by Chris Bowers, Fri Aug 13, 2004 at 05:12:04 PM EDT
What a day. After the spending the morning in Hoeffel HQ, seeing Joe speak to start his Change is Gonna Come tour of every county in Pennsylvania, and narrowly missing meeting Atrios, (the picture on the right was taken by Atrios--afterward I found out that I was standing behind him when he took it), I hopped in the press van. The press group included myself and two other writers, Laura Jakes Jordan of the AP and Carrie Budoff of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Half an hour later, I was inside the Hoeffel RV on the way to an event in Doylestown, interviewing Joe right alongside the other two writers. As the morning progressed, when I wasn't thinking about how improbable it was that I was in such a situation, the now famous article by Alex Jones about bloggers and the conventions came to mind:[T]his moment of blogging legitimization -- and temporary press credentials -- doesn't turn bloggers into journalists.(...)
[B]loggers, with few exceptions, don't add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.At the time, it certainly seemed to me that Jones was absolutely wrong. After all, for most of the morning, I was, without doubt, a full-fledged member of the press. Not only had I asked questions right alongside the other two writers, the campaign had contacted me personally about riding on the bus. While I was clearly more intimidated than the other two writers, I was still there. (I will be adding a picture of the interview on the bus if and when it becomes available).
Joe is very personable and articulate. In his speech to staff and press at campaign headquarters, he spent a significant amount of time tying Specter to Santorum and Bush using Specter's own advertisements during the primary against Toomey (Santorum: Arlen is with us on the votes that matter to move our agenda forward). He also pointed out that if Specter is elected, he will become the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, and that Specter has never voted against a Bush judicial nominee. In his stump speech at Doylestown, Hoeffel said that the first act of a Democratic Senate should be to repeal the Medicare bill that was passed last year. He also warned voters that he expected Specter to employ typical Republican culture war tactics such as playing the flag burning card in order to distract people from GOP failures on pocketbook issues. On the bus itself, responding to a question about the purpose of the tour by Laura Jakes Jordan, he said the following:What is important is the message of the campaign, but you can't get that message out without traveling around the state and reaching the smaller media as well as the statewide, regional papers. Frankly, there is no statewide press, other than the AP. There is no central spot. So, in order to reach the voters, and have the media drive the message, you need to get out and about. Joe conceded that the tour will not be as effective as television advertisements in raising name recognition and making the race competitive. As such, he did not expect the polls to show a tight race until they went on the airwaves over the next two months. Still, he argued that this tour is part of a cumulative process of having his message reach voters and that "it will all come together very quickly." After stating that the campaign was more reaching its fundraising targets and that fundraisers with Clinton and Gore were coming up in the next month, he joked about the pundits who repeatedly noted that he needed to raise his name recognition, as though he didn't already know that. When I told him and the high level staffer who was with him about Herseth's tremendous success using blogads during the South Dakota special election, they seemed very interested.
After the interview was over and we arrived in Doylestown, I was growing convinced that Alex Jones was wrong about blogs. However, what happened in Doylestown made it clear to me that he actually was right: bloggers are not the same as journalists, no matter what credentials we have. However, I also realized that this difference does not necessarily reflect badly on either them or us.
For starters, bloggers are comparatively very low budget. The tape recorder I used both for the Hoeffel event today and my interview with Ginny Schrader two weeks ago was borrowed from the place where my brother / roommate works, and the tape was an old Phish mix tape that accidentally played once during the interview (much to everyone's amusement). My "business" cards are handwritten on the back of non-individualized cards I received from the AFL-CIO during my four-month stint in Chicago as a union organizer. My bag is the old British Army backpack I bought from a friend during the year I spent studying in England, because my "professional" over the shoulder bag developed one too many holes around one year ago. My cell-phone is two and a half years old, making it possibly the oldest functioning model on the planet. Overall, compared to the other people covering the event, I was clearly operating on a shoestring. This was probably emphasized by the fact that I have never taken a single journalism course in my entire life.
A far more important difference, however, was what happened when we reached Doylestown for the second Hoeffel event. Instead of hanging out with the other journalists at Starbucks, I hung out with Ginny Schrader's staff on the steps outside the offices of the Bucks County Democratic Committee (Ginny also spoke at the Doylestown event). Instead of being guarded, they freely gave me inside information about the campaign, including the scoop printed below, and urged me to post it as soon as possible. Later on, when Dana Miller, Joe Hoeffel's events coordinator, was giving me a ride home, she told me that a senior staffer said it was okay to tell me anything because I "was one of us." In other words, by making no pretensions about being objective and by openly appearing casual, I was privy to more information about both the Schrader and Hoeffel campaigns than were the two writers from prominent, well-respected news organizations. In many ways, it was actually an advantage to be a partisan amateur with a soapbox.
Whether or not this makes blogging better than journalism is irrelevant. Instead, it points the important function that blogs serve and that will allow us to continue to increase in prominence. We are, after all, not just a community of talkers, but also one of action. As long as we continue to connect our analysis, reporting and confessionals to action, we will continue to grow in stature and importance. After all, what campaign would not want an essentially free reservoir of activist support?
Change is gonna to come in Pennsylvania. Change is well under way is journalism and political activism. Act for Joe now.