By the time this column appears, some of the nation's political bloggers will have had their first moment in a spotlight that isn't of their own making.
The decision by the media gatekeepers at the Democratic National Convention to admit a few of that strange breed of online pundits, gossips, and wags offers a kind of credibility that the medium had never really sought out before and is, in many ways, a watershed moment. For mainstream journalists, there's nothing like the issuance of laminated press cards to separate the haves from the have-nots when the currency is circulation and sway, even when all that card will get you is the somewhat dubious honor of covering one long political advertisement.
As with most changes to the media landscape, the bloggers' presence caused not a little teeth-gnashing, with many traditional-minded media figures using the opportunity to question blogs' role in the news cycle. Of course, this was bound to happen. Many bloggers don't have a master's degree in journalism. They haven't toiled in dingy newsrooms, and, rather than hobnobbing with other reporters, they stick with their virtual clique. But despite that - or likely because of it - they're poking at the performance of mainstream journalism more than any other alternative media ever have.
If I were a political reporter at a major daily, that's where my envy would issue from: not the eschewing of the usual journalism ranks, but the influential blogger's liberation from them. Nowhere more so than in the political world are reporters hemmed in by absurd conventions they take for granted in their day in and day out reporting of the news. The harshness of the competition at the national level prevents much deviance from the media relations rules set out before them, no matter how harmful those rules may be to the civic discourse. Such is the intensity of these shackles that when an Irish journalist recently sat down with President Bush and grilled him about Abu Ghraib in a combative way, the interview itself was news. The same was true when an Omaha newspaper editor flouted Pentagon media ground rules and refused to attribute a briefing from Paul Wolfowitz to a "senior Defense Department official."
Like these journalists, whose freedom from niceties is concurrent with a freedom from a perversely stifling competition, bloggers do not practice journalism as has been throughout all our lifetimes and then some - a relatively short period, but long enough that most use it as a basis for a belief that the way journalism is practiced today is the way it always was and always will be. The real question about their future, contrary to the way many media experts have framed it, is not whether mainstream journalism will accept them but whether reporters at major media outlets will absorb the best of blogging - its irreverence, its wit, and its intellectual freedom.