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August 2, 2004

Convention De-Briefing Begins: August 2-3

Background is here: Post Convention De-Briefing: You Ask the Questions. It's an open air press conference for a returning blogger.

Let the record record that it took 33 minutes for Seth Finkelstein of Infothought to ask the first question and another thirty to answer it. In the post prior, I wrote: “I went to Boston for my own reasons and as your correspondent. Now I’m back. I saw a lot, and tried to make sense of it. Shoot me a question and I will try to answer over the next week or so. The blogging of Boston goes on because the campaign does. We’re all participants in making sense of it. So help me out. Debrief a blog today and clarify the convention.”

August 2. Seth Finkelstein, a specialist in doubt at his own blog, and in the comment threads in PressThink, comes to the microphone, looks down at his notes, and asks:

Do you think there’s been any significant shift in any minds of professional journalists (especially Big Media) regarding their view of blogging in general or bloggers in specific? That is, can something meaningful be said approximating a result, from the mass of pontification which issued forth on the topic?

Certainly. For one thing, there’s meaning in the adoption of blogging, or at least the attempt to get with it, by the mainstream media itself. From Walter Mears of the AP to the Hardball Gang of MSNBC and lots more. Just that alone, regardless of how sincere or successful a gesture it was, had meaning. I believe that’s called a crossover moment when it happens in popular culture.

On top of that you had for the first time a.) a lot of press attention to blogging in a short period of time; and b.) aggregators, summarizers and various “weblog watches,” some installed by the Big Media, some by the blogging world itself— Winer, and Technorati, and Feedster. Their attention alerted, people had a path in. Simple things like’s list of credentialed bloggers got repeated by other sites or select versions were prepared so they could be branded. And they did funnel new traffic to weblogs— in my case, a tripling during convention week.

No way of proving it, yet, but I feel certain that, after Boston, way more journalists have at least read weblogs and gotten some feel for them, and if they “stick,” and it becomes a habit, then the Blog Sphere should funnel those new readers outward to other blogs by the logic of following links. Maybe.

When I interviewed Thomas Edsall, a veteran political reporter at the top of the game, he had already picked up on this special quality in the sphere of blog: that often it doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll find things that are good. He’s already a second stage user. He isn’t overwhelmed— as in too much to read, too much of it drek. He’s starting to figure the medium out, and knows that it’s good for his reporting. Jeff Greenfield to TV Newser: “My big complaint is that it’s forced me to get up earlier to read all this stuff—including yours.” That’s a signficant statement.

If there are hundreds, thousands more second stage users in the Big Media, is that a meaningful change? I would say yes, but the results may not show up right away in professional reactions and, um… journalists’ textual strategies. But this is only one thing that happened in the transaction between the two forms.

Also, see this (via Scripting News.)

August 2. Standing behind Seth is Ben Franklin—that is someone with the name Ben Frankin on his ID badge when he argues his points in comments here—and when Seth leaves the mike, this latter day Ben asks:

You went to the convention with a hypothesis that political conventions potentially invoke ritual, religion or faith in a way that the current regime of journalistic pseudo-objectivity seems to consistently crush. How did your experience at the convention affect this theory? Was it confirmed, qualified, challenged? Any further insight into how TV, newspapers, talk radio, or bloggers (or specific representatives thereof) may relate to this issue?

Oh, I think “ritual” is by far the better lens on this event, now that I have experienced it. So that was confirmed. The trouble is that while rituals may have meaning, they do not necessarily have news. I didn’t say anywhere that current thinking in the press has “crushed” ritual; it’s more that journalists do not know how to cover it. Rituals—like the “roll call of states”—help the community affirm and remember. They point backward in time, and draw people under the same belief tent. But because rituals are adapted to changing circumstances, they are also ways to measure what’s new and different, if you look carefully.

An example of lacking an ear for ritual: the reactions to Barack Obamas’s speech. It was justly praised, Obama was described as a rising star, and he certainly got lots of coverage. But I didn’t see any attempts to locate his rhetoric, the power of his performance and the musicality of his speech within the traditions of the Black church, which is the obvious point of origin. Maybe there was such analysis, but it was not prominent in the reviews I saw.

August 3. The questions are starting to form in the crowd. Ed Cone writes in from the road:

Blogs by candidates and delegates are the next big thing in convention blogging. Discuss.

Meanwhile, Bill Riski , a writer, writes…

I’ve always thought of the more widely read bloggers as something akin to frequent contributors to the editorial pages in print media, but with time compressed (i.e., post - comment - comment, etc. all within tens of minutes.) This was somewhat re-affirmed by the selection of a handful of bloggers to received credentials for the DNC.

But then listening to The Gillmor Gang segment with Dave Winer earlier this week, someone asked what blogging the DNC in four years might look like. One answer caused me to pause. It was that there won’t be any bloggers invited because such a large proportion of the ‘natural’ attendees will be bloggers— from delegates, to employees of the venue to ‘normal’ journalists.

So my question, do you believe that blogging will fade into the woodwork and become transparent technology, or will bloggers continue to be a recognized segment who rise?

I think it’s correct that many will have blogs the way many have e-mail, and that the significance of “having a blog,” as well as that particular language, will disappear. This is happening now. The blog as a web-wiser extension of the press release, which is what busy executives (or future United States Senators) may mean by “having a blog,” pretty much guarantees the fade to zero import of that statement.

We will probably get a preview of this at the RNC. Watch how much “”juice” there is then in so-and-so announcing a convention blog. The yesterday’s news effect is how journalists cool down on the very subject they heated up last month. Part of the rhythm for quick exhaustion of a subject before it’s understood: too much “this is hot” journalism has that effect.

We can settle for cliches—the novely has worn off—or we can recognize that having a blog and being the human blogger of it are two different things. Celebrity weblogs will be big for a while, then everyone will have them like every one has a fan site. It’s the fade to zero. Everyone knows how this works.

I believe the period when we talked this way—blogs, bloggers, blogging—will be ending sooner rather than later, and those who feel it their business to track down and slay with satire “blog triumphalism” will have to find other work. Fairly soon, we’re likely to see in the Whitney Biennial an installation about ghost blogs: “These eerily abandoned sites speak of Internet death, and yet they are strangely alive…” in catalogue-eese.

Why is it the blog’s destiny to dissolve into normalcy like this? Because a blog is just a name for self-publishing on the Web and with the Web. Self-assertion being a commonly distrributed motive in human affairs, weblogs will be common fare, and they will have millions of distinct uses. A conference without a weblog will seem strange. Who knows what we’ll be calling this form in three to five years?

But as to “will there still be bloggers?” and will they be invited to such high profile events as the 2008 convention— that’s a different matter. Here we need a distinction.

People use the word “blog” (which is barely a word) to mean both the underlying software for creating and maintaining a weblog (the tool which finally cracked the code of self—publishing) and the peculiar cultural form that we recognize as blog— with posts and links and a title and some graphics and a catchy name, or the author’s name. The best praticoners in that form have cracked the tool’s code, and they know how to use it. Or let’s say: they’re learning how and pushing the form.

But these are two different things—blog as self-publishing tool, adaptable to any use (your class trip can have a blog) and blog as an author’s interactive platform, angled into in public converation. Your class trip cannot have one of those. I do not think this platform—with its powers and advantages—is going away, although the language in current use for it might. And the people who “want in” on the public conversation that way— they’re not going to fade, either.

In this connection I was struck by a remark by CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman: “”I’m intrigued at the way that bloggers and blogs have forced their way into the political process on their own; that’s why I want to incorporate the blogs into our coverage.” That action will, I think, still be happening in 2008.

Posted by Jay Rosen at August 2, 2004 2:03 AM