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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