Some random thoughts on this weekend's bloggers conference in Charlottesville (unfortunately, I was only able to be there on Saturday):
Decrying the Divide
I am disappointed that the Virginia political blogosphere has allowed egos, partisan bickering and polarization to divide bloggers into those who attended the "liberal" Sorenson conference (strange denomination given keynotes by McDonnell and Bolling, but it is true that conservative bloggers were outnumbered) and those who will attend a "conservative" bloggers conference in Collinsville in August.
Last year's blogger's conference was distinguished by the collaboration of Chad and Waldo bringing the blogging world together as a "community" to engage in reasoned discourse across philosophical and political lines. Perhaps we should all go to Collinsville to seek to rebuild communications across the silly battle lines drawn this summer, that is, if those of us who participated in this weekend's meeting are "allowed" to attend the other.
C'mon guys... Do we need to model our behavior on the traditional organizations that we all so often criticize? Wouldn't it be refreshing if we could come together despite egos and politics to engage each other as peers? We should try to do better.
Being obstreperous and contentious is my friend Steve's brand. He didn't disappoint.
Chris Piper did his usual effective job helping folks understand the state campaign finance rules to the extent that they are understandable. Audience member, former governor's counsel, and campaign law expert, Lee Goodman, added great substantive comments to the discussion.
For the most part, using common sense works. If you get paid to blog, campaigns would have to report your fees just as they'd have to report any other payments for services. If you get paid to blog by others and you give your services to the campaign, the market value of the services should be reported as an in-kind contribution. If someone pays you for an ad, they'd have to report it; if you give a campaign free ad space for which you charge others, it's an in-kind contribution. But there are a lot of gray areas.
That's why it's time to seek greater clarity regarding the rules regarding "internet communications" in Virginia. The new federal rules (published March 27th) provide a helpful starting place. Under those rules, paid ads on blogs and payments for blogging services must be reported by campaigns. Otherwise blogging is pretty much exempt. There are other rules for mass emails, etc, that also deserve some thought.
Read the rules here, the FEC's FAQs here and some analysis here,and here.
Ethics and Standards of Conduct
Jim Bacon would be so pleased. Even the "wild westers" from last year seem to see some value in a voluntary code of ethics.
I agree with Mike Shear (WaPo reporter who was Saturday's lunch speaker) that, if a blogger wants to be seen as a journalist, a blogger has to act like a journalist -- not a repeater of idle gossip, innuendo and items of suspect truth.
I also believe that those of us in the blogospere who play varying roles, campaign worker, lobbyist, etc, owe it to our readers to make clear what role we are playing on our blogs or posts. Our profiles should contain sufficient information to allow readers to evaluate our biases. Specific posts should also include a disclaimer/other info where appropriate.
Pseudonymous blogging is not journalism. It is, like the Federalist Papers and other anonymous tracts, a platform for conveying a point of view without having to take responsibility for it or to hide from readers the bias/posture/profession/job of the author. That said, like the Federalist Papers, it is not inherently bad nor without redeeming social value.
Anonymous posting is the tool of the paid blogger or the troll or the irresponsible person or the person who wouldn't have the nerve to say or want to be judged for saying what he/she posts and who doesn't want to be tied to his/her doggerel even by a regularly used pseudonym.
EJournalism or Community
Bloggers need to decide 1) whether they are journalists (like Jim Bacon) who create an environment in which they publish information and opinion and where comments will, like letters to the editor, be less frequent and more substantive ;
2) whether they are writers/commentators trying to create an interactive community where they write and other folks come to share their views and opinions (hopefully, respectfully and with some measure of maturity).
I think that it is difficult to try to be both, although some seem to think it possible or a goal to be sought.
In either case, as Waldo says, you set the standard and you get back what you send out. If you are mature, you get mature. If you are juvenile, you get juvenile.
My blog is, unfortunately, in that wasteland in between jounalism and community.
Not regular enough nor informed enough to be journalism, and not "friendly" enough to generate community.
I need to think about that.
Let me know what you think.