August 28, 2008
Blog Shack: At New Media Tent, Words and Beer Flow Freely
By Mary Anne Ostrom; Lisa Vorderbrueggen
About 500 bloggers, from Berkeley's Daily Kos to Susan "the Neon Nurse" from Lamar, Co. (pop.9,062), are crammed into what, it turns out, is a not-quite-big- enough tent to meet the crush of bloggers descending on Denver this week.
The two-story, 8,000-square-foot tent, a few blocks from the convention center where traditional media types are holed up, is advertised as new media central for the convention.
With sponsors including Google, YouTube and Digg, the Big Tent also underscores how the blogging community is going mainstream.
On Monday, visiting reporters had to pass through two checkpoints after getting "press" credentials to cover the tent story. PR representatives milled among the bloggers, who scarfed down burrito lunches donated by a local restaurant. Sprint loaned Silicon Valley- based Momocrats broadband cards and AT&T gave them phones.
What was on the tent's flat-screen TVs? CNN.
"It's old media meets new media. It's new media meet new media. I'm just here to meet somebody," laughed Matt Cooper, the former Time Magazine investigative reporter who blogs and writes for Portfolio, a national business magazine.
"I just wonder if bloggers can have as much impact when they are in the same place as the big dogs," he added, referring to bloggers joining mainstream media to cover a political convention.
Yes, argued Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. Google's free massages and fruity smoothies (antioxidants before carbohydrate- laden beer), does not mean that bloggers are going soft. But the California-style amenities have generated lots of media coverage.
Blogs are only "growing, growing, growing," Moulitsas said. "The bottom line is that people no longer want to be spectators. Technology allows us to essentially become participants." He said that the seed of Sen. John McCain's recent controversial admission to an online reporter that he did not know how many houses he owned came from a blogger's piece about each of the candidates' homes.
Moulitsas made the trip to the 2004 convention alone.
For Denver, he brought 10 of his staff members and paid to help operate the tent. The reason: He feared lesser-known bloggers would not get official convention credentials.
He was right. The Democratic National Convention has credentialed more than 120 blogs, but only a fraction of those who wanted in. The privately funded tent is meant to handle the overflow. Just because they cannot get into the floor has not stopped them from writing about everything from the 1,200 parties and the side political meetings to opining about, well, everything.
But Moulitsas acknowledged that the tent's scope has grown beyond his first visions. "I just asked for free food, free Wi-Fi and free beer," he laughed. A second floor was added to the tent to handle guest speakers ranging from Dan Rather to billionaire T. Boone Pickens to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft also are in Denver. However, marketing- minded Google is making the biggest splash at both this week's Democratic convention and next week's meeting of Republicans in St. Paul, Minn. Google has teams of people encouraging delegates and bloggers to use an array of Google-owned technologies offered by YouTube, Blogger.com and Picasa, a photo service. Yahoo is hosting public policy forums with Democratic party leaders.
"Four years ago there was no YouTube," said Steve Grove, news and politics director of YouTube. "This time we have delegates uploading videos from the convention center."
He also has won a coveted spot behind the convention podium from Denver, where he intends to catch instant interviews of many of the convention's top draws and immediately post them.
Anyone with a phone could turn themselves into a citizen journalist.
Sheila Dowd, a Momocrat from San Jose, on Monday was moving from event to event, eating up the opportunity, even though she would miss her 5-year-old's first day of kindergarten.
"We're tearing it up, using cool tools," she reported, including Twitter and blogging software coveritlive.com.
While the tent has become a handy marketing tool for hot-tech companies, it also is providing an outlet for diverse blogging voices.
Jill Stanek is a conservative, pro-life blogger from Chicago. The Democratic convention organizers had turned down her credential request, but "I'm being treated cordially here," she said.
Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, is blogging from the Big Tent, too.
"I've been a couch potato, but this election is just too darned important," he said. "But this is how the media is changing. It gives guys like me a place and an opportunity to raise our voices."
Originally published by Mary Anne Ostrom and Lisa Vorderbrueggen, Medianews staff.
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