I showed up at the party on time, but I am a bit late arriving at the post mortem.
I speak, of course, of last weekend's conference for Virginia-based bloggers sponsored by the Sorensen Institute.
Others have already given their own reports of what transpired. Some thought that the discussion didn't really achieve anything. That may be so, but this was the first such meeting of this kind in Virginia, and it was meant to begin a dialogue, not come to any conclusions. Most important, for me, was the opportunity to come face-to-face with many people with whom I have known only through email correspondence, especially those bloggers who have been kind enough to link to my posts here, and also to meet those with whom I was previously unacquainted, particularly bloggers whose political leanings are unlike my own.
It was a pleasure to meet Chad Dotson (aka John Behan), Steve Minor, Norm Leahy (whom I had known years ago when we were both involved in the term-limits movement), Jon Henke, Kenton Ngo (who was, at 14, by far the youngest blogger there), Ross Catrow, North Carolina's Martin Johnson, and others too numerous to mention. I was fortunate to sit at lunch -- when we were assigned a small-group task of discussing specific questions -- with Bob Gibson of the Daily Progress and Mike Shear of the Washington Post. (Shear reported on the conference in Thursday's weekly Virginia section of the paper.) Laura Bland of Media General was also at our table, and the three of them offered a journalist's point of view of the blogging world. Our conversation was enhanced by Claire Gastanaga, who used to be a high-ranking lawyer in the Virginia attorney general's office, and Eileen Levandoski, who is doing what she can to unseat the embarrassment of the General Assembly's Republican caucus, Delegate Dick Black.
Oddly enough, the bloggers' conference also became the largest gathering of members of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia in at least two years. Besides myself and Jon Henke, Spotsylvania GOP chairman Shaun Kenney was there, as was Jay Hughes (who is now inactive in politics but as a firebreathing libertarian Republican really, really should be a part of the RLC) -- and there were probably a few others there, too, whose names escape my grasp and whose forgiveness I request.
There were, of course, some familiar faces: Waldo Jaquith, who along with Chad Dotson came up with the original idea for the conference; his mother, Janis Jaquith; 57th House of Delegates District candidate Tom McCrystal; and Arlington taxpayer activist Tim Wise.
The conference also provided me with my first chance, in nearly six years of living in Charlottesville, to speak at length with Tucker Watkins, the GOP's Fifth Congressional District Chairman and Senator George Allen's eyes and ears in Southside Virginia. So far as I know, Tucker was the only non-blogging political operative at the conference, and his presence there showed once again what an astute political activist he is.
In a long post-conference conversation with me and Jon Henke on the porch of the Guadalajara restaurant at Greenbrier and Seminole Trail north of Charlottesville, Tucker offered a tour d'horizon of Virginia politics, and Jon and I engaged him on the 2008 presidential contest as well. I was impressed by Tucker's sophisticated take on Virginia's electorate, the key issues that will decide various races this year and next, and his breadth of knowledge of both national and state politics.
Senator Allen is lucky to have him on staff, and Tucker's long record of success in transforming the Fifth District from a predominantly Democratic to a largely Republican (or at least competitive) territory speaks for itself.
I told Sean O'Brien, the new executive director of the Sorensen Institute, that the day of the conference was the most productive day I had spent all summer. It was true: the day was packed with intelligent conversation, exchanges of views, and stimulating ideas. It would have been easy to spend that Saturday as I do so many others, just sitting around the house listening to NPR from morning to midnight. What I did that day was far more valuable in the long run, and I am glad that Waldo and Chad had the original idea for the bloggers' conference and that Sean and the Sorensen Institute took the idea in hand and made it a reality.
Besides that, I also learned from Bob Gibson's daughter that it is legal to keep chickens as pets in the City of Charlottesville. You can even eat the eggs they lay.
I should add that we Virginians are not the only people who are beginning to take blogging seriously enough to discuss it in public fora. At the upcoming convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) later this month, there will be at least three panel discussions on blogging and the blogosphere. The first one, moderated by Beth Callahan of PlanetOut, is described in the pre-conference program like this:
Are Blogs the New Frontier in LGBT Media?Wayne Besen, author of Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, will be the featured speaker for that session.
Blogs are new to the LGBT media landscape, and they’ve turned some people’s websites into independent journalism outlets. Established media entities also are getting in on the game with blogs that augment traditional news coverage. Some offer investigative work not found in other places, others are more like daily commentary. Where should they fit in the LGBT media world? Are there journalistic standards being applied to such blogs? Find out firsthand from bloggers on this panel.
The second, moderated by Joshua Jennings Moss (formerly of the Washington Times, now a managing editor with Fox News), is a plenary session -- with lunch, too:
Journey to the Blogosphere!Besides Moss, that panel will include John Aravosis of AMERICAblog; Wayne Besen; Geraldine Sealey of Salon.com; and Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune.
For many readers, blogs are a must read, places where they can find news and gossip tailored to their interests. But for some in mainstream journalism, blogs have become a fearful presence. Bloggers drove the CBS “Memogate” scandal, flaps over White House press access and the outing of a conservative congressman. Where will the bloggers go next and how will the rest of us deal with it?
The third panel discussion will be moderated by Cliff Edwards of Business Week:
The Rise of Blogs: Tips & Advice on Covering a Rising New MediumThat panel will feature Martha Irvine of the Associated Press; free-lance journalist
This panel will examine how blogs increasingly are becoming a force for companies around the globe. Now, many CEOs are actually starting up their own blogs, disseminating information more frankly than they do in public, and employees are often delivering tips on potential stories.
Karen Hawkins; and Stephen Baker, who is also with Business Week.
The NGLJA convention is being held September 22, 23, 24, and 25 at the Palmer House in Chicago.
By the way, I am not the only one with a late report on the Virginia bloggers' conference. The Richmond Times-Dispatch didn't get around to publishing anything about it until today, in a piece by Pamela Stallsmith. (Jeff Schapiro was at the conference, but I haven't seen anything he's written about it.)