Aldon Hynes's blog

Paid Political Bloggers, the continuing saga

Oscar Wilde is often quoted as saying “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” That quote came to mind as numerous people pointed to the op-chart by K. Daniel Glover, as well as his followup, discussions on Personal Democracy Forum, My Left Nutmeg and especially the discussions on BlueMassGroup, here, and here.

Most serious bloggers seem outraged at the lack of journalistic qualities in the Op-chart and the follow-up on “Beat the Press”. In particular, they note the broad strokes that Glover uses to describe bloggers and his lack of any apparent real research into what went on with bloggers involved with campaigns, and Carroll’s accepting a single source of satire as fact without bothering to check sources or facts.

Some of my media watch dog friends actually applauded the op-chart as raising, no matter how poorly, the issue of transparency, accountability, ethics, etc. amongst bloggers. Yet most of my friends who aren’t especially involved have contracted me with lines like, “You’re Famous” or “You are my hero”. I don’t know. Running around pointing everyone to these articles somehow feels a bit like Steve Martin yelling, “The new phonebooks are here! The new phonebooks are here!”, but to go back to Oscar Wilde, being talked about isn’t all that bad, especially since I’m not as well know as Jerome Armstrong is.

With that, let me give some background to the role of bloggers in the Lamont campaign. As noted elsewhere, campaigns, in particular, cannot be adequately described from a single viewpoint. That is probably why good journalists try to use multiple sources, check facts, etc.

Back in February, I let people know that I would start working for the Lamont campaign. It was complicated for me, since I had been BlogMaster for John DeStefano’s gubernatorial bid prior to this. My role in the Lamont campaign was technology coordinator. It makes sense for campaigns to hire certain bloggers as technology coordinators, since many bloggers spend a lot of time with their technology.

It was a part time job for me as I continued to work on other projects, particularly in financial services, where I had worked a lot during the 80s and 90s. My responsibilities surrounded working with databases, making sure that various systems worked, etc. I was given almost no opportunity to write for the campaign, which was a disappointment to me.

Given my role, as well as my background with the DeStefano campaign as well as being one of the credentialed bloggers at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I was given a special exemption. I would be allowed to continue blogging, within some specific guidelines about what I could and couldn’t say about the campaign. I also helped Ned when he blogged on DailyKos.

Many people who came to work for the Lamont campaign were already bloggers. However, we had a strict rule. Except for a few of us, everyone on staff was told they could not blog during the campaign. Personally, I think this was overkill and I often argued against the policy.

With this, let me digress briefly to talk about what blogging is. To me, to talk about bloggers working for campaigns, makes about as much sense as it does to talk about knitters working for campaigns. Blogging is working with a specific medium (websites, instead of yarn), for many different purposes. I started blogging primarily to play with technology and to communicate with friends. It was only over time that a political component emerged. Some bloggers aspire to journalistic qualities. Others aspire to advocacy qualities, or to the qualities of someone writing in a personal diary. This seems like a very simple fact that most people around blogs get, yet somehow, most journalists writing about blogs fail to understand.

So, what would a good article about bloggers and political campaigns have to say? Yeah, it is interesting to see who is getting paid how much for their jobs. However, it would make a lot more sense to spend a little time talking about the jobs the bloggers had. Were they technology coordinators like I was? Were they doing traditional communications jobs in campaigns? Were they working of fundraising? Field? Other stuff? I know bloggers that have done all of these sort of jobs. Beyond that, did they let people know about their job for campaigns on their blogs? And for that matter, what sort of blogs did they write? Were they writing political news, political opinions, personal stories, details about knitting, some combination of all of that, or something completely different?

Of course all of this misses what I think the bigger story is. Blogs have encouraged people to publicly express themselves. This has resulted in greater political involvement and discourse, and in my mind promoting a more participatory form of democracy is a very good thing for our country and for our world. Are their things that the traditional media can do to help make blogging, media and democracy even more participatory, including questioning sources and motivations of these sources? Absolutely.

That is why these stories are so important and why they need to be explored.

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In search of a people powered narrative for 2008

(Cross-posted at Greater Democracy)

What will the master narrative for the 2008 Presidential race be? This is a question that has been bouncing around in my head over the past couple of days for several reasons.

In The Decider from “On The Media” this weekend, Paul Begala said, “Democrats tend to be the party of the laundry list. We have four point plans for everything. We have more solutions than the country has problems. Republicans, understanding the media better, because they mostly are still disciples of Ronald Reagan, the master of the media, they mostly tell narratives, they tell stories and stories beat laundry lists every time.”

At a party this weekend, I was speaking with a journalist about what happened with the Lamont campaign. The discussion came down to narrative. The pre-primary narrative was about an unknown challenger taking on a three-term senator and former presidential and vice-presidential candidate. It was about Ned, who he was, what his issues were, and what was wrong with the political system. After the primary, the narrative shifted. It became about Lieberman, how he was fighting to hold onto power. How he wouldn’t give up.

I am reading drafts of a book about the Dean campaign that focuses on the archetypal narrative; Trippi’s role in the narrative, and how email was used to foster that narrative.

Narrative is important, and as I think about Lakoff, I think that perhaps what matters is less the frames, than the underlying narrative. The frames help shape the narrative, ideally, they give it some archetypal structures, but it is the narrative that matters.

So, what will be the narrative for the 2008 presidential campaign. Already, I imagine, people are trying to shape that narrative. When I was down at RootsCamp in DC, there were people from different campaigns there looking for possible staff and perhaps trying to start shaping the narrative.

You see the narrative taking shape already in blogs. Some of it is the superficial horserace components. Who has the most money and the most support early out of the gate? Who is the dark horse to watch? Some of it gets to issues: the environment, the economy, the war. A big component is excitement.

In Washington, one person, knowing I was from Connecticut asked what I thought about Sen. Dodd. I started talking about things like habeas corpus and reforming the bankruptcy law. My interlocutor didn’t want to hear about that. His question? Would the bloggers in Connecticut be excited about Sen. Dodd.

I like Sen. Dodd a lot, but exciting isn’t one of the first things that come to mind when trying to characterize him. How will the narrative shape around his campaign? I’m not sure yet.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sen. Obama. He is a great orator. The idea of a draft Obama movement is generating a lot of excitement, as can be noted by the hordes turning out to hear him in New Hampshire. Will that excitement carry forward? What sort of shape will it take? What larger narrative will emerge?

Perhaps a clearer narrative is emerging around Gore. His message about climate change resonates. There is a tension in the question of whether or not he will run. That tension will be resolved at some point, but a clear ongoing narrative is easier to imagine.

The same applies to Sen. Edwards. His message about economic justice also resonates. Katrina brought economic issues into stark focus. Yet economic justice seems to recede from the spotlight fairly quickly. Will Edwards’ supporters be able to build a sustained narrative around economic issues and/or expand the narrative?

Gen. Clark’s narrative seems to remain around security and defense. The way things are looking in Iraq right now, Gen. Clark may end up with a compelling story handed to him.

Sen. Clinton’s narrative seems a bit more challenging. She has a lot of money, a lot of connections; a lot of power. She is also being portrayed as polarizing. How will that play against the One America sort of themes that seem to reside in both Sen. Edwards and Sen. Obama’s speeches? Can something new be added to the narrative?

Likewise, for Sen. Kerry, what sort of narrative will emerge for him? Vilsack and others have potentially interesting stories, but can they catch fire? People have started to talk about a Bobby Kennedy-esque narrative. Will Obama, or perhaps Edwards take on the mantle of RFK?

More important, where will the narratives come from? How much will they be produced by ‘the people’, or to stay with the archetypes, from the Greek chorus? Will the people be the netroots? Something more than the netroots, or something other than the netroots? How much will the narrative be crafted by the campaigns and how much will the narrative be crafted by the traditional media?

I don’t have any specific answers. However, I will try to keep friends focused on what the underlying story is or could be.

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Christmas Cooking with Fiona, Episode 1

In today's episode, Fiona talks about making Stollen for Christmas

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How should 21st century media makers get paid?

(Cross posted at Greater Democracy)

It seems as if you can’t go a day without hearing about one newspaper or another cutting staff. The return on investment in the newspaper industry isn’t what investors want, and reporters are finding themselves out of work. Meanwhile on bloggers’ mailing lists, people are asking how they can make blogging pay. On top of this, large foundations are making grants to promote digital media, citizen journalism, hyperlocal news, and so on.

As a person who has had the good fortune to be paid for blogging, I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of this maelstrom, but I hope I can suggest a few ways in which other bloggers can better support their habit.

This weekend I was at RootsCampDC. It was a gathering of progressive political activists where the issue of how blogging communities can be better supported came up many times. Groups like BlueNC, Raising Kaine, Blue Jersey, MyLeftNutmeg, and BlueMassGroup were repeatedly praised for their roles in the 2006 midterm elections.

Another site that got lots of praise was ActBlue. Could ActBlue be used as a fundraising tool for regional blogs? ActBlue already does fundraising for various national PACs, and it would seem reasonable for them to fundraise for regional blogs. The question that would need to be addressed is how such blogs would organize. Would they be a Federal PAC, a State PAC, a 527, a 501(c)4, a 501(c)3, or some other sort of LLC or other organization? I am not a campaign finance lawyer, so I’ll leave those sort of questions to others to address.

Beyond supporting existing regional blogging communities, the question arises of how to grow additional regional blogging communities. There were a lot of folks from the DNC at RootsCamp and one good session was about the nuts and bolts of the 50 State Strategy. People from New Jersey and Virginia spoke about how the folks from the DNC interacted with BlueJersey and Raising Kaine. It was suggested that part of the tasks that DNC staffers out in the states do is to help build a regional blogosphere. Folks from Democracy for America were also there and there were discussions about what sort of training programs DFA should be considering. Several people suggested technology related programs, but perhaps a program on building regional blogospheres would be a good topic. There were even representatives from potential 2008 candidates saying interesting things about how their probable campaigns were hoping to change the media landscape.

During a break, one of the attendees pointed me to this op-chart in the New York Times (NewsTrust Review). More and more bloggers are getting paid by campaigns. The Op-Chart seems to look at this negatively, but I view it as a positive development and I hope many of my friends interested in advocacy can find jobs blogging for campaigns, as well as for non-profits and other groups needing to find new ways to get their message out.

One of my concerns about the Times Op-Chart is that continue to promote a stereotype of bloggers as activists that have “contempt for the political establishment”. While there maybe bloggers whose activism is driven by contempt for the political establishment, there are many more bloggers driven by a love for our country and an interest in using new tools, both inside and outside of the political establishment to make our country even better. There are also a lot of bloggers that seek to bring about better journalism through the blogosphere, in part, perhaps, in reaction against the shoddy journalism they see in the mainstream media.

Because of this, I think some bloggers might do well to start thinking of themselves in terms of hyperlocal, digital, citizen journalists, or some such combination of adjectives. There is growing interest in funding these sort of journalists and I think a lot of bloggers could benefit from embracing more of what is good happening in changes to journalism.

The changes in the media landscape will continue to affect the way media producers are compensated. Hopefully people can find ways of using these changes to be able to support themselves and to support a much more vibrant media ecosystem.

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Congrats NaNoWriMo Girl!

Congrats NaNoWriMo Girl!
The cake that we got to celebrate Miranda completing the first draft of her first novel as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

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