DENVER, Colorado (AFP) — A new media army has descended on the Democratic convention in Colorado this week, boldly claiming to offer a fresh perspective on US politics distinct from the mainstream media.
For the first time ever at a major convention, bloggers say they are being treated with respect normally reserved for print and electronic journalists, a reflection of the Internet's growing influence on the campaign trail.
Democratic convention organizers issued around 120 credentials specifically for bloggers at this year's convention -- roughly three times as many as they did at their last extravaganza in Boston four years ago.
Dedicated work areas for bloggers have been set up inside the Pepsi Center, while those reporting from the sidelines are gathering at "The Big Tent", a two-story structure catering to around 500 independent bloggers.
Jen Bruenjes, a contributing editor at the liberal blog Daily Kos, which is one of three sponsors of the facility said for 100 dollars bloggers got a workspace, free wi-fi, and perhaps most attractively, free beer.
"We had a lot of feedback from the 2004 convention that activities during the day were pretty boring but that the bloggers enjoyed hanging out together," Bruenjes said. "So we thought let's create a zone where we can do that. Once we started down that road the interest skyrocketed."
"I think four years ago in Boston there was nothing. Just a conference room with a couple of crates of beer and wifi."
As well as allocating more dedicated blogger credentials, Democratic organizers have also chosen 55 online commentators to represent 54 states and territories attending the convention.
This band of bloggers are granted access to the convention floor in order to report on their state delegation from the front lines.
"(Democratic National Comittee chairman) Howard Dean told us yesterday that we had better access than the mainstream media and I actually think that's true," said Cheryl Contee, a founder of JackandJillpolitics.com, a blog set up to focus on black issues.
"We're getting access to the podium, to the floor, there really aren't many places that are off limits."
The embrace of new media has not been limited to the Democrats. The Republicans have also rushed to woo bloggers, issuing around 200 credentials for next week's convention in St Paul, Minnesota, up from a handful in 2004.
"A lot of people find the traditional media very stale, very programmed," said the Daily Kos's Bruenjes. "Our readers are looking for something more than a 30-second soundbite on important issues."
Contee echoed that view, arguing that the explosion in blogs reflected a growing distrust of traditional media, citing the reporting by US media of the build-up to the 2003 war in Iraq as a key reason.
"Blogs have become important because there's been a declining trust in the mainstream media particularly in the lack of hard-hitting reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war," Contee said.
"That combined with the new availability of tools that allows anyone to publish and create their own audience, which didn't exist before."
JackandJillpolitics.com was launched in 2006 with only two bloggers and now has a staff of six people, even if it is only a hobby for Contee, who is a full-time technology consultant.
Now the site is attracting 100,000 unique users every month and has carved out a niche for people want "news without the usual filters."
Pam Spaulding, the founder of PamsHouseBlend.com, which specializes in commentary and reporting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, the religious right and race matters, also blogs around a day job in academic publishing. "I had to take my paid time off to come here," Spaulding told AFP. "I've pretty much exhausted my allowance for the whole year. I'm going to have to take unpaid leave for the rest of the year if I want to travel, but fortunately my employer is supportive.
"My goal is to cover the stories that you're not going to see on television or primetime. We can't compete with the resources the networks or traditional media have."
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