The difference between traditional journalism and Internet "blogging" couldn't have been clearer Monday morning at the Hilton Boston Back Bay hotel.
"How can we trust you to blog if we don't know who you support" in the presidential election, David Weinberger asked veteran Associated Press writer Walter Mears, who won a Pulitzer prize for his political reporting in 1976.
"Because I'm objective," replied Mears, 69, who has come out of retirement to team with two colleagues on AP's first attempt at a political blog, an online diary of news and commentary, from the Democratic National Convention.
"That's the way you make your living" in journalism, he said. "The good ones learn to be dispassionate and straight."
For Weinberger, 53, Mears' answer underscored the dividing line between most of the 15,000 journalists covering this convention and the 35 bloggers who've been given press credentials by the Democrats. Weinberger writes JOHO The Blog, an eclectic site where he comments and reports about blogging, technology and politics.
In the blogging world, anyone producing an online diary or Web site that collects commentary from around the Internet is supposed to let everyone know his or her politics. The theory: Web surfers need to know bloggers' biases to understand their motivations. Presenting both sides of an issue in the interest of fairness isn't required.
"Objectivity is a worthwhile objective, but it needs to be recognized that it can't be reached," Weinberger said.
The arrival of the bloggers is perhaps the most overcovered media story of the convention so far. Chosen by party officials from about 200 bloggers who applied for media credentials, those now here have been welcomed by organizers as full-fledged members of the press. It's the first time online commentators and diarists have been admitted to a political convention. Republican officials are considering doing the same at their convention in a month.
On Monday, Democratic convention organizers put on a high-profile "breakfast for bloggers." Keynote speaker Barack Obama, the party's candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois, told the bloggers: "Although I can't match faces to blog sites, you guys have just been doing a fantastic job. . . . One of the most exciting things is how you're energizing young people."
Del Sandusky, who served with John Kerry in Vietnam and has been campaigning for the presidential candidate all year, told the group: "Bloggers are a great idea. . . . We need this other news and route for the most creative" to spread their opinions.
The bloggers gave a standing ovation to Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate. In 2003, Dean's presidential campaign used the Internet to promote his bid for the White House.
"I feel somewhat responsible for the fact that everybody got credentials," he told the bloggers.
Dean said the group shouldn't worry about the reception it gets from "traditional" journalists. "If I were you, I would not be insulted if someone refused to acknowledge you as a real journalist," he said. He said the "mainstream" media is far more biased than it will admit.
Some of the bloggers said they wouldn't even pretend they're traditional journalists.
"I'm a commentator," said Jessamyn West, 35, of Bethel, Vt. Her blog, librarian.net, focuses on issues such as library policy and whether the USA Patriot Act is eroding civil liberties.
"You need the big media because it's important for everyone to hear about the big stories," West said after the breakfast. "But the blogs are the corrective mechanisms that can set things straight."
One high-profile blogger didn't make it to the breakfast because she was busy getting ready for a report she'll do from the convention this week on MTV. Ana Marie Cox, 31, produces wonkette.com, an irreverent and gossipy blog that has caused a sensation in Washington, D.C., in part because of stories it ran about a woman who detailed her active Capitol Hill sex life.
"I'm glad there are news organizations that feel they should be objective and sober," she said Monday afternoon. "But I have no less respect for journalists who say, 'This is where I'm coming from.' "
Mears, the old-school wire service writer, said after the breakfast that he agrees "no one can be totally objective."
"But that doesn't mean you can't take your personal opinion out of a story," he said. "This is all a testament what a different world the other bloggers are in from me."
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