Covering the convention bloggers
Here's a quick-and-dirty hypothesis -- the media abhors a news vacuum, and a nominating conventions is one whopper of a news vacuum. There are no real surprises awaiting reporters in either Boston this week or New York come Labor Day. The only moderately interesting question this week is how well Edwards and Kerry deliver their speeches. Even that's not news as much as interpretation.
I'm sure he's right about the media vacuum. I would also argue that media are primarily fascinated by the credentialling of bloggers, rather than the medium itself. Extending press credentials to non-journalists is a bold move by mainstream political parties. Effectively, the subjects of news unilaterally expanded the media by extending access.
Journalists see themselves as professionals. Self-regulation is one of the distinctive features of a profession. Just as doctors reserve the right to decide who can practice medicine, many journalists feel entitled to decide who gets to make the news. Traditionally, press credentials have been earned by securing the approval of the press (i.e. getting hired by some acknowledged news source). This year, a handful of bloggers got the nod directly from the political parties.
Groups that claim to be professions invariably point to their superior skill and moral fiber in order to justify their elevated status. Ironically, mainstream media has been undercutting its own claims to professionalism for years. In an era where infotainment and opinion programing are eclipsing hard news, it's difficult for professional journalists to claim the high ground--as some commentators try to do in the NYT piece linked to above. In What Liberal Media? Eric Alterman notes that the mainstream media have also been "credentialling" ever increasing numbers of non-reporters. They call them "pundits"--non-reporters whose educated opinion and/or entertainment potential earn them status within the journalistic community.
The remarkable feature of the blogging of the conventions is not the medium or the commentary, but the challenge to the professional autonomy of journalism. I have no idea whether credentialled bloggers will turn out to be a lasting or substantive development. I do know that many of my favorite bloggers earned press credentials to the DNC. I'm following their work with interest. However, I have a few misgivings about the transfer of power from the press to the political parties. In some sense, press credentials are being handed out as a political perk to sympathetic bloggers.
Jay Rosen of Pressthink has a less cynical take on the credentialled blogger phenomenon:
Journalists are sent by their editors and bosses to cover the convention. Bloggers are "sent," in effect, by the people who read their accounts and find use for them. Some bloggers heading to Boston have been asking their users, "What do you want to know about when I get there?" How many reporters do that?
True. But we have to interpret this phenomenon against a shifting balance of power between media and political elites. I'm waiting to see whether the credentialling of bloggers turns out to be as much of a boon for the average reader as I hope it will be. Maybe it reflects a real enlargement of the media establishment and a shift in the market for information. On the other hand, maybe it's just another rearrangement of the balance of power between elites.
[None of this is meant to disparage the work of any of the bloggers at the con\vention. I'm just speculating about how credentialling might affect the balance of power between politicians and journalists if the trend were to play out over the longterm. I'm really excited and proud that so many liberal bloggers are spending their own time and money to cover the DNC. Whatever happens, I'm sure these capable individuals will make the most of the opportunity.]