A Candy Buffet, You Say?

Bloggers will get their own Big Tent at the conventions

Pity the bloggers. Alternately glorified as the harbingers of Journalism’s Future, alternately vilified as the agents of Journalism’s Demise, the press’s proverbial pajama-wearers often have a hard time fitting into the stratified social world of the political media. A one-foot-in, one-foot-out kind of thing. (Very Obama-esque.) And being, as they are, a little bit Drama Club and a little bit Mathlete, it’s often hard for bloggers to know where to sit when they board the bus for the Political Media’s Big Field Trip. Which can be, you know, a little bit Awkward.

But have no fear, ye pariahs/messiahs of the political press! Google, like the beneficent senior who takes it upon himself to take you under his wing, make you over, and Make You Cool, has totally saved a seat for you! Actually, a whole tent! And it’s a big one! Literally!

Indeed. In a piece that might just win the award for Onion-esque Article of the Day, the Wall Street Journal reports that Google, champion of screen-scribes the world over, will be providing a sanctuary for the wayward new media types who find their way to the conventions. And the company has political-party-appropriately dubbed said sanctuary the “Big Tent.” (Yep, in caps.) Two stories, and 8,000 square feet—more a mall than a tent, but details—the BT will be a haven for bloggers, per the Journal, to type and nap and suck down Pixie Stix and take refuge with others of their kind and generally Live the Lifestyle to Which They’re Accustomed:

Not only will bloggers have Internet access, workspaces and couches for napping in the “Big Tent” headquarters, they will be provided food and beverages, Google-sponsored massages, smoothies and a candy buffet. On the final night of the convention, Google is co-sponsoring a bash with Vanity Fair magazine for convention-goers and journalists that has become one of the hottest party invites.

Wow, a Vanity Fair bash! Way to go, bloggers—talk about going from geek to chic!

The company whose motto is “don’t be evil” has, of course, no such edict against self-interest; and Google is, unsurprisingly, treating the Big Tent as a p.r. opportunity. “It will demo a variety of new political tools next week,” the Journal notes, “including a search function on YouTube that will offer almost real-time keyword searches of convention speech videos.” (You can read Jane’s piece about that function here.)

Still, it’s nice of Google to Consider the Bloggers and take them in. (Even if the innkeepers are charging their notoriously cash-strapped guests $100—each—for the hospitality.) Rarely do so many news-coverers assemble together for an event in which so little news will likely be made; if the conventions are a kind of field-trip-meets-prom for the political press, might as well give its participants a place to hang out together and survey the whole (see-and-be) scene. Besides, far be it from me to decry anything that involves a candy buffet.

It’s not so much the Big Tent itself that’s questionable; it’s the description of it. In its reporting, the Journal falls into the same trap that so many MSM discussions of bloggers (and some discussions of bloggers written by bloggers themselves) fall into: namely, the treatment of bloggers as some kind of separate species of journalist, sequestered from the rest of the pack in their own little blogospheric biosphere. (Ooh…bloggers, in their own, natural habitat! In the flesh, and out of hibernation! What strange, fascinating creatures!)

When the trend is blending between new media and old—indeed, there are so few outlets that can truly be considered “old media” at this point that the term feels as fusty as the organizations it would designate—such blogger-as-other treatment itself feels outdated. (The “new media,” the pieces notes, “will provide their takes on events and compete with established media companies via Google’s YouTube video site and other social-media outlets.” Which doesn’t merely state the obvious; it also implies a virtually non-existent division between media forms. All the journalists covering the convention, traditional or citizen or whatever, will provide “their takes” on events; otherwise, what’s the point of them being there?) While it’s great, on the one hand, for Google to provide bloggers with their own little ecosystems to inhabit in Denver and St. Paul, the other-species mentality it encourages and enforces is starting to verge on the absurd. (If you prick them, do they not bleed? If you tickle them, do they not laugh? Et cetera.)

The Journal piece goes to great lengths to stress the technological developments—possibly the most politically impactful of these, YouTube, coming courtesy of Google itself—that will distinguish the upcoming conventions from their predecessors. Google and bloggers and the conventions themselves, it implies, are about the future. Which makes it especially ironic that the article that describes their confluence seems stuck in the past.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.