In 2004, the major political conventions gave a few dozen bloggers press credentials, a historic moment for the new media outsiders. And this year, the political conventions have tried to be even more open to bloggers, video reporters, podcasters and new media. The Democratic convention credentialed 120 bloggers, and the GOP has credentialed 200 bloggers, according to Forbes.

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Google smoothies in the Big Tent

And the Democratic convention taking place in Denver this week also includes the Big Tent, a hangout for new media types outside the convention sponsored by Google and Digg. There have been panel discussions, appearances by political dignitaries and free beer, smoothies and massages there. (Simon Owens looked at the Big Tent in-depth for MediaShift last week.)

But perhaps the more interesting trend at the conventions this year is that it’s more difficult to tell the independent bloggers from the mainstream media bloggers. As traditional media embraces a multi-platform approach, including their audience in citizen media reports, the distinction between who deserves a media credential and who doesn’t has blurred like never before.

One example: Social-news site Digg and CNN’s citizen media-generated iReport are co-producing Digg Dialogg, where Digg’ers and other concerned citizens can ask questions to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The questions are then rated “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” with the most popular being asked to Pelosi in a special Q&A with Digg CEO Jay Adelson. (No. 1 question so far: “Please describe what Net Neutrality is and your position on the issue.”)

Insiders or Outsiders?

Perhaps the more interesting question is whether indie bloggers and new media folks are now becoming a part of the mainstream at the same time the mainstream is reaching out and using the tactics of the independents. When the staid C-SPAN network is lauded by TechCrunch for using live-streaming Qik cams at the political conventions, you can feel change in the air for the media.

For example, independent bloggers in the Big Tent have already succeeded in getting big names to participate in panels and interviews — from Arianna Huffington to Dan Rather and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). At what point does blog coverage become indistinguishable from coverage by mainstream media?

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Action inside the Big Tent

“It does make you wonder. This blog culture that grew up outside of the traditional media, are we starting to step up to the stage and be with them as equals?” Daily Kos blogger Georgia Logothetis told the National Journal.

Actually, some of the hardest-hitting work so far at the Democratic convention has come from bloggers outside the traditional media. Sunlight Foundation set up a special Party Time blog to track which corporate sponsors were holding pricey shindigs for which lobbyists and politicians. In a similar vein, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reported on a lavish AT&T party for Blue Dog Democrats that barred members of the press, including bloggers.

While citizen-generated media has an increased presence at the conventions these days, that populist ethos has yet to alter the fundamental nature of the conventions itself. Even with a few hundred independent bloggers in the mix, there are 15,000 total press in attendance at the conventions from around the world.

The political parties themselves could do a lot more to include their audiences outside the convention hall. TechPresident blogger Micah Sifry, who decided to stay home to watch the event on TV and online this year, said the conventions could do better:

This week, something like 20 million people will tune in each night to watch the conventions, but I’d be surprised if either the Democrats or the Republicans try to create any kind of interactive community out of that audience. Yes, they did a YouTube contest to find a representative “average person” to give them a free pass to attend, and yes, they’re using tools like blogs and Flickr to keep us informed on how the conventions are taking shape. But in terms of making the actual events more engaging, they’re probably spending more time worrying about the timing of the balloon drop.

Following the Conventions Online

So where do you start when looking for convention coverage online? With so many news outlets, bloggers, live video streams and Twitterers, what’s standing out? The following is a guide to some of the better sites covering the conventions. With so many voices in the mix, the best way to start is with aggregators that can give you a snapshot of what’s happening in various online platforms and communities.

Aggregators

> Perspctv
Nice startup site compares polls, with live feeds from blogs, Twitter and news sites

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> Google Convention Page
Aggregates news, photos, videos and blogs for both conventions

> Yahoo Full Coverage: Democratic Convention
> Yahoo Full Coverage — Republican Convention
The usual news, photos, video, blogs, related sites — deeper than Google’s effort

> Politweets
Twitter entries that contain tidbits on McCain or Obama

> #dnc tag search on Twitter
> #rnc tag search on Twitter
Follow Twitter entries that include tags for conventions

TV Network Video

> C-SPAN’s Democratic Convention Hub and Republican Convention Hub
Nice online channel for videos from conventions, along with live streams on Qik

> CNN Political Video
Typical playlist of convention videos, with citizen media videos on iReport

> ABCNews Video
Good player with politics section, including classic convention moments

> NewsHour Insider Forum
Interviews at the convention with questions from the audience

Independent Blogs

> TechPresident
Focus on technology and politics, with bloggers from left and right

> Wonkette
Still a funny sendup of politics, now unmoored from Gawker Media

> Huffington Post
Doing a convention swarm of coverage, including Off the Bus citizen reports

> Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry
Conservative think-tank dissects Dem confab schwag, Big Tent panels

> Pajamas Media Elections 2008
Aggregation of conservative blogs, including lots of convention video

> Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory
Biting reporting and commentary with depth from the Dem confab

Major Media Blogs

> ABC News’ The Note
Latest post on Bill Clinton/Obama has more than 12,500 comments

> Reuters’ Tales from the Trail
Includes video reports from 40 delegates given small cameras from Reuters

> New York Times’ The Caucus
Group effort by Times political correspondents to cover every angle of confabs

> Washington Post’s This Just In
Running list of latest blog posts from the convention by Post staffers, including from opinion writers’ PostPartisan

> LA Times’ Top of the Ticket
Nice roundup and analysis of items, along with multimedia and speech transcripts

> National Review Online’s The Corner
Not major media, but a major voice in conservative group blogging

Political Sites

> Politico
Newbie comes out strong with wall-to-wall coverage and poll tracker

> CQ Politics
Congressional Quarterly’s free site includes blog posts from former Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox

> Real Clear Politics
More of an aggregator than original news site; has heavy emphasis on polls

Video Sites

> YouTube’s You Choose 08
Includes official video from convention as well as videos from candidates on issues

> Big Tent’s YouTube channel
Archived video from Big Tent events during the DNC

> C-SPAN on Qik
Extra coverage with small videocameras mainly outside conventions halls

> TheUptake.org
More live video feeds from citizen reporters on the scene via Qik

Twitter Feeds

> dncjournalists
> rncjournalists
Poynter’s Steve Myers is aggregating journalist feeds into one mega-feed

> HuffPost
Aggregation of Huffington Post folks who are Twittering conference

> RobertBluey
Heritage Foundation media guy who will be more active at RNC

> GOPconvention
Twittering from Minnesota’s public affairs news service

> bigtentdenver
Aggregation of Big Tent denizens’ feeds

> TwitterPacks’ List of Twitters
Lists Twitter feeds for people at both confabs

Special Features

> Denver Post’s Map of DNC Events
Annotated map includes filters for editor’s picks, official and unofficial events

> Rocky Mountain News’ Unconventional Wisdom
Special report with advice to Obama from 10 people, including Ralph Nader and Jerry Brown

> Wall Street Journal’s The Parties’ Parties
Breaks down which corporations are giving how much to sponsor conventions

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NY Times’ View of the Convention

> New York Times’ View of the Convention
A 360-degree panoramic photo shot that rotates while you hear audio of Hillary’s intro; with “full screen” mode you are there

> USA Today’s Electoral Vote Tracker
Lets you play out various state-by-state scenarios and see historical election results

Articles on New Media Coverage

> Bloggers at Democratic convention plant their stake at Christian Science Monitor

> Following political conventions the Web 2.0 way at ComputerWorld

> How To Follow The Democratic National Convention LIVE On The Web at Silicon Alley Insider

> New Media Stream Into an Old Tradition at the New York Times

> Social media mobs the national conventions at LATimes’ Web Scout

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Which sites have you used to follow the conventions online? Which ones have done innovative work? Share your favorites in the comments below and I’ll update the list, with credit to you.

Photos of Google smoothie and Big Tent action by Ashley Dinges via Flickr.

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