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The Democratic National Convention: "Watershed" Moment for Bloggers

July 28, 7:06 pm: Officially, it’s known as Section 321. It consists of a few rows of yellow seats at nosebleed level just under the rafters of the Fleet Center. It’s so close to the top, you can almost reach up and puncture the red, white and blue balloons suspended from the ceiling awaiting the big moment Thursday night when John Kerry accepts the nomination of his party.

But here at the Democrats’ gabfest, Section 321 is known more popularly as “blogger boulevard.”

It’s the lair of the 35 Web loggers, or bloggers, who, for the first time in convention history, have been accredited to cover the proceedings in their own special way.

Eric Schnure, the official blogger of the Democratic National Committee, explained that the convention organizers decided to accredit bloggers in part to supplement the meager network television coverage.

“People are getting their news in a variety of ways these days,” Schnure said, “and these bloggers are one more way to get our message out.”

He said the DNC got 200 applications from bloggers seeking accreditation. It issued credentials to 35, based on readership and reputation.

The denizens of Section 321 tap away at laptops on temporary tables. They range from liberal to moderate to conservative in their political slants, from sophisticated to sophomoric in their writing.

But to David Sifry, the founder and chief executive of technorati.com, which monitors the world of Weblogs, they are all pioneers.

“This is a watershed moment for bloggers,” Sifry said. “They are adding to the coverage and political discourse at this convention. I can’t imagine we’ll have a convention in the future without them.”

***

July 27, 4:45 PM:

Seen on the convention floor….

There is a free-form, occasionally comic side to the Democratic Convention that plays out on the arena floor, but never is broadcast on television.

From early morning until the official 4 p.m. start time, the vast, blue-carpeted floor of the Fleet Center is a sea of gawking tourists (those that have wangled arena credentials, at least), politicians in search of a reporter or television camera and journalists in search of anything approximating news.

On Monday, for example, the filmmaker Michael Moore came onto the floor in his trademark baseball cap and was immediately surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters, camera men, soundmen wielding long-handled boom mikes and curious onlookers. For the next 45 minutes, he held forth on the perfidies of the Bush administration, the response to his hit film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and his forecast of a John Kerry victory in November.

A few feet away, the cast and crew of “Tanner ’04,” an update of the cult favorite television series “Tanner 88,” was shooting a scene involving Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame, Michael Murphy, who plays Jack Tanner, and Madeline Albright, the former secretary of state, who has a walk-on part in the new series that is to air on the Sundance channel this fall.

Robert Altman, the director, saw the commotion around Michael Moore and sent his crew over to get some footage.

“This is about as incestuous as it gets,” Altman said, “a documentary film about a documentary filmmaker, who walks on to the set of a documentary film. Talk about a play within a play!”

Other sightings on the arena floor: the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is drawn to television cameras like the proverbial moth to a flame, and Jerry Springer, the talk show host who is considering running for governor in Ohio.

***

Here’s a scoop, at least as of 4:35 pm July 27: Ron Reagan, the son of the late Republican president, who is a featured speaker at the convention tonight, has written the following closing line to his audience of Democrats:

“Whatever else you do come November 2nd, I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem-cell research.”

Sounds like a Kerry endorsement to me.

***

July 26, 7:05 pm:

So, why, if there is “no news” at the Democratic convention in Boston, as so many journalists lament, are so many reporters covering it?

There are an estimated 15,000 media representatives here, roughly three for every convention delegate. They have been sent here at considerable expense by news organizations large and small, from every state and scores of countries around the world.

The explanation, of course, is that what happens here over the next few days and later at the Republican convention in New York sets the stage for the biggest “news” of the year, the selection of the president and party that will lead the country for the next four years.

The identities of the nominees are not in doubt – that sort of suspense drained out of these quadrennial gatherings long ago – but the conventions are rare opportunities for each party to present their leaders and their views to a public that polls suggest has yet to focus on the election.

That is why the reporters are here, spending their employers’ money, chasing after every political figure they can find and privately hoping, of course, that against all odds, something unexpected, some “news” in the traditional sense of the word, will still happen before they pack up and go home at the end of the week.

So, if these conventions are important, if unconventional, “news,” how much coverage do they deserve?

Not much, is the answer of the three major over-the-air broadcast networks, which are planning only three or four hours of coverage each during the week.

At a panel discussion on the eve of the convention, the news anchors, Dan Rather of CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC and Peter Jennings of ABC, all lamented their respective networks’ unwillingness to pre-empt more entertainment programming in favor of more live, prime-time convention coverage.

Each of the three said such decisions were beyond the scope of their jobs and authority. Dan Rather, for instance, argued that he is the managing editor of the CBS Evening News, but not the CBS network, and hence not able to dictate what is broadcast in prime time.

Brokaw and Jennings both said they had argued for more coverage without success. But Jim Lehrer, the anchor of The NewsHour, wasn’t having it. “I’m sorry,” he said, “you guys are a hell of a lot more important than your bosses are willing to admit.”

The audience, crowded into an auditorium at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, burst into applause. The anchors three looked uncomfortable.

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