisis into the story, and the repetition of that story is your regime. But it spun itself into a dead end because it assumed the viewing audience, and the larger public behind it, wouldn’t learn, change, grow, demand anything new, or go for anything realer and less machined.

The only new interpretations left are cynical and circular ones, like this from Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff, who pushes the irony button perhaps harder then anyone. “If you’re remotely in the sphere of being a political reporter and you’re not at the convention, that means, almost de facto, you’re not really a political reporter,” says Wolff, who is the Stanley Fish of elite journalists.

He calls the conventions a “shared identity event.” This is how membership in the club of political journalists is expressed, made known to self and others. That you’ve come to “cover” what is newsworthy in Boston is just a fiction, a joke, empty language that suffices only for the expense form submitted after. No one believes it. The spectacle has “nothing to do with news and everything to do with who you want to be,” in Wolff’s always savvier-than-thou view.

An equally miserable description of what the conventions have become is this analysis from Rick Lyman in the New York Times last Sunday. He introduces us to the “advice” of a reality show producer:

On television, summer is the season of reruns and second-tier reality shows. And a political convention has become, at heart, little more than a reality show. So who better to offer insight than Mr. Murray, one of the founding fathers of reality television, first with MTV’s “Real World” and, more recently, with “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton.

Who better indeed? Lyman has Murray get to the heart of things. “It goes without saying that reality shows are better when you don’t know the winner,” said the producer. “And the more drama and the more potential for surprises, the better.” The most degrading and degraded programming on television—the second tier reality show—is held up as a possible model.

Roger Simon, the U.S. News columnist told Kurtz he will attend. “Even though 99 percent of it is predictable,” he says, “you always have to be prepared as a reporter for something unpredictable. That’s why we’re there — just in case.” Hmmm. So 15,000 troops are sent to protect against a one percent probability of reality breaking out. Sound convincing to you?

The journalist’s explanation for how it all happened is half-truthful: the parties turned the conventions into promotional reels, and stuck relentlessly to the script. This tells 50 percent of the story. It ignores the fact that journalists themselves developed a script to which they also stuck, and they’re still reading from it: “it’s all a big show…”

A large part of the journalist’s script is, of course, the horse race narrative. It states that in reporting on a media event, which is all about manipulated “perception,” you seize on any mistakes you find because mistakes tell you about the party’s ability to control the message, control public perception. Likewise with any unexpected conflict that disrupts, even a little, the smooth impression of a “unified” party.

These other scripts, to which journalists hold fast, are just as responsible for draining the conventions of recognizably human content, and recognizably political action, as well as all “suspense.” Just as the contemptuous decision to cutback on live coverage causes the party to invest even more in control of the remaining hours, which in turn makes the convention even more of an overplanned infomercial, indistinct from other ads. Which in turn repels the viewing audience, which in turn justifies even less coverage. (This year, three hours of prime time television are what the broadcast networks have planned.)

By repeating this at every election cycle the regime has shrunk the state in controlled fashion, but weirdly the size of the group attending to this diminished state of affairs has ballooned. Maybe it’s at the 5,000 or 6,000 mark— the number of delegates for the Democrats. Maybe it comes at 10,000. But surely at some point along the road to 15,000 news criers and media personnel we are entitled to say that they have gained ownership of this enterprise, too. Isn’t that what Ted Koppel withdrew from?

Now come the bloggers, a tiny group added to the mix, who with all their faults and shenanigans have one great advantage. They aren’t a part of the failed regime in political convention coverage. They don’t have to pretend it has the right narrative. They’re free to look with fresh eyes and re-decide what a convention actually is, knowing where the dead zones are.

Brian Faler of the Post wrote a strange account of the bloggers Tuesday, but it had one moment of insight: The conventions are “staged productions,” he said, whereas “independent blogs—especially those focusing on politics—are far more freewheeling, their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.” Faler does not contrast journalists who are credentialed with bloggers who are newly credentialed, but rather puts freewheeling bloggers up against stage-managed conventions. He leaves it to us to intuit: free-thinking opposition to the overly managed and marketed convention isn’t going to come from the press tribe, which long ago made its peace. No creative tension there.

Like most of his colleagues, Faler does the 50 percent thing. What the conventions have become is blamed on the party’s script, but not on the news media’s almost equally scripted narrative (from which I have quoted bits and pieces.) What’s the difference between a freewheeling blogger and a traditional journalist? Well, to me it’s obvious: we don’t buy the script. To which I would add (after Doc Searls): and we know there is no demand for messages. To Faler it’s also obvious: those webloggers don’t have standards! “Their authors mixing fact with opinion and under no obligation to be either fair or accurate.” Here he conflates the bloggers’ greater intellectual freedom with their right to be reckless.

To wrap up this lengthy post, my advice to the hypothetical blogger with credentials for Boston: (What’s yours? Hit the comment button and talk into the mike.) Know your history, especially what happened to the first regime in convention coverage, why it yielded to television and how it became a degraded media event. Don’t join up with the second regime, whose story went dead a long time ago. Pick up from where Koppel walked out in ‘96, and find a reason walk in. If you have your reason, but are in doubt on what to write about, then ask yourself who sent you and your laptop to Beantown. Post an account for them.

Report backwards to whatever place you came from— including the opinions you came from, the political place. Feed the user’s advice forward into your choices during the three days of whirling events. With your credentials you’re part of the interactive revolution in political writing done real time, and if you can make your work in Boston more truly interactive you can do interesting work and even break ground.

Interview people who seem to have hold of the political moment, no matter where they stand in some hierarchy. Amplify the human voice of dissent, no matter what kind of dissent it is. (Dissent from the control thesis, or voiced against the irony police, is just as good as old fashioned political dissent.) Write across the highly politicized space separating the people with passes to the convention and the petitioners outside. Guaranteed: they don’t buy the script, either.

Ideally, everything at the convention that is familar and ho-hum to the national press corps and its aspirants will seem strange and (almost) inexplicable to the blogger with fresh eyes. It would be better not to know beforehand things like: the convention is just a reality show. Against the collapsed hulk of this narrative the tiny tribe of bloggers can make no real dent. That show will go on; it’s already started in the buzz about Boston.

All the bloggers can do is begin their reckoning somewhere else, far away from the narrative’s dead zones. Six thousand people from all over the nation are coming to renew a ritual in American democracy, and it badly needs renewal. Through ritual they will try to affirm who they are as a party, and what they believe today about our country’s troubles and challenges.

Here and there signs of dissent have shown up, attacking the control thesis and its carrier class for the hollowing out of political life during presidential campaigns. The Dean candidacy seemed to take several steps away from command and control (and I was among those who seized on that as significant) but it is difficult to know what to make of that moment today. (I’ll be looking for its ghost in Boston.) Perhaps a deeper difference-maker is September 11, 2001, and the way it emits background radiation that the ironizers do not always pick up.

Remember, there is no third regime in convention reporting and commentary yet, only a public need for one. Just by starting the story over, the bloggers, I think, can come out ahead. They have been credentialed from the future to show up and play a different song in the ear of whomever cares to listen. Politics in a different key, I once called it. At the conventions, the key is life.

AfterMath: Notes, reactions & links…

UPDATE: July 8, 11:00 am
Uh-oh… PC at the DNCC? Could be. A right-leaning blogger, Bill at INDC Journal, says he was notified by official letter that he had credentials for Boston, booked a flight, and then was disinvited the next day, with the official excuse being “upon further review of the overall site capacity…” Same official signed both letters. The sad story is here… Inexplicable treatment. Sure seems like ideology and the warfare mentality won out over common sense, and, in this instance, true First Amendment values. Not to mention the open incompetence… Looks like the same thing happened to John Tabin, who has written for American Spectator, among other journals. Via Wizbang, who predicted yesterday that the DNCC would only approve Lefty bloggers…. If the story checks out, then I’m disappointed in these events. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if any “progressive” bloggers were also disinvited (possible), or whether pattern-less incompetence explains the goof (possible), but things do not look good… All this may be the reason there is no official list of credentialed bloggers… The DNCC would be wise to get ahead of the story, and this is the place where the explanation goes. (DNCC blog.) Will it?… David Weinberger agrees: “Yo, credentialing committee, how about some transparency about the criteria? How about blogging about it?”

FURTHER UPDATE: July 8, 1:30 pm
Letter from Eric Schnure of the DNCC After inquiries, I received this letter from Eric Schnure, official blogger for the DNCC. He writes….

It was first reported that we had over 50 applications. That number grew and grew. We ended up with close to 200 bloggers asking to be accredited. A great number… and a great number more than we expected.

Unfortunately, despite hours and hours working to get this right, we goofed. We offered credentials to more bloggers than we can accommodate. Thus, we acted as quickly as possible to notify people of our error.

The vast majority of applications came from left-leaning or progressive bloggers. Therefore, the vast majority of credentialed bloggers are left-leaning and progressive. Likewise, the vast majority of bloggers who received a credential in error are also left-leaning and progressive.

I cannot stress enough that our error was one of logistics not leanings.

We’ve been really proud of our blogging efforts. A lot of people have worked very hard — to get space in the hall, to get hotel rooms, to secure sponsors (every media rep. has to pay for their space, but not bloggers), to organize a breakfast on Day 1, etc.. I hope all bloggers appreciate to what extent we’ve gone to accommodate them at a national convention for the very first time. And I can only hope the conservative bloggers take us at our word. We realize our mistake has caused inconvenience and frustration; we will continue to do what we can to minimize that.

I very much look forward to meeting you in Boston.


Eric Schnure

… Schnure also said that he is working on a post at the DNCC blog and it will appear soon with more information.

Others can make their own call, but I’m willing to accept Schnure’s explanation that patternless screw ups were involved that had nothing to do with ideology. It’s plausible. And I also think the DNCC should be praised for making this decision—to expand credentials to bloggers—in the first place. Same for insisting on equal treatment for weblogs, which arguably pushed the RNC to do the same.

Sending out credentials and then withdrawing them, however, is not a small error, particularly when there is yet no official list of the nonwithdrawn, certified, good-to-go bloggers. Also, I was hoping the DNCC would have an ideological mix, and include some voices from the Right. Are there such? People want to know.

Jeff Jarvis makes his own call: “Come on, DNC: Cough up the lists… They accepted too many bloggers and then had to reject some. I don’t buy it. The equation is quite simple: We have this much room; we’re going to invite this many. Transparency, folks, transparency.”

THIRD UPDATE: July 8, 7:00 pm:
The Official Explanation— Not an Excuse. Eric Schnure, To Err is Human. The explanation from DNCC, restating what is above, with added stuff: “Understandably, it is the conservative-oriented bloggers who lost their credentials that have been the most vocal in their frustration. But I want to be very clear. Our error was one of pure logistics and not political leanings.”

FOURTH UPDATE: July 9 noon:
Rob Galgano of The Great Leap Forward is one left-leaning blogger who was also credentialed, then disinvited.

Another: Jude Nagurney Camwell, a left-side-of-the-fence blogger, who also secured herself a weblog (The Rational Liberal) at her local paper’s site,, was invited and then disinvited too.

(July 9) But see Wizbang, Quick! Look Over Those Applications Again… He’s still suspicious. So is Jeff Jarvis: “I’d say this in the comments on the DNC blog… if they allowed comments. What are you afraid of, guys? If I had applied to go to the convention and had gotten credentials, I would now be threatening to stay away unless the uninvited bloggers were reinvited.” See the comments at Buzzmachine for a range of views on credentialing and other things.

Also, see my letter that Daily Kos posted today (July 9), where I answer Jarvis and take up some other matters. And this AP report on the credentialing buzz.

Alright, back to the issue at hand: what do you think PressThink should do at the conventions, and what advice do you have for newcomers to the party, the bloggers? Tell us in comments, please.

Jonathan Dube at keeps updating his list of convention bloggers. It’s the most complete one I know about.

Let’s Be Clear, says Harvard’s Alex S. Jones: Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists (LA Times, July 18).

See my reply: For Connoisseurs of High Church Condescension…. (July 19)

Also on bloggers, the traditional press and the conventions see PressThink, If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus… (July 16)

The Republicans say they will credential 10-20 bloggers for their convention.

USA Today, Bloggers to join the mainstream at conventions, includes this: “That bloggers get front seats bothers Tom McPhail, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri. ‘They’re certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo,’ McPhail says. Bloggers ‘should be put in a different category, like pretend journalists.’ Boston-bound Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor who writes for the Web site, says the move ‘simply widens the press a little bit. I’m against both dismissal and instant celebration. To me it’s more of an experiment.’” (July 14)

Dowbrigade News (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - It Will Be Blogged) is going to Boston.

Add liberal-leaning David Pell of electablog: campaign news with all the carbs to the list of who’s going to Boston. (July 9)

I love this. Byron LaMasters, Texas liberal blogger @ Burnt Organe Report got credentials: “I’m very excited about this opportunity. I don’t know if this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or if this is something I’ll be back at every four years if I decide to make a career out of this. I’m still not sure. I have another year of college to figure it out, I suppose.”

Aldon Hynes (credentialed for Boston): Convention coverage, another view: “Democracy is too important to be left to elite cronies. It requires the participation of all Americans, and bloggers are a great example of average Americans getting involved in the discourse.” Plus other interesting stuff on how Hynes plans to approach things at the convention.

Oxblog, generally described as right of center, reports receiving (on July 8th) “a very nice call from the DNC, saying very kind words about our blog and inviting us to cover the Boston convention as an accredited blogger.” So they’re Boston Bound.

Rich Heller will be blogging in Boston for the Centrist Coalition.

Dave Winer of Scripting News got the nod and will be blogging from Boston. That’s cool. And Winer reports that Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire will be there too: “Goddard is a good choice because he doesn’t spin, he’s just curious about what’s going on and passes along what he learns,” says Winer.

Dave Weinberger will be blogging in Boston (“just received a letter, paper and everything”) and had this to say:

I have no interest in reporting the events for “the record” because there are 15,000 Professional Journalists there who’ll do that far better than I could. I’m going as a citizen who - thanks to blogs - happens to have a (theoretically) global platform. I guess I’m viewing this as being like writing a travelogue for the folks back home, except as a citizen, I’m a partisan with a stake in what happens.

Halley Suitt of Halley’s Comment: 10 Good Reasons I’m Not Blogging The Democratic Convention: “I applied and probably would have gotten credentials for the Demo Convention here in Boston, and may still get them, for what it’s worth, but I’m definitely not going.”

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, orginator of the Daily Kos, is going to the convention. He writes:

I’ll tell you what won’t work — dropping press releases on our laps. And while some of the bloggers will do heavy speech coverage, many of us won’t. I find the things dreary. There’s always more interesting stuff happening — consultants roam the floor, always happy to give their take on this race or that. Candidates and celebrities will make appearances. Candidates are sometimes interesting, celebrities we can make fun of. And the campaign consultants? That’s where the good stuff lives.

Jerome Armstrong is credentialed in Boston. He attended the California State Party convention in 2003 as a blogger: “The most curious thing that I observed, was that by simply holding a mic or a pencil and pad, you could walk up to a politician/operative, they’d see the creds hanging around your neck, and start talking.”

Jeralyn Merritt, TalkLeft Gets Press Credentials For Democratic Convention. Jonathan Dube at is keeping a list. And Dave Winer has set up a community site for bloggers going to the DNCC. The Democrats’ official convention weblog (written by Eric Schnure and Matt Stoller) is here.

Kos links to this strangely alarmist piece by Charles Cooper, senior editor of C-NET:

The last thing the respective handlers want is to invite a wild card. Imagine Michael Moore at the Republican National Convention. How about Rush Limbaugh hanging out while John Kerry delivers his stem-winder? You get the idea: Control the message at all costs.

“You’ve got to closely watch what they do,” a political consultant recently told me, adding that campaigns can’t afford to adopt a casual approach to blogs that pop up during races. “Some of them are really crazy.”

If not crazy, then agitated. If not agitated, definitely hostile. And if not hostile, then most assuredly independent. Such may be the attributes of blogging democracy, but it sure ain’t what political professionals want to unleash into the midst of their media moment of the summer.

Ernest Miller of Corante on Blogging the Political Conventions. (June 21, 2004)

Mary Hodder of UC Berkeley, in a post that covers many bases: “Journalism used to be a very one-way affair (despite letters to the editor…) Neither form, blogging or journalism, is a replacement for the other. In fact, they need each other and could not exist or live without each other at this point. Bloggers rely heavily on the reporting done in news stories, and Journalists often rely on stories bubbling up on the blogosphere.”

Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk, is quoted in this Agence France-Presse piece: (July 5, 2004)

But media critics caution against treating bloggers as real journalists, especially highlighting instances such as reports of an alleged affair between Kerry and an intern Alexandra Polier. Many bloggers were eager to spread the reports.

“It’s just the latest manifestation of the vanity press,” said Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk, that analyzes bloggers as part of its media coverage.

Earlier this year: Boston Globe, Blogs colliding with traditional media (Joanna Weiss, May 10, 2004.)

“Most of them don’t consider themselves journalists and I’ll be the first to tell you that,” Lovelady commented.

Adam Penenberg, a new recuit to the NYU Journalism Faculty, writes the Media Hack column for Wired. His current one is John Kerry and the Lost Kos, about the de-linking controversy Daily Kos was involved in with the Kerry campaign. PressThink on the same events, Sudden Meaning of the Political Verb: to Link.

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 7, 2004 2:03 PM   Print



Good luck, and cheers to hope. I'll hope, in the tone of your article, that you find meaning and substance there.

I suspect that stories might be found in two places. One you mention: a stage for new faces - or the re-emergence of those who have already had one face. The second might be in those who are trying to cut through the rhetoric, to solidify on meaningful ideas - and the challenges they face. Who knows: there may even be a new face who is trying to cut through the rhetoric! That would be a story!

Question: Will you go to New York's convention as well?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 7, 2004 3:24 PM | Permalink

Potential AfterMatter:

Blogging the Political Conventions

Blogging the Political Conventions

Posted by: Tim at July 7, 2004 3:48 PM | Permalink

Recommendations for bloggers at the convention?

1) The vendor’s area has some nice patriotic themed merchandise. I purchased two hand-painted silk ties in Philadelphia. I’ve not found anything as nice elsewhere.
2) Have a friend watch the coverage on TV. This frees you up from the programmed course and allows you to set your own agenda.
3) . . . well, only two then.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 7, 2004 4:11 PM | Permalink

"Ritual of democracy" is, I think, exactly the wrong phrase for a convention blogger to take into the fray—even worse, the notion that said ritual might, ought to be, subject to "renewal." The convention narrative is at a dead end? Yes, but that's not an argument for some new (more credulous?) narrative regime, because the dead end isn't merely a problem of rhetorical opportunity: the convention, as a political form, has outlived its era.

Which is the thing the institutional press is dishonest about, and which ought to be a real journalistic subject. Dialectically speaking, there's really only one choice open to convention bloggers: blog the press. Given that this is the quadrennial identity event for corporate political journalism—and given the resistance of corporate political journalism to examine its own constitutive presence within our regime of corporate "democracy"—what better agenda could bloggers have? Turn your eyes on the one thing the press in attendance will refuse to turn an eye on, at least as a political entity: itself. Anthropologize the event. Scurry about underfoot, watch the big dinosaurs ignore you, or look at you with contempt, tell us what their tribal rituals look like, tell us where and how the boundaries are drawn. That's the real politics of the event, and that kind of reporting is what will engage me.

Posted by: Reading A1 at July 7, 2004 5:52 PM | Permalink

My wish list would look much like A1's:

1. Blog the pig. If the MSM will be occupied covering the shade and color of lipstick, blog the pig. What is the lipstick distracting us from? What political deals and dissatisfactions are not being reported? What political planks are not being adopted by the nominees but are important to the delegates? What was decided beforehand or behind the scenes to present the veneer of a controlled media event? (Anthropologize the event?)

2. Blog the flies. Describe the movements of the MSM off camera and after hours. Explain why they chose to swarm at the head or tail of the pig, and what they did not see happening at the other end. How attracted or disaffected were they, individually or as a group, with events and people inside and outside of the arena, er, pigpen. (Blog the press?)

3. Blog the pen. Who are the contractors and behind the scenes organizers that move the delegates and press and players? Who are, and what is it like to be a volunteer? What are the first experiences, rewards and dissatisfactions? What color and texture is the mud? How strong are the boards the contain and sustain the pig?

4. Do not blog the speeches and pat interviews.

Posted by: Tim at July 7, 2004 6:22 PM | Permalink

Bring a pillow?

Bring a good video game or DVD?

Bring a MOPP Suit?

Seriously, your text demonstrates that, barring the unexpected, there will be no news at the convention. One could write a meta-story, about all the other bloggers, I guess, but otherwise, what's the point.

It's like going to a horse race where the results are already known. Unless a horse stumbles, nothing happened.

The most interesting activity will be the demonstrators, and they won't be inside. And at this point, even modern demonstrators are pretty much passe - you know they are going to be there; a few will break some windows; you know what they are going to say and the various signs and symbology they will carry. So they aren't even news - just more colorful and chaotic.

Along with the pillow, a blanket might be useful.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 7, 2004 6:28 PM | Permalink

To sum it up in a few words:

Conventions == Pep Rallies

So one can do a sort of anthropology, a dissection of the Deep Meaning Of It All. Or a General Reflection On The Body Politic.

Note the above article eventually takes a very standard narrative itself - "What will the Young turks, The Marvericks, Those Wild And Grazy Guys And Gals, uncover that the Old Guard has missed."?

But if there is no there there, being there won't create a there, except in a self-referential navel-gazing manner.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 7, 2004 7:31 PM | Permalink

I first studied slant in the news in the 1960s at the NYC transit negotiations at the time John Lindsay was first elected Mayor. Slant came from ignorance and from boredom -- professional journalists at the Sheraton having to scrape enough "News" together for deadlines... including this TV gem that was actually broadcast: "I polled the reporters here and half of them feel a settlement is near and half don't."

You'll be in an equally vast sea of everything that amounts to nothing.

  • Find out for us, what makes otherwise sensible people wear such cheap, baroque buttons, hats and scarves.
  • Find out for us, what makes delegates overcome their embarrassment to populate bogus scripted "celebrations."
  • And, if you really want to get a double-take, pause, and perhaps something beyond typical cant, ask delegates what ideas they like from Republicans that ought to be woven in to the Democrats' program.
Oh, yeah. Take a phoneCam and extra batteries.

Posted by: sbw at July 7, 2004 8:22 PM | Permalink

Haven't conventions always been scripted?

Isn't the problem actually contained in the move from "theater" to television?

In that, the video camera, in its mindless capacity to reproduce reality endlessly, introduces a distrust of scripts? It mercilessly reveals the theatricality of public events, and that theatricality is interpreted as false.

I don't see how blogging represents an advance if the blogging is proposed as a way of further discrediting "scriptedness".

Isn't "not buying the script" precisely the sort of cynical awareness that actually makes the post-ideological political convention possible.

So isn't the problem that in the past forty years, the rise of distrust of scriptedness, rather than the rise of scriptedness, is actually what made it possible to remove all drama from the script, i.e., now we look to reality (reality tv) for (psycho-)drama, while we expecting public events to consist of apolitical banal "reality"?

How would blogging change that?

And isn't terrorism, in its essence, a hatred of scripts?

Posted by: panopticon at July 7, 2004 9:27 PM | Permalink

And also isn't terrorism, in its essence, a hatred of unscriptedness?

i.e., an assertion of scripture?

Posted by: panopticon at July 7, 2004 9:59 PM | Permalink

Adam Penenberg, a new recuit to the NYU Journalism Faculty, writes the Media Hack column for Wired. His current one is John Kerry and the Lost Kos, about the de-linking controversy Daily Kos was involved in with the Kerry campaign.

This calls for a political economy of the link exchange as a species of micro-economics. Link exchange value.

That is, Kos's value is seen to inhere in the link, rather than in the ideational content his site produces. i.e., a digitalized form of commodity fetishism.

Posted by: panopticon at July 7, 2004 11:26 PM | Permalink

Four in a row, but so much to run through the mill of my Gin.

Dialectically speaking, there's really only one choice open to convention bloggers: blog the press.

I don't that's speaking dialectically at all. Self-contained, self-referential loop is more like it.

Isn't the real issue: what if the *delegates* blogged?

Posted by: panopticon at July 7, 2004 11:52 PM | Permalink

In the days of Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater, it was the other way around. The election year story had a dramatic Act II before the speed of television overtook the hunt for convention delegates. Primaries were engineered to give horses back in the pack a fighting chance. Also-rans had enough support to wage floor fights at the convention. In 1960, John F. Kennedy's nomination was still in doubt just a week before Los Angeles. source

Isn't it probable that this "drama" was actually the epitome of stage management rather than spontaneity?

I mean, isn't "drama", by definiton, stage-managed?

Posted by: panopticon at July 8, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink

panopticon: How would blogging change [scriptedness]?

Good point. Bloggers are just observers, with no greater insight than standard journalists, but with perhaps greater freedom to muse.

panopticon: Isn't the real issue: what if the *delegates* blogged?

Good point, too. The blogging credentialed journalist is a newsie. The blogging delegate is writing a public journal about his personal experience.

Posted by: sbw at July 8, 2004 9:53 AM | Permalink

I read in Newsweek yesterday about all the elaborate corporate-sponsored fund-raising parties taking place at the conventions this year (e.g. the RIAA is having one at the Democratic convention). This is the kind of story I doubt mainstream journalists would cover in much detail, so it's perfect for bloggers.

As a blog reader, I am particularly interested to hear about who is sponsoring and attending what parties. This shows who's funding a given candidate, which says a lot about the strings he'll have attached when he enters office.

Posted by: Susanna at July 8, 2004 11:08 AM | Permalink

Inexplicable treatment. Seems like ideology and the warfare mentality won out over common sense, and, in this instance, true First Amendment values.

The news: A nation divided

Don't expect the Republican convention gatekeepers to behave any differently if there is not an effective outcry now.

What's interesting is whether a "stink" from the blogosphere, even if bipartisan, would have the influence to make an impact - or if the influence of the MSM is needed, and offered in defense of principles, or commercial interests?

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2004 11:44 AM | Permalink

There are many good suggestions above. I was particularly taken with Susanna's suggestion: who is paying to influence the process, ergo, report on the parties.

For pre-convention reading I'd recommend searching out "How We Elect Our Presidents" by the legendary Will Rogers. Much of the book consists of Rogers' newspaper columns in those pre-television days. There's a lot to learn in his books, both about political substance and writing/reporting style. In this context I'd consider Rogers a proto-blogger.

Posted by: Roger Karraker at July 8, 2004 12:32 PM | Permalink

panopticon: Isn't the real issue: what if the *delegates* blogged?

Good point, too. The blogging credentialed journalist is a newsie. The blogging delegate is writing a public journal about his personal experience.

I was thinking more like that inviting 50 selected bloggers to the convention is part of the formation of a new power elite, whereas the blogging of the delegates would approach more closely the notion of direct democracy, and also empower individual delegates in unpredictable ways.

I don't know much about conventions. Can delegates go renegade?

Posted by: panopticon at July 8, 2004 2:23 PM | Permalink

Sending out credentials and then withdrawing them, however, is not a small error, particularly when there is yet no official list of the nonwithdrawn, certified, good-to-go bloggers. Also, I was hoping the DNCC would have an ideological mix, and include some voices from the Right. Are there such?

I imagine there is a list that, at some point, could be posted of the credentialed, denied and revoked. I expect there is even greater hesitancy now to be transparent with the greater sensitivity from the first error and resulting buzz.

Experiments in democracy are never easy, never perfect, rarely appreciated during the fact, and always beseiged by pessimists and cynics. Good for the DNCC for trying.

Now, go get 'em! Heh.

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2004 2:47 PM | Permalink

Where does the hate come from?

Political discourse frequently has animosity. I’m told by those that have looked into history that this year’s race is not unique. Certainly Hamilton and Burr represent a level of animosity not so far present in this year’s political discourse. Nonetheless, the animosity has reached the level of hate, and has crept from the beltway around Washington, to the bars, backyards, and living rooms all over America. Where does it come from?

Certainly there are reasons for disagreement. Almost any of the following points can start an argument, cause people to leave the room, or start a ‘flame war:’
• Top 2% of Americans
• Haliburton
• Lied to us about WMD
• Has voted for over 100 tax increases
• Progress in Iraq
• Stole the election
• Has stood on every side of every issue
• Over 2.1 million jobs
• Robust recovery
• Patriot Act
• No Child Left Behind
• Most liberal

These points don’t seem hate engendering. Each, taken alone seems to be something that reasonable people can see in different ways and come to different conclusions. Even taken as a bundle of issues, perhaps along with several more like them; does it seem that these points engender hatred?

Is something stoking the passion? Is the need to have a snappy sound-bite response removing actual discourse? Are inaccurate or incorrect assertions being repeated as though they were fact? What causes the combustion taking us from rational disagreement and discourse to irrational, impassioned, ideologues? What fills us – as a nation - with so much hatred?

What role does the media, the press and the MSM have to play in this? Is this serving the public need? Is this for the greater good? Is this the assumed duty of the journalists?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 8, 2004 3:08 PM | Permalink


Since you haven't had your credentials yanked, perhaps the DNC thinks you are... malleable... or in their pocket... or... Lord knows what else.

Can you take the pressure? Can you handle the truth?

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode...

Posted by: sbw at July 8, 2004 3:23 PM | Permalink

panopticon: Isn't the real issue: what if the *delegates* blogged?

Delegates will be blogging. See for a little bit of a discussion of that.

Can delegates go renegade?
Yeah, there are lots of stories about delegates going renegade, and stories circulating already about delegates thinking about going renegade in Boston.

Posted by: Aldon Hynes at July 8, 2004 4:57 PM | Permalink

Delegates will be blogging.

That's awesome. There needs to be an aggregator site that can collect the RSS feeds and blog links.

Posted by: panopticon at July 8, 2004 5:11 PM | Permalink

Hmmm. Is this the aggregator? I left the comment about wikis.

Posted by: panopticon at July 8, 2004 5:33 PM | Permalink

Without notifying the people involved, we do not announce the names of those who have applied for -- or received -- credentials (that goes for traditional media and bloggers). I don't know if a convention ever has.

That has the ring of truth to it. I wonder if a blogger couldn't put up post and ask other bloggers that applied to list themselves, their status (cred, denied, revoked, haven't heard) and if they release the DNCC to confirm/clarify.

I'm not sure that if I was at the DNCC I'd think it's a good idea, unless my "trust me, we goofed - honestly" explanation wasn't getting the job done.

So here’s the excuse. We made a mistake. Everyone does. (Although, I should note that George W. Bush can't think of a single one he's made.)

He should have linked.

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2004 9:41 PM | Permalink

I would say Aldon is on the right track! But forget about re-reading that insufferably stupid Cluetrain Manifesto - you're not making the world safe for new markets, you're creating a dangerous new form of democratic practice!

Posted by: panopticon at July 8, 2004 10:35 PM | Permalink


I have been assigned credentials to blog for the Centrist Coalition's blog, Centerfield.

Hope to see you there!

Posted by: Rick Heller at July 8, 2004 10:36 PM | Permalink

I said this:

I was thinking more like that inviting 50 selected bloggers to the convention is part of the formation of a new power elite, whereas the blogging of the delegates would approach more closely the notion of direct democracy, and also empower individual delegates in unpredictable ways.

But I wonder. The blogging of delegates is being enabled by Aldon, who is a veteran of deanspace but also a Wall Street mercenary.

But Jay's son, who was formative of DeanSpace, no longer appears to be involved in it.

When I look at civicspacelabs, I think that's more in line with the future, but it doesn't appear to be involved in anything.

Posted by: panopticon at July 9, 2004 12:35 AM | Permalink

jay said:

That you've come to "cover" what is newsworthy in Boston is just a fiction, a joke, empty language that suffices only for the expense form submitted after.

Aren't the bloggers in Boston allowed in not with "press" credentials, but with "media" credentials - just like folks from Comedy Central?

Posted by: panopticon at July 9, 2004 12:46 AM | Permalink

er, jay's nephew. pardon..

Posted by: panopticon at July 9, 2004 1:05 AM | Permalink

What Zack Rosen is doing IS the future. Not many realize it now, but so much the better. There is no single bit of work going on right now with greater future implications for the political world than what Zack is doing.

Posted by: kos at July 9, 2004 1:06 AM | Permalink

I agree. I think that was my point.

Posted by: panopticon at July 9, 2004 1:08 AM | Permalink

Dissent. Punditry Is Not Democracy.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 9, 2004 1:45 AM | Permalink

pan.... I didn't say, That you've come to "cover" what is newsworthy in Boston is just a fiction, a joke, empty language that suffices only for the expense form submitted after.

I was saying Michael Wolff's attitude was that.

Yes, Zack Rosen is my nephew, but I accept all compliments as if he were my son.

So what do you guys think I should do there...? (Seth is exempt from answering because he thinks I am wasting my time.)

One idea I have is to do audio interviews with journalists asking each one I can drag before the mike... why are you here? Not in a cynical way, but because I want to know. But I have to figure out how to make PressThink an audio blog, first, then how to use the editing software for a digital recorder, etc.

Stephen: It's possible I am being snowed, used by the DNCC, but I doubt it.

By "not buying the script," I meant the script journalists have developed to tell us about a scripted convention.

I don't agree with Reading A1 that "the convention, as a political form, has outlived its era." It's that no one has tried to give it proper form for a new era. "Ritual" is only a sad word, a dead word, a newless word if you don't understand political ritual.

Maybe the convention is neither what the party planners say it is, nor what the press says it's become. This, anyway, was the theme of my post. But it took me 4,600 words to say it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 2:54 AM | Permalink

So what do you guys think I should do there... ? (Seth is exempt from answering because he thinks I am wasting my time.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 2:56 AM | Permalink

Speaking as a (left-wing) blogger who got his credentials granted and then taken away, I don't think there was a pattern.

I'm not as upset as some, since I was only granted "perimeter access" (whatever that is).

But it's still a fuck-up, and I'm not happy.

Posted by: Rob Galgano at July 9, 2004 9:04 AM | Permalink


One idea I have is to do audio interviews with journalists asking each one I can drag before the mike... why are you here? Not in a cynical way, but because I want to know.

What a wonderfully innocent, non-controversial, unloaded, academically inquisitive approach.

To which I reply, "What fer?"

How is that different (and it may intentionally not be) from the answer you would get with the:

1. campaign question?
2. campaign lull contrast question?
3. CENTCOM's media complex question?
4. the strategy question?
5. the bias question?

Blogging is not journalism: Is your convention objective to ink the meta of political journalism (or is that a media critic's blogging focus rather than generalized blogging), is it meant to open journalism in some way with the convention as a lab case, or is it to provide a meta-narrative or alternate narrative to the scripts prepared by the convention over-lords and one-note press?

Who's mind are you targeting to change with that question?

Oh, and I'm not asking in a cynical way, but because I want to know.


Rob Galgano

... and I'm not happy.

Neither is Jeff. What are your reactions to this recommendation?

If I had applied to go to the convention and had gotten credentials, I would now be threatening to stay away unless the uninvited bloggers were reinvited. Even news organizations -- snakey as they can be -- would stand together on such principle. So should we bloggers. So I think some of the bloggers who are going should threaten to stay home until those disinvited bloggers are reinvited.

Posted by: Tim at July 9, 2004 10:52 AM | Permalink

Please define "regime". 20+ times it appears in the original post and while I eventually cottoned on to what you were getting at ("paradigm" maybe?), the word "regime" struck me as jarringly wrong. Does it have some special meaning in journalism or academia?

Posted by: Pedant at July 9, 2004 11:15 AM | Permalink

Jay:Stephen: It's possible I am being snowed, used by the DNCC, but I doubt it.

Don't mind me. I was trying to be lighthearted and haven't the skill.

Posted by: sbw at July 9, 2004 11:40 AM | Permalink

Well I'm going to the convention as a volunteer, and since I don't live in Boston, its actually quite an expense for me to go.

I find it interesting that for all the talk about how "scripted" the media says the Conventions have become I still have very few expectations as to what I'll find when I get there. I know they give speeches during conventions, but that's about it. I'm not even sure I knwo what all the speeches (except the key note) are about. I know balloons drop from the ceiling at the last moment too.

Posted by: catrina at July 9, 2004 11:58 AM | Permalink

Mark: But is your argument, then, really with me?

Of course, we'll face the journalism hacks who are offended that bloggers are being credentialed. We ran into some of that at the California convention (when the word "blog" was even less known than today), and there will be plenty of that in Boston. You know the types -- "I went to journalism school and worked hard to earn my living, so why should they let the riff raff in?" Yeah. I have a degree in journalism (among other things) and it was a freakin' joke. But whatever. Many will still moan about it and work to minimize or discredit the bloggers. - kos

Posted by: Tim at July 9, 2004 1:03 PM | Permalink

I remember a few years ago that someone suggested that the roles women were getting to play in government meant that the power brokers were seeing government as meaningless. Could the same thing be said of bloggers covering conventions? Seriously, I think the conventions have long served their time, except, possibly to create excitment within the most active party workers, sort of like a Mary Kay convention, which on-line might not be able to do that job as well. I predict that bloggers will turn out the same kind of meaningless color commentary that the mainstream media does, although each blog will be colored more by its usual bias than by any effort at factual reporting. (Don't bother responding with comments about mainstream press bias.) I can remember when the conventions were exciting to listen to on radio and even when they were fun to watch on television. Today they are just boring to the run-of-the-mill observer which is why the mainstream media are barely covering them any more. It's kind of like covering a meeting of Eastern Star, they're in town, hooray, but what else is new? There's no need to get so academic about it like it's a brand-new paradigm in news coverage.

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at July 9, 2004 1:44 PM | Permalink

Pedant: Regime is used as a metaphor. In this case it means: the people and organizations in charge, together with the rules and principles and rationales by which they govern the situation--here, a political convention in the media age.

Since one of the ideas I wanted to get across is unfamiliar, I used an unfamiliar noun. It was not supposed to scan quickly into your mind in a "oh yeah" way. The idea is that Big Media, especially television with its sky booths and roaming reporters, but also other correspondents, pundits, and columnists are, in effect, co-owners of what the conventions have become, and thus of this event-- co-owners, of course, with the parties and the pros who handle things for them. And the owners are also in charge.

So what do you call the group--Big Media, plus party Bigwigs--that make the conventions what they are, the gang that "runs" the ritual? My word is the convention "regime." But this is also a regime in the mind, a way of thinking and talking about the conventions, which I am attempting to describe, display, question and, I suppose in some fashion, to subvert.

Maybe using regime in that way is a bit academic. But then... so was your question to me, and a fully appropriate one too. Cheers.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 2:00 PM | Permalink

Tim: in answer to your question about my own "blogging objective" at the convention, I do not have a plan or definite focus yet. For an objective, I find something frightfully simple, like "write good posts" or "tell a story others aren't telling" works fine.

In my mind, PressThink is my own personal magazine (but interactive with users and the Web.) So I'm taking that magazine to Boston. What that means, yet, I am not sure, except that I plan to observe and obey the arguments and truths in my essay here. I also want to interview people. I do like the "why are you here?" question, though for the reason you cite-- it's open-ended, unlike the convention itself.

In general, I find that I am most useful to journalists and people interested in the patterns of the press, when I take an intense interest in something about journalism that academics would agree is significant, and have their own terms for. An example would be "legitimacy crisis." Very frequently such things are not signficant at all, or even noticed, within the press tribe itself. They don't compute, or people don't care. Or the cause is obvious to them, and so they don't think about it.

Very frequently the construction I am using to generate a post is never named in the post. I haven't used the term legitimacy crisis much, if ever. But I have done about 20 posts on it. So many of the key terms are submerged.

Once I have a few ideas generated this way (and regime, as I said to Pedant, would be an example for the current "cover story") I then go looking for bits and items, quotes and links, from the mainstream press itself, or the headlines, in support of idea that maybe originated elsewhere but might be found floating around in Howard Kurt's column, in Tim Rutten's mind, in this news story I found from the Boston Globe, at Romenesko.

By picking up those examples, excerpts and illustrations, then, I find the way I want to walk it, gown to town, in making the vital connections between a press academic's "significance markers" and the journalists's day-to-day universe, as well as the intelligent lay reader's knowledge and expectations. And 4,000 words later, hopefully, there's a new cover story at PressThink.

Doesn't really answer your question. Except to say that my objective is to keep doing that, but in shorter bursts. Finally, your linking to earlier PressThink pieces on spin, insider baseball, strategy news, the horse race, made me realize. The same regime I am writing about here is the regime running things over at (Spin Alley.

I have one other idea at this point, with 17 days to go: I want to watch press think happen somehow at the convention, like... go see it myself. It's easy to watch the press work, much harder to watch it "think."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 3:16 PM | Permalink

Also, see my letter that Daily Kos posted today (July 9), where I answer Jarvis and take up some other matters.

The bloggers bring something with them beyond their laptops, links and posts, and I think it can be described as a kind of Internet openness, or just the demand for such, or maybe it comes in as a controversy about openness, or an exposure of where transparency is lacking somewhere, or a dust up within the traditional press, or just a bunch of decisions that people aren't used to making.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 4:34 PM | Permalink

jay said:

[1] 'Alright, what do you think PressThink should do at the conventions, ... for newcomers to the party, the bloggers? ...'

[2] '... I do like the "why are you here?" question, though for the reason you cite-- it's open-ended, unlike the convention itself.'

'follow the money' [deep throat, 1972]

at both conventions there will be (should be?) some 'long-form' journalism played out with both the *public and the *semi-public corporate sponsors, i.e. verizon, sprint, nextel, gm/ford, chase, citi, etc. ... will be at both and be very public.

there will be other, quieter sponsors that are 'traditionally' democrat or republican that will be hedging their bets - catching the 'midnight train' as it were. i think it would be especially telling & predictive if several traditionally republican constituancies are in boston. i'd like to know their thought processes.

in addition to asking 'why are you here?', ask 'who is not here who should be? why not?'

also kerry's thread & focus of last week (if anybody can discern coherence in anything kerry does, o'course) was migrating to the middle and doing everything possible to appear less threatening to business; less threatening to abortion opponents; less threatening to ...

with the selection of edwards, and with the rhetoric of the last few days, 'us & them' populism is back in style. egregious class- and cultural-warfare is (almost always) a loser's gambit. i'd like to know what the sponsors (especially) think the change of focus.

the movers & shakers of the money crowd (not to be confused with their pr operatives) are not going to be easy to get to, but i'd sure like to know their thoughts on which rather extreme political action they are following/abandoning.

and how comfortable or uncomfortable they are with their choice, whether stay or change.

Posted by: diderot at July 9, 2004 4:55 PM | Permalink

Poster Mark York has been banned from PressThink (first time that's happened and I hope the last) for repeated flaming and insulting others, after several explicit warnings in other threads, after I deleted many of his posts so he would get the hint. I also asked him to leave. He thinks I kicked him out because he's a liberal. That is wrong.

All his posts are gone, as there was no other way my webmaster could find. That is painful to do to your own blog, and to you people. So if you see references to Mark, but cannot figure out why, I am telling you why. My apologies to all.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 9, 2004 7:32 PM | Permalink

I'm a blogger than got decredentialed. As a left (DNC '96 delegate)leaner and right ( blogger i'm not sure if there were any politics at play.

Posted by: Clay Butcher at July 9, 2004 8:15 PM | Permalink

There are plenty of great stories at political conventions. Here are some of the stories I am interested in following-

Posted by: Alice Marshall at July 9, 2004 9:24 PM | Permalink

Well, I guess its a good thing I'm not a journalist. I posted with the idea that nothing interesting could be found.

The a zillion people popped in with all sorts of potentially interesting ideas.

Have fun, Jay. It should be interesting.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 9, 2004 9:44 PM | Permalink

No demand for messages?

(Whatever happened to Medium is the Message?)

No, there's no demand for poetry.

Posted by: degustibus at July 9, 2004 11:28 PM | Permalink

The medium is the massage?

Scripts: Moveable Type and other blogging softwares aren't (televison or computer) programs, they're scripts (or collections of scripts) written in scripting languages like perl and php.

So really, you should see the blogging of the convention not as description or de-scripting, but as the inscription of a new symbolic order.

Posted by: panopticon at July 10, 2004 2:16 AM | Permalink

I won't suggest what you should do, Jay. I'll just say I'm pleased you'll be there.

And Mark York? He *wanted* to be banned. It gives him a story to tell.

Posted by: Patterico at July 10, 2004 2:30 AM | Permalink

Dems Credential Bloggers; GOP Will, Too (TCP)

Anticipating criticisms that decisions were ideologically based, Wilhide said only two of the 20 credentials rescinded were for “right-leaning” blogs. She pointed to the approval of at least one “right-leaning” blog, Oxblog, though the co-founder who applied, Patrick Belton, is a registered Democrat who considers himself centrist.

Thought this was worth the update. Thanks for the reply, Jay. That was much more insight into your approach to writing than I expected.

It will be interesting to see how much blogging and how much journalism shows up in your posts.

Posted by: Tim at July 10, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink

Having read all the suggestions and comments, I've resolved to avoid the blogosphere as much as I will be avoiding television during the conventions.

The credentialling of bloggers AS bloggers is a sign of the ossification of the blogosphere (can someone PLEASE come up with a better word than that?) When a blogger start being worried about whether they are credentialed to a non-event like a political convention, you know that s/he is past his/her sell-by date as a blogger worth reading. Caring about getting credentialled is a sign that the blogger wants the status of an "official" insider, and a "power" in the blogging world. The corruption that is a necessary part of "access" will not be far behind.

So, my suggestion as to what/how bloggers should cover the conventions is DON'T cover the conventions. Spend the entire four days going to as many free parties, eating as much free food and drinking as much free booze as possible.

The day after the convention, once you have recovered from your mega-hangover, tell us what you remember. Maybe some of it will be interesting and important.

Posted by: paul_lukasiak at July 11, 2004 8:04 AM | Permalink

Good essay, and the update at the end, even more interesting. It may be that blogging is the best resource ever for newsgathering. If you hadn't posted that essay, would we ever have found out that so many bloggers had been de-credentialed?

Conventions seem to me like four-day commercials. But maybe that's just what you see on TV. Perhaps bloggers, communicating through the internet, will come across stories by reading each other's posts, just as you have with the credentialling.

Good luck. I'm just hoping that Al Queda doesn't make this one, or the one in NY, more interesting. I'd prefer the boring balloon-filled commercial to that. Especially as my husband will be at both.

Posted by: Debbie Galant at July 11, 2004 8:25 AM | Permalink

Pre-convention perusing?

Fat Man Fed Up

Among other things, he writes about "spinning" the results of debates, about the role of television versus that of newspapers and about liberals versus conservatives. He also dredges up some old political scandals, such as former Sen. Gary Hart's affair with Donna Rice aboard the good ship Monkeybusiness.
And, delightfully, he points out the differences between his generation of reporters and today's generation. His generation -- and this is true -- sought out sources and spent their nights drinking booze and eating steaks and ribs with them, talking to them, never betraying them. Today's generation seeks out each other, drinks wine or designer water and eats fish. Unlike the Jack Germonds of the trade, "they tend to go to bed before closing time."

Posted by: Tim at July 11, 2004 11:23 AM | Permalink

I am a delegate to the DNC this year, my first time. I found this whole discussion, and the article that sparked it, interesting in the extreme. I look forward to seeing y'all there.

Mike Lowrey
Dean delegate, 4th Wisconsin Cong. District

Posted by: Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey at July 11, 2004 6:07 PM | Permalink

Caring about getting credentialled is a sign that the blogger wants the status of an "official" insider, and a "power" in the blogging world.

This is not exactly a revelation. In a sense, the internet has the potential to be a permanent High School from which all future generations will never graduate. Many bloggers, at present, are the yearbook geeks, or the AV geeks, who measure their wannabe social ranking via their Technorati status.

It could go either way: is the blogoshpere going to be a self-organizing political community of the previously "excluded" that continues to exist outside the mainstream as a sort of geek/populist utopia, or will it be an embedded filter whose purpose is to fine tune that exclusion and promote the acceptable blogging "candidates" into the mainstream?

The enthusiasm of bloggers re: credentials can't be reduced merely to the latter, cynical explanation - maybe it's best, at this early stage in the game, to give them the benefit of the doubt, while reserving the right to doubt the benefit.

Posted by: panopticon at July 11, 2004 11:21 PM | Permalink

Let me interrupt the journalistic confab here with the piece of news that all journalists should be concerned about: is reporting that Brian Roehrkasse of the Home Security persuasion has said that there have been concerns about delaying or cancelling this fall's elections if we are faced with a terrorist attack that day or for several days ahead, ala Spain. The man whose finger would be on the button would, believe it or not, be a Baptist minister. It seems to me that some democratic governments around the world in the 20th Century fell just to that sort of chicanery. If Congress approves something like that, I would be very concerned if the polls show our current excuse for a leader trailing just before the election.

Posted by: Chuck Rightmire at July 12, 2004 12:07 AM | Permalink

Officials discuss how to delay Election Day

Noting that New York election officials were able to postpone their September 11, 2001, primary election after terrorists slammed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, Cox said "there isn't any body that has that authority to do that for federal elections."
Hmmmm ... So if NYC (or Broward County, Florida) gets hit on election day, would you be happy to vote without them?

Posted by: Tim at July 12, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink

KERRY: And I believe if you talk with Warren Hoge or you talk to David Sanger, you talk to other people around the world, they will confirm to you, I believe, that it may well take a new president to restore America's credibility on a global basis so that we can deal with other countries and bring people back into alliances. The credibility of this country has been tarnished by this president. We can restore it. We will restore it.

Is it normal for a presidential candidate to drop names of reporters as a credibility boost?

Is this an extreme reversal of the Bush Thesis. The press not only represents the public, but has become a referential expert unto themselves separate from the public and politicos?

Posted by: Tim at July 12, 2004 5:36 PM | Permalink


They get out more than most and talk to a myriad of peoles from all walks of life. Even those in, gasp, other countries.

That's a good argument for why reporters should be perceived as referential experts, but it does not address the question of whether it is normal for a Presidential candidate to do so.

I'm not sure reporters would want their names to be used by a political candidate in such a way, it seems chummy, insider baseball.

I think it is interesting, in that it may provide insight to Kerry's polithink about pressthink versus Bush's polithink about pressthink. It may also reflect a more nuanced judgement of press individuals versus the group on the part of the two men.

I'm afraid your response doesn't move that line of thinking forward very much. It seems more partisan and defensive of a special interest group.

Yes Bush supporter and defender of the faith it is.

Welcome back, Mark.

Posted by: Tim at July 13, 2004 10:31 AM | Permalink

Conventions To Get 3 Hours Of Prime Time

Maybe that’s why they want bloggers to attend …”

Hmmmm ...

Posted by: Tim at July 13, 2004 11:45 AM | Permalink

Recommendation: Check out Kucinich

A great blog from Jay and a promising series of comments that followed. But I was surprised to see no mention of Kucinich in all of this. Not that I am plugging him, but I hope that bloggers check out his in-party insurrection of sorts, his series of meetings paralleling the "real" convention, etc. Look at his website, More than Dean anymore, who has accepted an officially endorsed role within the Kerry campaign, Kucinich represents the political power of the grassroots/net matrix in action.

Note the interesting blogs from campaign workers who were present at the platform-hammering sessions in Miami. I'll grant you they settled for watered down language on "troop reduction," but they did introduce real hammers into the hammering-out of the Dems' platform. And this, combined with planned actions in Boston, may make the convention more like pre-1976 conventions in a way. Competing visions of the party! Because Kucinich's presence consists of planned actions, meetings, etc., it's on a different order than the "conventional" openings for unpredictability --the "emerging new face." Yet these gatherings are also of a different order than the Weathermen, etc., obviously. At the very least, there will be unpredictable elements of the Dem party in Kucinich's orbit that will be shamefully under-reported --music to a blogger's ears, eh?

Posted by: Alex Greene at July 14, 2004 12:31 PM | Permalink

Bloggers to join the mainstream at conventions

That bloggers get front seats bothers Tom McPhail, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri.

''They're certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo,'' McPhail says. Bloggers ''should be put in a different category, like 'pretend' journalists.''

Boston-bound Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor who writes for the Web site, says the move ''simply widens the press a little bit. I'm against both dismissal and instant celebration. To me it's more of an experiment.''

Rosen says that at least two generations of media -- print and electronic -- have failed to engage readers and viewers about political conventions.

Bloggers ''are coming at this fresh and from another place,'' he says. ''Maybe they'll discover this isn't meaningless. Maybe there's another way to do it.'



Posted by: Tim at July 14, 2004 2:36 PM | Permalink

All the more reason to hope, then, that this year's one potentially risky innovation — accepting dozens of free-form online bloggers as accredited convention journalists — may lace the proceedings with fresh insight and even some Menckenian impertinence.
One can only hope.

Posted by: Tim at July 15, 2004 1:11 PM | Permalink

Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Posted by: Tim at July 18, 2004 10:53 PM | Permalink

Hi, very interesting article. My name is Herman Mendoza, and I'm part owner of a Christian Newspaper that reaches 20,000 people twice a month. With a Christian perspective we have about 10 staff members and my brother Eddy who is the publisher as well as myself would like information on covering the GOP conventions at MSG. I think it would be a great story to cover from a spiritual prespective. Is it to late to apply for credentials for the GOP conventions? and if their is time how do we go by having news coverage. We do have NYC press credentials from the police department.

Thank you for your time and hope to hear from you soon.

Bless you,

Herman Mendoza
Vice president
The Trinity Tribune

Posted by: Herman Mendoza at July 19, 2004 5:47 PM | Permalink

I only wish I had started my blog last year, so I could have applied for convention credentials, too... (sigh) However, I hope that some or several bloggers will cover the "BIGMedia" story of the convention, i.e, why the networks are investing so little of their broadcasting time (on OUR airwaves) for these supposedly scripted events. (Doesn't anyone remember Al kissing Tipper last time? Who knows, maybe someone else will scream, ala Dean. But, what really is predictable is how the BIGMedia will react to any event that doesn't fit THEIR idea of what the script should be... with derision, or even outrage. So, instead of covering the politicians' "process," which has already been done to death, I hope some blogs will cover the BIGMedia's "process," THEIR horse race, THEIR big game. After all, it's really all about the power plays between the Reporters/Analysts/News Readers themselves, or between them and the Pols? Right? But, for a really novel approach, I'm also hoping that some bloggers will actually ignore all "process" stories, and write about issues of substance, without sound-bites, the way that only a blogger can, not a "journalist" with real credentials. As for facts vs innuendos and reporters vs bloggers, have any of the blogging critics been paying attention to the falling standards of "real" journalists, and their attendant scandals?
Finally, prefer to think of blogging as a form of editorializing, rather than reporting. Of course, editoralists often include facts with their opinions, just as reporters often include fictions with theirs. And, I really hope that an actual feature of the blogging world will carry over, i.e., that bloggers (and others?) will comment directly on each others' blogs (just like this one), linking to other blogs, raising additional points, supporting or dissecting arguments, injecting humor, etc. All of course, without a script,... just not without a "net."

Posted by: Karen at July 19, 2004 11:40 PM | Permalink

From the Intro