Are Bloggers Pundits or Operatives?

Patrick Ruffini

Posted: 03 Aug 2008 10:15 AM CDT

The credentialing process by the RNC-COA and the DNCC couldn’t be a starker reminder of the differences between the right and left-blogospheres. While the Republicans are making a big deal about the blogosphere being on par with mainstream media, the Democrats are treating their bloggers like activists, seating many of them on the floor with their respective delegations.

In Minneapolis, the biggest hiccup is the eye-popping prices Qwest is charging for media/blogger hard wire access inside the hall (53 grand for gigabit ethernet anyone?). In Denver, it’s handing out credentials as if they were patronage positions.

The stereotype is almost perfect. Conservative bloggers are content to act like pundits, while liberal bloggers are activists.

I think everyone should know where I come down on this debate. I am a (proud) partisan political operative first, and a blogger second. For someone with the day job that I have, it would be problematic to claim journalist status, so I steer clear of it.

But I also think that these distinctions are starting to become meaningless.

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With personal communication technologies evolving so quickly, anyone can be a little bit of a journalist. Heck, members of Congress are journalists too. And the barriers to activism are getting progressively lower. As bloggers, that means we are going to have to be a little bit more of everything.

With high interest in the political process and the vital role volunteers have played in political campaigns, the doors to activism have always been a little open. The net opens them further. But its effect is distinctly evolutionary. New people get involved to displace the old, and old-style operatives are quickly outsmarted. But the ethos is pretty much the same: winning at all costs.

The net’s effect on journalism is revolutionary. Doors that were only firmly shut are now wide open. We see this in the financial collapse of old media, and in new media operations starting to become profitable. We struggle with the question of “Who is a journalist?” in the endless debate over shield laws because it’s increasingly become impossible to define.

To me, the ideal role of a blogger — and the one that I strive for — is melding the first-hand knowledge of politics that comes from being a professional activist with the intellectual honesty and rigor we typically associate with good political analysis.

People who approach politics solely as observers and not practitioners tend to be a little bit more naive about the process. They tend to apply their own filters of good and bad without assessing the political realities. Sure, it would be a good thing to some if Jindal or Palin or even Romney were the VP. But the political realities largely preclude it (doesn’t need it; first-termer from Alaska; and didn’t win a primary outside his home states). Or, on the other side, they get morally outraged about effective and necessary ads like “Call Me Harold” or “Celeb.”

At the same time, you can’t be a shill. My blogging would be a whole lot less interesting if I were a total McCain hack. I’m not going to tell you things are coming up roses in November or all is well with the right now (though I’ll occasionally play the contrarian on this when events warrant).

I find that a good role for a blogger is that of an activist who is candid about the political realities and uses blogging as a tool to effect change, not simply to explain the present or regurgitate breaking news. I don’t blog unless I feel like I can accomplish some larger objective — whether it’s knocking down a meme I find to be hugely mistaken, creating an intellectual framework for the future of the party, or rewarding extraordinarily good works and hopefully elevating the good guys in internal party battles. There’s a reason why we call it The Next Right. It’s using blogging as a tool to lead in a specific direction, not a sarcastic look in the rear view mirror.

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