For all its rah-rah speeches and in-your-face partisanship, subtle ironies stuck out for me last month at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Heres one: There were about three media members for every one delegate present—15,000 versus 5,600 were the numbers DNC officials were throwing around—yet few of those so-called newspeople found much to say about the convention, other than there was “no news” happening.
For instance, the day after the convention ended, radio personality Don Imus interviewed TV pundit Craig Crawford, who lamented the fact that the big press pavilion at the FleetCenter didnt have couches available (something about a fire or security threat) on which to sleep away the proceedings.
Crawfords shtick was intended to elicit yucks, so maybe I shouldnt get too worked up about it, except that his attitude reflects the conventional wisdom among those covering national political conventions these days. If the media cant get excited about our political process, its no wonder the general public is tuning out.
Of course, with the nominee ready to be rubber-stamped, the running mate already picked and no platform controversies, what else was there to write about? Well, the media itself, for starters.
Just about every news outlet worth its salt, including this one, did a story on the presence of the newest members of the credentialed masses: bloggers. While the stories ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, still another irony rang out: Most of the delegates on the convention floor didnt have the first clue what a blogger is, but some were curious.
I was sitting in the blogger section (though not as a blogger), thanks to the hospitality of Technorati.com. As I was typing notes into my laptop, waiting for Bill Clinton to speak, a friendly woman wearing a Cheesehead hat sat down, put her arm around me and said cheerily, “Now, I just have to see what it is you bloggers do!” (The story might be funnier if you knew that Im from Wisconsin and actually own a Cheesehead.)
Jay Rosen, chair of the Department of Journalism at New York University, was on hand for the convention and was keenly studying the blogging phenomenon. Rosen is a blogger, and his blog acts, as it does for many bloggers, as a kind of superego for his everyday occupation.
Rosen teaches the tenets of journalism to undergraduates and graduate students, but he also cant ignore the tectonic shifts going on within his profession and its relationship to the Internet. Hence, his blog, pressthink.org.
Rosen told me he broached the subject of press complicity in the “decline” of conventions at the blogger breakfast on the first day of the DNC. What he got in response from Wally Mears, longtime political reporter for the Associated Press, was no, the media have no responsibility, and conventions are just big parties.
“The media has lost its way in convention coverage,” Rosen told me. “This is a very unsettled, anxious time in journalism. This is by far the most unsettled, confused time.”
It is this gap that bloggers are trying to fill, Rosen said. “Theres journalism on the Web. Bloggers are journalists of the Web,” he said. “Bloggers are flexible enough that they dont have the restrictions that can define whats worth telling.”
Rosen said journalisms problem is also generational. “My nephew [in his 20s] is not a customer of mainstream news, and hes never going to be a customer,” he said.
As for where all this is going, Rosen still teaches his students to value traditional avenues into journalism. “Different students have different goals,” he said. “Some want traditional; thats a good thing. I try to help them. For those who are dissatisfied, its an entrepreneurial moment.”
He tells them that theres nothing keeping them from using the blog format as a path to the mainstream or as a means to its own end, that, either way, if you want to be a journalist, then be one. “I tell them to be a journalist now,” Rosen said.
Its a good lesson for all of us. Maybe hope really is on the way.
Scot Petersen can be reached at [email protected].