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My call from the DNCC on blogger credentials for the Denver convention

(UPDATE: CelticDiva and I had a pertinent exchange in the comments about the results of the communication failures in regards to discussions about race.)

I’ve laid off commenting about the dustup regarding the announcement of the 55 blogs selected for the DemConvention State Blogger Corps over the last few days in the hope of receiving more information regarding the program and handling of the fallout. There were actually two points of contention about the selection process that have been covered unevenly in the blogosphere.

1) Lack of racial diversity in the state pools selected (given the overall composition of the Dem party), and the fact that there is a different level of access to the state delegation given to these blogs on the floor at the Dem National Convention versus the general blogger pool, which will be announced this week;

2) The charge that there were political factors that went into the decision-making process for state blogs that resulted in highly qualified state blogs not making the final cut. This was the suggestion that state parties were consulted and were able to give thumbs up or down to specific blogs that may have been hard on the state parties.

Item number two has already been heavily covered in the progressive blogosphere, while outside of black blogs, the first item has been largely and curiously ignored by the top-tier blogs. As is the norm on such things, my position seems to straddle that group of progressive blogs. On the one hand, I think the problem is due to 1) an inability of state blogs to include more minority contributors; 2) some may not have thought about a lack of minority perspective on state and local issues as important; 3) those state blogs have truly tried by haven’t seen interest from POC who are well-versed in state and local issues who are able to/want to contribute to a state blog.

On the other hand, some of the black/brown bloggers have seen the selection results and have tossed “Jim Crow” charges out there — meaning overt, purposeful exclusion. I don’t see purposeful exclusion, what I see is a DNCC that wanted blogs represented at the convention in an unprecedented way, but was unable to see or fully address the minority representation problem (and we’re not only talking about racial minorities) it was going to create with its selection system.

The bottom line is that the lack of minority participation at the state blogger level is real, and it is a problem for the Democratic Party as well as the blogosphere.

However, both reactions aren’t particularly helpful in terms of improving dialogue long term — the defense shields go up, and nothing positive usually comes of this. It’s been frustrating to see it all unfold.

I was contacted by Aaron Myers, the director of online communications for the 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee, and spoke with him a couple of days ago to ask him about the credentialing process, the details in level of access, and some logistics, in an effort to get some information on the record. My notes are below the fold.My phone call with Aaron was cordial; my goal was not to assign blame or defend any faction on the matter. I wanted to get facts on the table so that any further writing on this topic is guided by the latest official information out there.

There was no discussion or plan to change the state blog pool selection as it stands, mind you — Aaron Myers conveyed that people of color will have very open access (though not not precisely equal) to delegates to report on the convention goings-on, and that the general pool will be more representative of the diversity of the party without a need for a quota of some sort in the state blog pool.

Here’s the current status as described to me on Friday. I’m just the messenger:

* Differences in credentials for state blogs and general pool bloggers. The major difference — and the one that has caused much consternation to date — is that the state blog credential allows one blogger to physically sit with the state delegation on the convention floor and liveblog. There will be hardwired Internet access as there will be no wi-fi in the convention hall (because of signal conflicts with all of the MSM hardware).

Aaron said that the floor access for the general pool bloggers (that includes the MSM), will given in 30-45 minute blocks of time via floor pass credential, which will be  obtained at a specific table/area in the hall. There will be no limit on how many times a general pool blogger can receive this pass during the convention. The general pool bloggers will also have a designated area to obtain the pass separate from traditional media so they aren’t competing with them for floor access.

Aaron noted that many of the state bloggers will, in fact, likely spend a lot more time with the rest of the general pool in the media filing center, which will be set up in the practice basketball court in a room adjacent to the main floor. This is not unlike many events I’ve liveblogged from — you’re off in a separate room that has big screen TVs so you can see/hear the action, and have better workspace for blogging, access to refreshments, etc. The pols, delegates and other figures wander in to do spinning, though I’m sure a lot of that is more likely occur on the floor.

* Number of people attending under a credential. State blogs will be able to send as many people as they want to Denver, but only one person at a time can be on the floor with the delegation.

For general pool bloggers, it’s a dicier matter. The general decision has been one credential means only one blogger per blog can attend. However, there are exceptions.

Huge, multi-contributor blogs like Daily Kos, for example, will obviously receive a credential, but Aaron noted that a blog of that size will be allowed to have more than one person attend. I made a point of saying that I understand the logic of that decision, but what about a multi-author blog that has a diverse focus and audience (not to be self serving, but PHB is a good example of this) that doesn’t reach the traffic level of a DKos or Americablog? How does the DNCC then decide which general pool blogs are allowed to bring more than one blogger to the convention? Aaron didn’t have an answer to that one, but he agreed that it was a matter that has to be addressed. Basically, the DNCC has to make some calls here, and I’m sure in the end that they won’t make everyone happy when the pool is announced this week. The blogosphere is an ornery bunch who simply want to see the party do this historic convention and coverage right.

* Open access to delegates: Aaron wanted to convey that prior to 4PM at during the convention there is actually a great deal of access to delegations that require no credentials at all, such as offsite breakfast meetings, and other caucus sessions where bloggers and reporters traditionally confer with pols and delegates.

* Other access issues. One plan is to have a special blogger area just off the main podium, adjacent to the print photographer space, where people can obtain good video/photos, and interviews with speakers as they come off stage. One problem that immediately comes to mind is how will it be determined which bloggers are able to be in that space when the most newsworthy speakers are at the podium. Is there going to be a lottery, a sign up area/system? Aaron said the logistics were still in development, and there would be more details later on a process that will ensure fair access.

* Finding accommodations. This was one of many concerns raised by Afrospear bloggers, including Francis L. Holland. It was addressed by Aaron in the call; he said that the DNCC has set aside hotel rooms for the media and bloggers, and the same housing information will be released at the same time to all credentialed entities at a convention-locked price. Will there be enough rooms? Given the size and scope of this event, I’m sure there will be a scramble for rooms regardless.

***

So that’s what I’ve learned so far. The situation is far from ideal, but the initial error has occurred — a model for the state blogger corps selection process that didn’t take into account the lack of diversity in state blogs most likely to be selected, creating full floor access that is not representative of the diversity of the Democratic Party. That said, continually flogging the process now doesn’t seem productive.

But — does the explanation of the logistics and measures above ameliorate this problem? Partially, but the situation and the tensions it has raised are unlikely to go away with the announcement of the general pool this week. All I can say is that the communication channels must remain open and the process of making it work should remain fluid.

***

UPDATE 2: You’ve read the above post. A good illustration of how the above was seen by a respected Afrospear blogger is here. Francis and I agree on the importance of the exclusion problem, but have very different interpretations of the information conveyed and views of the problem. He believes that an assertive approach to negotiation is the correct path to resolution, I have chosen a less confrontational one.

Mind you, I don’t see them as incompatible — obviously an assertive activist approach to political change has proven to be effective — as has a diplomatic approach. They effectively work in concert over the long term – because an essential part needed for progress is bridging the communication gap.  

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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