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Following Up about Campaign Bloggers

BY Editors | Friday, September 7 2007

Cross-posted at electiongeek.com.

I am glad to see that a post I wrote, Candidates' Blogs: Glorified Public Relations? has received some good discussion in the comments section at techPresident as well as some other blogs. On MYDD user Psericks wrote a critique of my post that is generating even more discussion. So I thought it would be good to follow-up on that critique and further explore the issue.

I find it interesting that there hasn’t been a great deal of opposition to my main argument, that the current state of official paid-by-the-campaign blogging isn’t very interesting. We all seem to agree it isn’t the bloggers themselves, many of whom are very talented, but perhaps the limitations of the environment. If we can generally agree that these blogs are not effective, or at least not as effective as they could be, we have to figure out what the limitations are.

Psericks questions my assertion that the flaw is fundamental. I said “the problem with these blogs isn't entirely the fault of the bloggers but the premise, which is you take a bunch of people and have them write positively about a campaign.” I stand by that assertion not as a reflection that they can never work but as a reality check of our expectations on the difference between paid-for-blogging and the political blogosphere most of us are used to reading.

An important aspect of my assertion is the logical constraints of a campaign. In a campaign the candidate is the decision maker as well as the product that the organization works to further and sell to the public. The campaign can be seen as a model for the presidency. If a person runs an effective campaign a voter assumes it is a sign, rightly or wrongly, that they will run an effective administration. The other way to look at this is that a campaign can also be effective when through perception they convince voters that the opposition is incapable of running an effective administration and achieving like-minded objectives.

When advisors or speechmakers or any staffers become more vocal or visual than the candidate, when they provide messages that are counter to that campaigns administration and focus, the voter doesn’t see an avenue of depth, they see chaos. We bloggers are completely different. We live off the niche and the counter, we like to challenge and comment and create movements and discussions.

What appeals to me about most blogs is either that they are written by people I already know in the MSM/establishment or they are written by people who are not controlled in any way, shape or form by the MSM or by direct corporate, military, governmental or religious influence. I like the idea that if they support a candidate or position, they tell me so. Not because they are employed by a campaign but because it’s the way they feel.

Bloggers hired by a campaign are employed to spread the official messages and keep the debate civil and controlled. These posts, as I pointed out, are often predictable, uninteresting and just an extension of the overall PR. We understand who is paying the bills as readers and over time this makes the writers points seem less credible as they are no longer unique but just extensions of the campaign message.

Bloggers working for a campaign are digital press secretaries. The current White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was a conservative radio host and FOX News contributor. In those roles he could and sometimes did challenge the administration and their positions even though he encouraged people to support them. His role has now changed; he must tow the administration line even if he personally has questions about their message. This limitation is part of the job, it is the straightjacket of employment and most of us who work for someone else have similar constraints in our nine to five.

Our expectations of official bloggers then need to reflect this reality. Psericks mentions Obama’s campaign in which there is an official blog and then a community forming under my.BarackObama.com where people have somewhat free rein to blog. The same system exists at John Edwards site. I’ve spent time reading through the community aspect and I find examples that reinforce my assertion.

These community posts are far more interesting than what is on the official blog. They are also filled with rather pointed and at times harsh criticisms of Senator Hillary Clinton and some of the other candidates. There is a lot happening there that would be embarrassing if it seemed to be officially endorsed by the Obama or Edwards campaigns and would run counter to the official message, which is one of “new politics” of “hopefulness” and “bringing change” to the political debate.

On an official blog we should expect to see nothing but campaign-speak. That these bloggers will almost always tow the campaign line and speak the campaign rhetoric. It is a necessary function of their job and would be a distraction otherwise.

Does that mean they must be boring, redundant and scream PR? No! Campaign bloggers have to find ways of making their blogs an extension of the message and the candidate but still useful and unique to a reader. Something needs to change because we don't have the best this medium has to offer yet. As I have argued, I think the end product will look slightly different than the unfiltered and independent political blogging we are often used to. So what can and should this experience look like?