BlogHer Session Discussion: Political Blogging on Day Two

BlogHer Original Post

25th in our series introducing you to each of our BlogHer Conference '06 sessions and their speakers, and finding out what you would like to get from each session. Today, I bring you from Day Two:

Political Blogging: Same shit, different day? What did political blogs accomplish in 2004, besides bringing down Dan Rather and selling tickets to Farenheit 911? Will poli-blogs and hyper-local citizen journalism sites really make a difference in 2006 and 2008? Are bloggers better off trying to influence their own communities or sway the masses? Lisa Williams talks with Jarah Euston, Kety Esquivel, Courtney Hollands, Lindsay Beyerstein and Ann Althouse...bloggers representing all types of blogs, and with a range of opinions on what they expect to achieve with those blogs.

Here's what we aren't trying to start: another political argument, left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican. We don't even want a debate over who uses online communication tools better, or about when political communications cross the line into propaganda, and who are the worst offenders. Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we been there and done that?

What might be compelling, though, is a discussion about two very important upcoming election cycles: 2006 and 2008, and about whether or not political blogging has "grown up" since the 2004 election. The rise of hyper-local sites, like those by a few of our speakers, indicate that people will get engaged at a very local level if given half the chance. But is it because they're tuning out at the national level? Does it matter? What if you personally want to have an impact...where should you be focusing your energies? Community or group blogs? Or just by being one very consistent and convincing voice? Or are the best results only gotten when you stop trying to persuade and simply provide a forum for respectful discussion? Respectful discussion? In political blogs? Sure, check out this pretty reasonable bi-partisan discussion about the hot-button issue of gay marriage if you don't believe it can exist.

[img_assist|fid=1113|thumb=1|alt=Lisa Williams]Lisa Williams is moderating our panel, although it was almost under protest. See, she doesn't consider herself a political blogger at all. And then she casually mentions to me how some in her town (Watertown, MA) think her hyper-local citizen journalism site, H2OTown, "tilted an election." Um, I think that's about as political as it gets...and that's more discernible impact than most of us political bloggers can claim! (I say this as a frustrated political blogger myself!)

[img_assist|fid=1117|thumb=1|alt=Jarah Euston] Jarah Euston and FresnoFamous tend to focus more on the local culture in Fresno than on politics...but the goal is really to engage Fresno-ites, especially young Fresno-ites and prevent "brain drain." And by allowing any Fresno-ite to create content on the site they are "blowing the minds" of their local traditional media. And becoming known as a kind of media watchdog...covering and tracking stories that the local traditional media isn't deeming important enough. De-centralized information, and disintermediated distribution of that information. OK, those are buzz words, but the filters are gone and the control is being lost!

[img_assist|fid=1079|thumb=1|alt=Images for Contributing Editors, F-K] Kety Esquivel is the Executive Director of a different kind of hyper-targeted site...one that isn't about giving voice to a geographic community, but rather an spiritual and ideological one: progressive Christians. The idea is to create an online social network and drive political action. Why does CrossLeft exist? Why do some progressive Christians think they need their own organization? Aren't they just doing what MoveOn does, but on a smaller scale? Does it just dilute money and attention? Kety will tell you "no." And why not.

[img_assist|fid=1121|thumb=1|alt=Courtney Hollands] Courtney Hollands might just represent the wave of the future. Her local print newspaper company started the Wicked Local site and blogs to get all hyper-local and citizen journalism-y. (I lived in Massachusetts for only two years as a child, but occasionally still say "wicked" as in "very".) Courtney is blogging and video blogging about local events in Plymouth, MA. It's much the same philosophy as Fresno Famous, actually: "it's your town, so get involved." But does that extend to political activity? If Courtney's job is to tell townspeople what hip and happening in Plymouth is that ever going to include a political debate, or a city council meeting, or a demonstration outside a local business?

[img_assist|fid=1125|thumb=1|alt=Lindsay Beyerstein] Lindsay Beyerstein is a more traditional, straight-up political blogger. She is partisan and proud of it. She has also engaged in more than her share of citizen journalism efforts, getting readers to support her as she travels to where the news is...most famously when she covered Tom DeLay's "perp walk" in Texas. Check out her Flickr set on it, cheesy smile and all. Lindsay definitely runs with the other big dogs of liberal political blogging, and definitely has an opinion or two about how effective her and their efforts have been...and will be in these upcoming elections.

[img_assist|fid=1129|thumb=1|alt=Ann Althouse] Which brings us to conservative moderate law and politics blogger, Ann Althouse. Ann doesn't consider herself a political animal. At. All. Frankly, she's less interested in politics than she is in seeing whether or not she can host a respectful and reasonable debate on her site. Not too surprising for a law professor to feel that way. And Ann does not consider herself to be either a knee-jerk partisan nor someone who is trying to persuade anyone. Yet, perhaps despite herself, somehow she's developed this reputation (and audience) for her political thinking. Meanwhile she blogs about plenty of other stuff...including writing a mean American Idol recap! Call her an anomaly. But does she see her readers (who come from either side of the political divide) finding common ground? [UPDATE: Received a note from Ann stating this about how she would label herself: "I always say I'm a moderate. One of the subjects I've often written about is the way people label me conservative and the way the liberal hawk doesn't seem to be a category anymore." Fair enough.]

So, that's what we are envisioning for the session. But what do you think. What do you want to learn? What do you want to hear? What do you never want to hear again? What would make you attend this session?

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