A nod to blogs
High up in the rafters of the FleetCenter they sit, watching tiny Democratic politicians take the postcard-sized podium. Illuminated by the glow from a bank of laptop computers are bloggers Ezra Klein, 20, and Jesse Taylor, 21.
They might be stuck in the nosebleed section at the Democratic National Convention, but at least they’re here.
For the first time ever, the Democratic National Committee awarded about 35 political bloggers credentials to the big show. That official recognition gives blogs -- short for Web logs, an online media format slippery to categorize -- a sort of establishment legitimacy. The DNC even launched its own official blog. (And the Republican Party has invited 10 to 20 bloggers to its own convention next month in New York City.)
“The Democratic Party wants to look at blogs precisely because we have something they want to capture,” Taylor says, referring to the thousands of loyal readers many blogs attract. Here from Columbus, Ohio, Taylor is the official blogger for talk-show host and former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer’s Democratic outreach efforts in that state (www.jerryforohio.com). “They’re treating us as a form of new journalism and a campaign tool,” he says. “It’s kind of weird ... they’re trying to get a handle on what we do.”
Taylor and Klein, who met face to face for the first time this week in Boston, are themselves trying to make sense of their unexpected vantage point from -- for this week, at least -- the center of the political universe.
Partners on their political commentary site Pandagon.net since November, the slightly snarky duo are amused and amazed that they’re getting celebrity treatment from the Democrats. The party reserved a spot for the mostly liberal blogger contingent inside the hall itself, rather than exiling them to the media tent outside, and threw them a breakfast Monday morning that featured the convention’s keynote speaker, Barack Obama, and former presidential candidate Howard Dean, among others. On Wednesday night the bloggers were feted at a swanky bash thrown by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where E.J. Dionne and Janeane Garofalo mingled with the technorati.
“They’re trying to put their best foot forward, cater to us, make us feel like stars. It’s getting ridiculous,” says Klein, a political science major at UCLA.
But Taylor has his suspicions about the spotlight. “I also feel, in some ways, we’re here to give the press something to do,” he says.
Armed with laptops, digital cameras, wireless connections and cellphones, Taylor and Klein are trying to bring the thousands of daily visitors to their site into the high-powered chaos they’re navigating from Monday morning to Thursday night. Their readers are so loyal to Pandagon’s take on the news that they helped pay to send the pair to Boston -- an instance of the “community without a geographic location” Dean described at Monday’s breakfast.
Both veterans of various Democratic campaigns, Taylor and Klein went through several iterations of personal and political blog sites in groups and alone before they decided to join forces. Pandagon mixes unflinching analysis with antiestablishment eye-rolling and a bit of Democratic idealism -- not to mention a distinctly twentysomething voice.
“Edwards/Obama 2012: So much stage presence, they’d need two arenas. Just sayin’,” Klein posted Tuesday night, gushing during Obama’s speech.
“I kind of want a First Lady debate between Teresa and Laura, with Laura leaning in using that ‘I’m saying something dirty’ manner she has, while Teresa just stands up and goes straight politically buck-wild on her. But in a classy, worldly way,” Taylor wrote Wednesday morning. As veteran Associated Press correspondent -- and beginning blogger -- Walter Mears puts it: “Blogs are pamphleteers of a new age.”
These virtual pamphlets are a great equalizer, allowing recent college graduates “with no connections” (as Taylor describes himself) as well as a cadre of other ordinary, articulate citizens unprecedented access to the national political proceedings steamrolling through Boston this week.
“The presence of the Internet is changing democracy,” says Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal and co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” a book on Internet commerce. “It’s a place where the citizens actually have a chance to be involved,” he says, referring to the heated discussions that take place on blog message boards. “You can’t be involved in television.”
As a minuscule fraction of the 15,000-strong media presence at the convention, Klein and Taylor view the buzzlet surrounding bloggers with a raised eyebrow. On Monday, they posted a dizzying photo of cameramen shooting them taking notes on their laptops -- about the cameramen shooting them.
The aspiring pundits, who are crashing in the dorm rooms of friends at Harvard, would love to score some big-name interviews (think Bill Clinton). But Taylor would settle for an appearance on Comedy Central’s political news satire “The Daily Show.”
The closest they’ve gotten to greatness?
“I saw Dan Rather in the hall and then Sean Hannity almost ran me over,” Taylor says. “If Sean Hannity had been a foot closer to me, there would have been a rumble.”