Networks Struggle to “Get” Bloggers

At some point television news decided that it could no longer ignore political bloggers. But that doesn't mean it has figured out how to cover them.

Somewhere along the line in recent years, television news decided that it could no longer ignore bloggers. Especially political bloggers. Especially on big election nights. But just because you’ve decided that you want to cover bloggers doesn’t mean you’ve figured out how to cover them.

And to judge by last night’s election coverage, TV producers still have some figuring to do.

Last night on Fox News, for instance, producers lined up right-wing blogger doyenne Michelle Malkin to report on the blogosphere’s reaction to the election news. So how do you translate millions of small voices to the small screen?

Malkin’s basic tactic was to stand in front of the camera and rehash bits of insight culled from the blogosphere at large. Along the way she highlighted some analysis from National Review Online, reported on a blog that was prematurely calling an Allen victory in Virginia, and (naturally) plugged her own blog.

All the while, producers employed a split-screen format. On one side, Malkin. On the other, screen shots of blog posts—overly bright, static, and, for the most part, unreadable.

The end result was to remind viewers, once again, that whatever stimulation bloggers provide online is of a cerebral nature. Not a visual one.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid this rather predictable conundrum, CNN took a different tactic: Use the twin temptations of free alcohol and free publicity to lure bloggers into a comfy location full of couches and surround them with cameras.

To wit: last night CNN hosted a blogging party at Tryst, a cafe on 18th Street in Washington, D.C. The network was careful to invite bloggers from across the political spectrum — from Wizbang! to Wonkette, from Reason Online to Red State, and from Ankle Biting Pundits to AMERICAblog.

Having crammed their blogger petri dish with crabby pundits of every stripe, CNN producers throughout the night broke away from their otherwise excellent election coverage to wade into the blogging abyss at Tryst. There, surrounded by the dim glow of laptops, bloggers offered CNN cameras loads of dubious wisdom. Occasionally, the cameras would pan across the room, capturing the magic of bloggers in action — essentially, people typing.

All of which proved, once again, that the act of writing a scorching blog post looks no different on camera than the act of writing the world’s most mind-numbing inter-office memo. And neither makes for good television — a fact that at least one blogger who attended the Tryst party owned up to this morning.

“Waking up this morning in my quiet hotel room, I realize how insanely hard it was to try to watch the election returns at that blogger party at Tryst,” writes Ann Althouse. “The notion that we were in some way bringing you the news is utterly absurd.”

Not to mention, utterly un-watchable.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.