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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 July, 2004, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Bloggers go mainstream at US conventions
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Boston

Journalists will outnumber delegates three-to-one at the Democratic Party convention in Boston this week with 15,000 reporters of various stripes aiming to cover every angle.

Preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Boston
Media will outnumber delegates by three-to-one
The outcome from Boston and the upcoming Republican convention in New York - that John Kerry and George W Bush will be nominated as their respective party's presidential candidate - may be a foregone conclusion, but that will not stop the scribes.

It is true that the main broadcast news networks have been cutting back their coverage for the last 25 years, leaving it to the cable news networks, the internet and public broadcasting to provide comprehensive coverage.

But this year there is a new kid on the news block, with bloggers - those irreverent internet commentators - at the conventions for the first time.

Are you sure you don't have anything better to do? ... Watch paint dry?
Andrew Ferguson, Bloomberg News

In 1952, the US television networks broadcast the conventions nationwide for the first time, providing "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of some 10 to 13 hours a day.

This year, the three major broadcast television networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - all plan only one hour nightly of television coverage and will not provide any coverage on the Tuesday of either convention.

Some journalists have become openly contemptuous of the gatherings, seeing them less as events making news and more as carefully scripted "infomercials", marketing the parties' candidates to voters.

Andrew Ferguson of Bloomberg News said: "Are you sure you don't have anything better to do? Wash your car, take the dog for a walk, read the back of a cereal box? Watch paint dry?"

In 1996, ABC's Ted Koppel, host of the network's news programme Nightline, walked out of the Republican convention and skipped the Democratic convention. He said he wanted to "make a statement that conventions had significantly changed".

Recently he told a gathering of television critics that political conventions have become staged "publicity making machines" for both parties and therefore did not justify the amount of coverage that networks once devoted to them.

However, senior ABC presenter Peter Jennings said: "I really do think it is our responsibility to give the parties an opportunity to put their spokesmen in front of the American people."

Internet coverage

ABC will present round-the-clock coverage on its digital channel, but viewers will need a special digital tuner to receive it unless it is carried on a local digital cable system.

We're not under a banner of 'fair and balanced' - we are able to a little bit more flippant, more critical, more analytical
Karl-Thomas Musselman,
Blogger and delegate
The network will also provide broader coverage on the internet in a subscription-based service through RealNetworks, and subscribers to MobiTV will be able to watch the coverage live streamed onto their mobile phones.

The CBS network also will provide comprehensive coverage over the internet and NBC's cable news partner MSNBC will be running news and specials from the conventions along with its competitors CNN and Fox News Channel.

CNN plans nightly coverage until early in the morning each night and is moving key shows to Boston and New York during the conventions.

Fox News Channel plans to expand its coverage by a third this year.

Bring on the bloggers

But the buzz this year has been the inclusion of bloggers for the first time.

Weblogging has renewed some of the early promises of the internet by allowing anyone and everyone to become a publisher.

It is not surprising that the Democratic Party embraced bloggers, because internet insurgent Howard Dean pioneered the use of weblogs in his campaign.

The party has accredited some 35 bloggers to cover the convention, and even traditional news outlets like the Associated Press news agency will have a blog, written by veteran political correspondent Walter R Mears.

And in a reverse media manoeuvre, blogger Ana Marie Cox, better known in Washington and on the web as Wonkette, has leapt off the computer screen onto the small screen, providing convention commentary for MTV.

Wonkette weblog page
Webloggers like Wonkette have joined the official media
But the bloggers will not only be laptop-toting political pundits. Some delegates will be blogging, including the youngest delegate from Texas, Karl-Thomas Musselman.

The 19-year-old originally dreamed of being the first man to set on foot on Mars, but the 2000 election sparked an interest in politics.

He started his website and blog, musselmanforamerica.com, because he was running to represent a district that is 300 miles (480km) from end to end. It was a way for him to connect to voters.

He redesigned the site for the conventions and hopes to be able to update it wirelessly from the convention floor.

He does not think the bloggers will in any way supplant the traditional media, but stresses they have their own role.

"Bloggers provide another angle, another market for news and information out of convention," he said.

"We're not under a banner of [Fox's slogan] 'fair and balanced'. We are able to a little bit more flippant, more critical, more analytical," he said. "That is the nature of who we are, and that is why people read blogs."


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