Sitting in the front row was Sam Stein of Huffington Post, who was called on to ask a question. Also present was Joe Sudbay of Americablog.
No, they're not the first bloggers to attend a White House press conference. But I think they're the first ones who attended in such a high-profile way and nobody made a big deal that they were there. By calling on Stein, the Obama Administration sent a very clear message that whether you call bloggers journalists or not, their impact is real and the White House needs to reach their readers.
The press conference also demonstrated that some in the mainstream media might want to look in the mirror before they charge that bloggers are "unprofessional" or can't be taken seriously.
Before you take a look at the transcript here, take a look at these two questions and try to guess which was asked by a blogger and which was asked by the Washington Post:
Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-Vermont] announced that he wants to set up a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate the misdeeds of the Bush administration. He said that, before you turn the page, you have to read the page first.
Do you agree with such a proposal? And are you willing to rule out right here and now any prosecution of Bush administration officials?
What is your reaction to Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used steroids as a member of the Texas Rangers?Now, you could argue that both questions are "off topic" at a press conference designed to spotlight the economy and the President's proposed stimulus package. But seriously, A-Rod? You get one chance to ask the President of the United States a question at a time when the economy is in free-fall, the armed forces are engaged with the enemy in two countries and rest of the world is hanging on every word the President utters, and you ask him about a juiced infielder?
So are bloggers journalists? Like President Obama, I don't care. They're important, and that's good enough for me. But if you're looking for opinions from the bloggers themselves, Greg Sargent asked Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas about the newfound clout of the blogosphere and the attention bloggers are getting from the White House, and he said simply
We are media, and should be treated as communications outlets.Notice he said MEDIA and not JOURNALIST. Maybe because he sees the difference, but I suspect it's because he realizes the difference just doesn't matter as much anymore. Yes, you absolutely need to know if you're dealing with a journalist or not when you work in communications, but media is media. I think John "Americablog" Aravosis added more detail to where the bloggers - at least the liberal political bloggers - are coming from:
While we are media, we're more than media. We are activists and advocates too - akin to the ACLU, the unions, the gay lobby, and more. We're not even partisan media, such as the Nation, in my view. We're far more activist-oriented, and, I'd argue, many of us are long-time political operatives as well (though I've also worked as a professional journalist).To me, this is why you can't just treat "blogger outreach" as if it were just another PR or marketing exercise. Bloggers don't exist for the convenience of flacks and we shouldn't expect them to adhere to a set of rules simply because they're familiar or convenient to us. They have special interests and special needs. Bloggers have their own turf and it's our job to adapt to them, not the other way around.
All that is to say that bloggers are a bit of a mutt, and should be treated as such (after all, am I a blogger, a liberal activist, a 24-year-Washington-insider, a gay rights leader, a prominent Greek-American, or a journalist?) . If you corner us off with the mainstream media, you'll be missing out on harnessing our advocacy. But if you treat us simply as activists, you miss out on our media megaphone. In the end, the one thing that would hamper Jesse's job, in my view, is to treat him as a techie. Blog outreach long-since graduated from the days when it was the domain of the computer guy. The computer guy is a genius, but he's not a political genius. The blog outreach person in any organization has to have political and media savvy, and good 'ole activist/organizing sense. He has to be multi-disciplinary, and thus needs to straddle several departments, with a leg in media, political, and even tech (I know, 3 legs).
And most importantly, he has to be connected to what's going on in the White House. It's of no use, to us or the WH, having someone work with us who isn't really authorized to speak on behalf, negotiate on behalf, of the administration. We are here to help, when our interests coincide. But we need someone who's truly part of the WH team, and not simply passing us press releases.