Blogging There

By Dan Bricklin

In normal, daily blogging, you watch the world go by and pick and choose things you want to comment upon. There is material online to point to and react to. Event blogging is different. The time is very condensed and the amount of information is concentrated. The event marches on and won't stop for you to take time for thinking and writing. There is a feeling that if you stop to blog, you might miss what's going on.

There were 15,000 paid professionals covering the Democratic National Convention. There were live and edited TV feeds produced by thousands more. These full-time people had time to prepare. They are used to covering such events—that's what they do for a living year after year. What should the role of the blogger be? Their readers may or may not have seen any of those other reports. How do you integrate that in?

Hello World

Unlike a normal conference or family event, with a single speaker, a single party, and a single hall to schmooze in, a convention has high-power meetings everywhere. There are media extravaganza presentations waving signs, and thousands of interesting participants—some you only see on tabloid covers or the evening news. There are many others whose personal stories are gems.

I've been using various forms of blogs to cover events for several years. I've done family events like weddings, and industry events, like the Digital Storytelling Festival and Comdex, since 1999. I've learned a lot from doing those and watching my progression over time. Now, there's another element coming into play. I'm not alone.

Fast Company blogger Heath Row does miraculous real-time transcription. David Weinberger is insightful and funny. AKMA shows the philosophical side. Winer links to items I'd never have seen helping people find the pieces. The pressure is off me to cover the whole thing and I get a niche. I'm known for taking good pictures indoors. Weinberger is perceptive for a living and used to write comedy, and AKMA teaches at a seminary.

As insightful as they are, convention Bloggers need time to adjust. For DNC bloggers, preparation consisted of arranging for accommodations and equipment. A few worked on the technical aspects of cameras and microphones, but couldn't prepare for the all-important connectivity to the Internet until the day it started. The first posts were like any new blog: "This is my first post." "Hello world!" Then the introspective, circular "Wow, I'm blogging in this situation" and then moving out to "That blogger I know is here and blogging, too" and "A news organization I know is sitting over there."

Watching Them Watch Us

The Blogger Breakfast was a curveball. The bloggers were news. They were under the microscope, not looking through it. They reported what it felt like to be a blogger. We could relate and appreciate the report from the front. Some bloggers, in reporting the breakfast event, reported the questions they themselves asked as well as the answers they received, getting back into the groove with their own biases and perspectives.

By Tuesday morning there was blogger burn out. Some of the bloggers just fell back into their normal modes. Wonkette had infrequent posts on topics that you'd expect. Dave Winer looked for things to point to and did experiments with audio and stuff. They all were getting distracted by being interviewed while they were trying to do their thing.

The Barak Obama story was rejuvenating. He seemed to impress the bloggers but there were questions about whether he was special because he was the keynote speaker or the keynote speaker because he was special. We heard how different news anchors watched (or didn't watch) the stage since they already read advanced copies of speeches. Then Matt Gross, put it all together. Having read the speech, he then reviewed how it was delivered and why it went over so well. That was contrasted by blogger Jesse Taylor's reaction to Dan Rather's "journal" entry written before the talk, where Rather says how dull things were and discusses the upcoming Obama speech in terms of being from an African American, not what he would say and how he'd say it.

The Importance of Being There

For me, a stunning moment was Wednesday morning when I opened the newspapers. It was as if the journalists had just read the speeches and chose to mention it along with others in a scripted coverage they had decided upon in advance. Here was news (the keynote really was a keynote) and they turned it into a dry report. There was little of the emotion from Obama's speech, or about Teresa Heinz Kerry's talk, in the papers. At least the neighborhood paper (more personal, like a blog) ran pictures and stories about local people, including the kid who movingly played the violin. The blogs had emotion. The bloggers had lots to say.

Politics is about hope. Hope is emotional, and as Jerome Groopman writes in The Anatomy of Hope, a very important thing to being human. For many events, you really want to know how it feels. Political conventions today are about transmitting a feeling and the press tries to filter that out, leaving something strange and unnatural. You wonder how the traditional press would cover the Grand Canyon. You know what it's like before you get there, it hasn't changed much, but, oh my, is it emotional when you look out at it. There's no way bloggers could cover everything. But something is missing without them. Bloggers give you the feelings so they add an important element: emotion.


Dan Bricklin is the co-creator of VisiCalc, the first PC spreadsheet.

Published: Monday, August 02, 2004, 11:50