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Democratic Convention Grants Media Credentials to 'Bloggers' - 2004-07-28

For the first time, the Democratic National Convention has granted official media credentials to people who write web logs, a form of Internet communication that is spreading fast. Web log writing, often called "blogging," is well suited to political discussion.

With the reach of the Internet, individuals can publish their observations or philosophy for the whole world to see. All that is needed is a "blog."

"A blog is a personal website," explains Alex Jones, Director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy. "It's someone who has their own website and writes, usually on a daily, but sometimes an hourly basis, about an issue or an area that is of interest to them."

Mr. Jones says there are millions of bloggers on the Internet.

Out of 15,000 media representatives, 35 bloggers have been credentialed to attend the Democratic National Convention. Of those bloggers, only four are women.

Asked whether bloggers are real journalists, Eric Schnure, who identifies himself as the official convention blogger, says he prefers to call them "citizen journalists."

"We've been comparing them to pamphleteers, and not just because we're in Boston, home to so much of our democracy, the birthplace of so much of our democracy. Back then, what pamphleteers did - they were informed and passionate citizens, who were exercising judgments and opinions, and using the means of the day to amplify and broaden those opinions and judgments," he says. "And that's what bloggers are doing."

Another Democratic Convention blogger, Matt Stoller, says he is especially interested in how blogs are used as an alternative source of information in societies where information is tightly controlled by the government. He points to the example of Iran, where computer aficionados recently wrote a blogging guidebook in Farsi.

"And then the blogging thing in Iran just took off," he notes. "And, because it's a state-dominated media, with some freedoms, but mostly state-dominated, the blogging thing really has changed the political landscape of the country."

One observer of social trends, Ann Fishman, from the marketing company Generational Targeted Marketing Corporations, says she sees blogs as the communication wave of the future. She says it allows ordinary people to get involved in a democracy.

"The nice thing about the blog, the Internet being the new tool of democracy, is that it does allow people to participate in the process,: says Ms. Fishman. "And that's what you want. You want people to participate in the process of democracy. And you want people, since this is going around the world, it gives them a window to America, meaning that people from all over - if something is said today in Toledo, Ohio, it's instantaneously being read in Toledo, Spain."

Harvard University's Alex Jones says blogs can often be less reliable than traditional media. But he says responses from readers of the blog can serve as fact checkers or rumor quashers. He adds that influential blogs can disseminate information through what he describes as a "viral effect." "It spreads, just like that," adds Mr. Jones. "That's the power of the blog and the power of the Internet. Something can be on it. It can be picked up and applied in a matter of minutes and be all over the world."

The Republican Party says it will also give media credentials to bloggers at its convention next month in New York. The recognition of blogging by both political parties is one indication that this forum for political discussion is entering the mainstream.