The Role of a Campaign Blogger
by Matt Stoller, Sat Feb 17, 2007 at 07:47:10 AM EST
Since journalists are now snooping around and trying to marginalize the left-wing blogosphere by pretending we're a bunch of undisciplined crazies, I figured I'd write a quick guide on how to be a good campaign blogger and/or netroots specialist. Despite what a lot of journalists seem to think, Amanda and Melissa are not in fact the only bloggers that have worked for campaigns. Matt Gross and Zephyr Teachout worked for Dean, Kerry had his crew of bloggers, and starting in the 2004 cycle and dramatically accelerating through 2006, there were probably close to a hundred candidates who had bloggers on staff. I worked for Simon Rosenberg for DNC Chair, and Jon Corzine for Governor in 2005. The same smears were tried on many campaign bloggers (including me), and they didn't work. Peter Daou has worked for Hillary Clinton for a little less than a year, and he's under tremendous scrutiny, but that hasn't cost Hillary Clinton anything. Joe Rospars, who got his start as a blogger, is the 'New Media Director' for Barack Obama. I mean even Joe Lieberman had bloggers on staff, including Dan Gerstein.
I think this is because the field of 'campaign blogger' or 'internet director' or 'netroots coordinator', or whatever you want to call them, is a professional position at this point. Presidential campaigns especially, but any campaign really, are not the place for personal expression. They are not the place to be free of constraints. They are a place where you move carefully, ethically and deliberately to channel information to benefit your candidate, and ideally, keep yourself out of the picture. In that vein, being a campaign blogger is not so different than being any other member of staff.
Here are four basic duties of a campaign blogger or netroots specialist.
Smear patrol: Your chief responsibility is to detect smears on the internet from the right and bring those to the attention of the communications director along with a plan of action to deal with them. Let's just say that the Edwards campaign didn't do this.
Content management: Since good bloggers do a lot of listening, bloggers are in a good position to write emails that resonate and blog posts that help describe your candidate's position. Again, coordination with the comm team is critical.
Online Surrogate Management: Campaign bloggers should serve as the editor of the campaign blog, bringing in perspectives from field, media, management, surrogates, candidate and campaign manager.
Blogger Outreach: Campaign bloggers need to communicate with a network of bloggers that share their candidate's values and are interested in the race. They should use this network to influence influentials and reach voters as efficiently as possible. They must also communicate with the larger universe of bloggers who have interest but not allegiance to your candidate, providing them with information they find helpful and open discourse.
Obviously this is just one model, and maybe it's not the best model. Campaign netroots people could be pulled more towards the communication side, or the field side, and there's always a question of who controls the various email lists. It's critical that netroots experts have a senior seat at the table at this point in campaigns, but it's also critical that netroots experts act like professionals.
I was surprised that no one vetted Amanda and Melissa, and I was equally surprised that the campaign allowed them to operate as if their personal expressive needs mattered at all. I was also surprised that no one, including the bloggers themselves, anticipated the smears or bothered to deal with them until it was a full blown crisis. Blogging for a campaign is a professional communications job, and treating it with a cavalier attitude is not appropriate.
This shouldn't be a surprise. The normal rules of campaigns apply. Don't make yourself the story. You may need to fall on your sword. Anticipate how you make your candidate vulnerable and pro-actively address the vulnerabilities. Reporters also ought to realize that communications problems are communications problems, and are unrelated to the medium of blogging. Sure the internets are new, but bad political choices and incompetent campaigns and staffers are not new.
I don't like that all the people who have worked on campaigns as bloggers are being smeared by the Edwards brush, but that seems to be what's happening. I'm curious about whether people who have worked as campaign bloggers and staffers have thoughts on how I've outlined this.