RAY SUAREZ: Welcome to another special edition of the NewsHour's Online Insider Forum. I'm Ray Suarez. All this week, the Online NewsHour is asking analysts, leaders and journalists your questions as we report from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
Joining us now in our studio are two bloggers who are covering the convention. Key Esquivel is founder and blogger for CrossLeft.org, a progressive Christian website. And Liza Sabater is blogger and founder of culturekitchen.com. Welcome to you both.
KETY ESQUIVEL: Thank you.
LIZA SABATER: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, Liza, they've made a lot more provision than in past conventions for this new medium, haven't they?
LIZA SABATER: Oh, they have. There's about 150 bloggers credentialed by the DNCC as opposed to about 20 in 2004. So that's - you know, that's a huge, huge change.
And also, they have bloggers who are with the delegations of each state covering from the floor. So I'm with the national pool; I'm not with the state pool, but it's a definite difference.
RAY SUAREZ: But as somebody who really qualifies as a pioneer in this field, does it signal to you sort of arrival moment?
LIZA SABATER: We're getting there. I mean, you know, I think that part - what is really exciting is that, again, you know, you get the citizen voices, and there's a different perspective for it. In terms of arriving, I don't know if schlepping and running around - (laughs) - I don't seem to arrive anywhere with all the crazy logistics in Denver but, you know, I'm happy to be here.
And I do see lots of faces that I know from the blogosphere here covering, and it's really exciting to see that.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, Kety, you blog yourself, but you also help coordinate the site. How is the way a blogger and a site cover an event like this - how is it different from the way more conventional, traditional journalism does?
KETY ESQUIVEL: I think what it is is it's different people stepping up to the plate, so you have individual voices with different perspectives, even if they do have a common agenda, coming together.
So, for example, with my site, CrossLeft.org, we are a site for progressive Christians, but you do have a spectrum of progressive Christians talking about the convention - some people watching it on TV, some people actually here in the stands, so to speak.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, in the weeks leading up to the convention there's been a lot of talk about religion and the Democratic Party, religion and the Democratic nominee, and of course the visit to Saddleback Church just a couple of days ago. Has that raised traffic on your site?
KETY ESQUIVEL: Yeah, I think that there is definitely a correlation. People are definitely looking to progressive Christian voices to see what our perspective and what our take is on the candidate and their particular policies.
That being said, one area of opportunity we see is for people to see this as really seamless. Politics and faith are seamless because we are driven to our politics by our values and our values are informed by our faith. And so it's that fluidity - I think that it would be great to see a little more conversation around that happening.
And I think we're starting to see it. I think Obama is starting to speak to that issue and, you know, we in turn, as progressive Christians, are responding affirmatively and positively.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, Liza, Ann writes from Carmichael, California, "Most of my middle-aged, baby-boomer peers have never heard of Twitter or Flickr or Digg, and neither had I until I kept seeing them on Web sites. How important are blogs if they never reach millions of voters?"
LIZA SABATER: Well, as the first-wavers and as the pioneers, we are the explorers of these new technologies. So we are - we're really paving the way for other people to emulate what we're doing.
I am on Twitter, I'm on Digg, I'm on Flickr, I'm on FriendFeed, I'm on Kick and youStream and all these services.
RAY SUAREZ: Oh, no. (Laughs.)
LIZA SABATER: I know, I know.
RAY SUAREZ: No, wait, wait, let's take -
LIZA SABATER: And I'm 42 years old.
RAY SUAREZ: - a couple of them.
LIZA SABATER: I'm 42 years old, so this is not something for the young 'uns. You know, I just have a natural curiosity for technology, and even at 42, I'm - you know, I'm eager to experiment with all these different services and technologies.
RAY SUAREZ: But for people for whom the height of Internet savvy is coming to this site and just clicking on the big right-pointing arrow that starts to play this segment, what are some of these other forms, Twitter and Flickr?
LIZA SABATER: They are - if you have used chat or instant messaging, Twitter in particular is very much like that. It is a way in which people communicate with each other on a public platform.
And you can only write 140 characters, so it really, you know, pushes you to be very economical in the way that you communicate. So I'm a long-form blogger. I like - you know, I write op-ed pieces, one, two, sometimes three a day, so for me to use that kind of technology is a way for people to know where I am.
So I will send a little Twitter saying, you know, I'm here at the NewsHour; I'll post back in another hour, or something like that, or in a half an hour, and people can follow where I am, what I'm doing.
And it's a different way of broadcasting, and that's the point, you know, that what we're creating and what we are experimenting with is different points of broadcasting.
The traditional media is either radio or television. With new media, there's different points of broadcasting that are not necessarily bound to one technology, and that - you know, people like me experiment with that.
So, in another year or two, my mom hopefully will be using it and also partaking. My brother is already on it. So, you know, it is - I'm an explorer, and bloggers like me are explorers of these new technologies. So that's why we're important.
KETY ESQUIVEL: I think it's the evolution of communication. You know, we had, way back in the day, where people were writing in scrolls, and that evolved to the printing press, and that evolved to people being on television, on radio, and now we're at the point that we're using new media to communicate.
LIZA SABATER: Right.
KETY ESQUIVEL: As human beings, that's the end goal here. We're really trying to communicate with each other one on one, communicate with each other as organizations.
And to me what's really exciting is seeing large organizations - for example, the National Council of La Raza - saying, you know, we've done advocacy old school. You know, we know how to use these more old-school methods of communication; now we're going to focus on new media. How do we engage? How do we use blogging? How do we use vlogging? How do we use Twitter? How do we use all of these different networking sites that exist out there?
And to me that's where the opportunity is in bridging the old world kind of with the new insofar as this communications trade.
RAY SUAREZ: Do the Democrats - have the Democrats totally signed on to this new world? Do you get the same kind of access to people, to delegations that I would with a press credential around my neck?
KETY ESQUIVEL: It's not the same. That's very true. And to be sure, I think the institutions which have proceeded us - yourself and other, you know, very prestigious journalists - obviously have a certain cache which brings with it access. And we are right now barely starting to kind of break through some of those walls that have existed in the past.
But it is very exciting. I mean, Liza and I were just talking about how exciting it is that we have been invited to something like the DNCC. Unfortunately, the RNCC might not be there as of yet. We're also trying to get invited to that - to date still not successful. Maybe after this show we will be successful.
But I think, you know, we're moving in the right direction. Is it the same as other sources of media? Honestly, no. We don't have the same resources as of yet.
LIZA SABATER: I mean, with me - I also publish a New York City blog about politics and New York State politics, so I do have more access at least to the New York delegation than other people.
The difference between you and me, though, is that my credential gets me to the hall and you can't get to the hall. (Laughter.)
So, you know, there are different points - you know, levels of access and levels of influence. And, really, in order for a writer traditionally to have had influence as a writer - and I've been a writer for over 20 years - I had to, you know, get into a big media organization, and I - you know, I tried for years.
So when I decided to start blogging - I actually needed to get out of a writers' block more than anything else, but I also knew that I had an opportunity to really be one of the first-wavers in doing it.
And now I'm here with the Online NewsHour, CNN, you know, later, and NPR, and so that kind of building a reputation is really important for alternative media, and especially of Latinos and as minorities in this country. The more brown faces we have in media, the better.
And I think that that's where the power and the difference is, is that people that couldn't necessarily - like me - traditionally get in the door in big media organizations, we have a way of building that alternatively online now.
And so it's a lot of hard work, it's a lot of schlepping, but in the end, what I'm building through culturekitchen and Daily Gotham and my publications is a media company. And, you know, it's handmade, but at least it's something. And, you know, 10 years ago we didn't have anything like that.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there an advantage for the DNCC is being open-door to people like you? Are you getting them to eyes and ears that they wouldn't get otherwise through conventional distribution?
KETY ESQUIVEL: Most definitely. Thanks for asking that question because I think that is the question that parties should be asking themselves honestly.
I'm an independent, as you know. There are several other progressive Christians that are independents. Sometimes we've seen maybe the Republican Party has kind of spoken to us more specifically and more targeted, but having the door of the Democrats open when they're speaking to social issues that are important to our community really makes a difference.
I mean, I, as an independent, I'm seeing personally, hey, listen, you know, the DNCC has opened the doors to us; the RNCC has not, so we're going to have to go and report from the outside. That's sending a message loud and clear to myself and to the others who are also participating on CrossLeft.org.
RAY SUAREZ: Liza, Paula asks, "What do news commentators mean when they say that people do not know Barack Obama? Never have I known so much about a candidate: his Kenyon, irresponsible father, his white single mother, his grandmother, his Hawaiian half-sister, his health plan, his anti-war stance, and so on and on and on. Please, I've heard all this from you and read all this in the newspaper. What is there to know? What else is there to know?"
LIZA SABATER: That is a media construct. That is, you know, a way of creating news that doesn't exist.
And that's why independent media and bloggers like me are important because there is tons of - I mean, there's a lot of information out there. Outside of, I don't know, going inside his brain or invading his privacy, I think that we do have a lot of information. I think, though, that the difference between traditional media and especially just straight reporting as opposed to opinion writers is that I do - you know, I do not agree - I agree with her in the sense that there is tons of information out there and there are a lot of opinions also.
And so, in looking for a good source of alternative media, and especially through bloggers - for example, people that come to culturekitchen, they come because as one of my friends from the kid's soccer team - you know, fellow soccer mom - told me, she said, Liza, you break - people in your site at culturekitchen break the news for me and I can understand it better.
And to me that speaks - when I hear things like that of my neighbor saying that they got it because the way that we analyze the media - the news and, you know, create an opinion may help them create their own opinion of the situation, then I'm doing my job.
So in that sense, my opinion, my slanted point of view actually serves a purpose here, which is to help people create their own filter and come to their own conclusions about all the information there is out there.
So, yeah, I absolutely agree with her. I think that there is a lot of information out there, but I do think, though, that in terms of opinion-makers, especially on TV, the talking heads, we really don't have - we don't have variety, we don't have diversity.
And I'm not saying just diversity in the equal opportunity sense; I really speak to diversity in terms of opinions and points of view.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, speaking of diversity of opinion, have people, Kety, been blogging on CrossLeft and writing on CrossLeft about Barack Obama and whether he should have been the nominee in the first place? Eve asks, from Victoria in Australia, "Have the Democrats shot themselves in the foot by going with Obama instead of Hillary?" And since Senator Clinton is speaking tonight before the convention, I guess a lot of people might be having that same thought.
KETY ESQUIVEL: Yeah, on CrossLeft.org actually there were a lot of Clinton supporters, so it is true that - on our site we were talking both about Clinton as well as Senator Obama, so Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, and people preferred either/or.
So what is important, I believe, to us at the site, as well as, I think, to the American populace as a whole and the voting community, is where are the Democrats going to land so far as unity? Will this become an issue where the people who are supporting Clinton are able to rally behind now Obama, who is the Democratic candidate, or will they not be able to do so?
One of the things I've been really excited to see is on CrossLeft.org, they have. They have said, you know what, what we care about is the issues; what we care about is what exactly is this candidate going to do when they're in office? That's why, I think - to the previous question - it's very important for us to understand, what are their policies that they're proposing? What do they have on record insofar as what they've supported? Have they flip-flopped or have they remained constant?
And I think those are the questions that we were asking ourselves of whatever candidate would come from the Democratic ticket as well as from the Republican ticket.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what are the issues that people who call themselves progressive Christians think are important?
KETY ESQUIVEL: Well, at CrossLeft.org we focus our progressive Christianity around social justice. We see a Jesus as being, you know, this individual who was human and divine, who came to this world to talk about issues of social justice: taking care of the least of these.
We see it again and again in the Bible and the New Testament. And so, looking at that and at what we call red-letter Christianity, which is what Jesus actually said, we look at that to say, okay, well, what should inform our values insofar as what we want to see our politicians do.
We don't care so much insofar as the rest of our politicians' life necessarily, but, rather, what are they committed to do and what are they going to do once they're in office?
To your question, that has to do with issues of the economy. Is it going to be an economy which is really put forward in such a way that people are able to pursue the American dream? Is that going to be a reality or is it just going to be PR? Will it be just lip service where the rich are getting richer and there's no opportunity for the poorer?
We also care about issues such as healthcare, issues such as education, issues which are really important to the rest of the American population as a whole. And one conversation which CrossLeft has intersected with a lot of the bloggers of the Latino community has been around the issue of immigration, which is something that is also very important. And if you look at the biblical, historical perspective you'll see that it says throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New that we need to take care of the alien because we were once an alien ourselves.
RAY SUAREZ: Final question, Liza. For visitors to culturekitchen - and I hope we drive a lot more people to the site in the coming days - what are they going to see? What are the people who are posting there wound up about as the Democratic National Convention progresses?
LIZA SABATER: Oh, gosh. Well, absolutely the Iraq War. You know, what's the timetable? When are we getting out? Also issues of the environment. One of our bloggers is a scientist and he's been covering a lot about what are the policies that Obama is going to - you know, the Obama administration is going to deal with?
And I write also about constitutional - I'm not a lawyer, but I am very much interested in constitutional law, especially the Patriot Act, how it's devolved into this, you know, constitutional monster in a way that is affecting, you know, all sorts of different policies, whether it's ICE - Immigration Customs Enforcement - or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or, you know, different, FISA. So, you know, that is one of the things that we are definitely going to be - we are very wonky in that sense, but also, you know, we are all struggling writers. And, you know, also the credit crisis is a big issue for us.
And, last, you know, because we're bloggers and because we are trying to build this alternative media, we really want to see where they're going in terms of not just giving more access to people like me, but really building our economy in such a way that we give opportunity to other people to be online.
So, you know, how are we going to build access to communities, especially communities of color and rural communities that don't have much choice in terms of how to get online, or even mobile communications.
And, you know, telecoms are becoming another, you know, can of worms in that respect because the digital divide is being affected by a lot of the economic policies that are put in place that allow telecommunications companies to really limit access in order to increase profits.
So those are the kind of things that we're looking into, like, you know, how can we make this not only about me but more democratic? And so, those are the things that not only I'm looking at the Democrats, how to deal with, but also Republicans as well.
RAY SUAREZ: Liza Sabater of culturekitchen and Daily Gotham; Kety Esquivel of CrossLeft, thank you both for being here.
KETY ESQUIVEL: Thank you.
LIZA SABATER: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: And thanks to all of you who've sent us questions through the week to ask on the Online NewsHour. Please continue to do so - we've got some great programs coming up for the rest of the week - and join us again tomorrow. Thanks for watching.