By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS
WHEN Pam Spaulding heard from two contributors to her blog, Pam’s House Blend, that they couldn’t afford to attend the Democratic National Convention, she knew that historic times called for creative measures.
Getting convention credentials for her blog, a news site for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, was the easy part. As air fare, lodging and incidentals began piling up, paying for the trip to Denver became the bigger obstacle.
For Ms. Spaulding, 45, who works full time as an IT manager at Duke University Press in Durham, N.C., blogging is her passion, an unpaid hobby she pursues at nights and on weekends. So she called on her 5,500 daily readers to help raise funds: “Send the Blend to Denver” reads the ChipIn widget on her blog’s home page that tracks donations from readers; so far they have pledged more than $5,000 to transport Ms. Spaulding and three other bloggers to the convention.
Beginning Monday, hundreds of bloggers will descend on Denver to see Barack Obama accept his party’s nomination. Next week, hundreds more will travel to St. Paul to witness John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. But now these online partisans, many of whom are self-financed, must contend with all the logistical and financial hurdles just to get there — not to mention the party politics happening behind the scenes.
This year, both parties understand the need to have greater numbers of bloggers attend. While many Americans may watch only prime-time television broadcasts of the convention speeches, party officials also recognize the ability of bloggers to deliver minute-by-minute coverage of each day’s events to a niche online audience.
“The goal is to bring down the walls of the convention and invite in an audience that’s as large as possible,” said Aaron Myers, the director of online communications for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “Credentialing more bloggers opens up all sorts of new audiences.”
But some bloggers see the procurement of credentials as less of a privilege and more of a right, in recognition of their grass-roots influence. “This is stuff we deserve — we helped the party get people elected,” said Matt Stoller, a political consultant and a contributor to the blog Open Left, who worked as the volunteer in charge of getting credentials for bloggers at the Democratic convention four years ago. “Maybe in 2004 it was about being accommodating and innovative — but this time around there’s a real fight for power in the party.” The major political parties first gave credentials to bloggers in 2004. The Republicans allowed a dozen bloggers to attend their convention in New York, while the Democrats gave bloggers 35 seats in the nosebleed section of the Fleet Center in Boston.
This year, the R.N.C. gave credentials to 200 bloggers as a means to “get Senator McCain’s message out to more people,” said Joanna Burgos, the press secretary of the convention.
For bloggers attending the Democratic convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, two types of credentials are offered. The first is a national credential, which offers the same access granted to members of traditional news media organizations.
The second, more coveted credential is the state blogger credential. It allows one blogger per state to cover the convention alongside its state delegation, with unlimited floor access. Inspired by the strategy of Howard Dean, the D.N.C. chairman, to organize in all 50 states, the state-blogging credential was highly sought after, with as many as 14 blogs vying to represent a single state.
D.N.C. organizers said the recipients of these credentials were chosen by looking at the posts and mission statements of the competing blogs, and at the traffic these sites generated. But controversy soon arose in the blogosphere about whether political favoritism played a role.
“It’s a recognition from the D.N.C. of the work that you’ve done, of your import, your significance,” said Phillip Anderson, 38, whose blog, the Albany Project, has covered New York State politics since 2006. “We were the site the D.N.C. was talking about — we just assumed we would get it,” said Mr. Anderson, who received a national credential instead of the state honor.
Mr. Myers of the Democratic National Convention Committee conceded that tough calls had to be made. “Nobody here, certainly not I, believes there’s only one good blog in every state,” he said. “It’s just not true.” In the last week, the D.N.C. released an additional 100 credentials that will allow multiple contributors from the same blog to cover the convention in tandem.
But the last-minute disbursement of credentials has only exacerbated many bloggers’ frustrations.
“It’s unprecedented access for bloggers, yes, but it’s certainly not equal access,” said Ms. Spaulding, who learned last week that Pam’s House Blend would receive two extra credentials. “What, pray tell, is the big secret?”
The annoyance felt by many bloggers is familiar to those who previously attended conventions as correspondents for smaller print publications. “This is very reminiscent of being at the low end of the totem pole,” said Micah Sifry, the co-founder of the group blog Techpresident.com, who formerly wrote for The Nation magazine and attended his first convention in 1984. “They can’t buy a sky box, they’re scrambling.”
One perk that bloggers will have access to in Denver is the Big Tent, an 8,000-square-foot two-story structure adjacent to where the convention is being held. For a $100 entrance fee, 400 credentialed bloggers will be allowed to enter the air-conditioned space, hosted by a coalition of progressive blogs and organizations and sponsored by the Web sites Google and Digg, where they can eat meals and find work spaces with Wi-Fi.
“I’m telling everyone to meet me at the Big Tent,” said Fred Gooltz, 30, an online strategist with Advomatic, a Web development and strategy firm. “That’s where I’ll be meeting everyone else who’s like me, folks that I’ve only met online or blogged and e-mailed with.” Mr. Gooltz sees the $100 fee as a bargain, especially since he would rather network “with movementarians, who see themselves as a progressive movement, separate from the Democratic Party hierarchy.”
Markos Moulitsas, whose Web site, the Daily Kos, is one of the Big Tent’s organizers, said he would probably remain in the tent for much, if not all, of the convention. “I have no interest in going to the convention hall and chances are I will not,” he said. “There’s nothing happening in the convention hall that would justify braving the long security lines and crowds.”
For bloggers who do not wield as much influence as Mr. Moulitsas, paying for the trip to Denver meant appealing directly to their readers for contributions — an uneasy bargain for many writers who value their independence.
This summer marked the first time that Mr. Anderson of the Albany Project asked readers for donations on his own behalf. “I would never go to my readers and say, I really need a vacation,” said Mr. Anderson, who makes his living as a consultant, and earns a few thousand dollars a year from the advertising revenue his blog generates. “It’s kind of humbling that people value what we’re doing to the point where they’re willing to give us $20.”
Through contributions as small as $5 or $10, Mr. Anderson said, he was able to raise about $1,500 for his Denver trip.
John Odum, 40, the lead author of the political blog Green Mountain Daily, felt similarly conflicted. Though his readers did supply him with a new laptop computer on his 40th birthday, Mr. Odum, who lives in Montpelier, Vt., and works for a local environmental nonprofit, was reluctant to ask them for further acts of generosity. In an election year, he said, “People ought to be giving it to a candidate, not giving me their spare money.”
Now a yellow “donate” icon on his site links to a separate PayPal account, where readers can contribute toward Mr. Odum’s estimated $1,000 travel costs. He said he had received enough support to pay for the $400 air fare.
“It takes me back to my hippie-ish youth, thrown in a situation with very little to fall back on and not 100 percent certain where I’ll be sleeping,” Mr. Odum said. He said he might have to unfurl his sleeping bag on someone’s hotel room floor if the housing space he reserved on Craigslist does not pan out.
Among the devoted readers who believe Mr. Odum deserves their donations is Nate Freeman, one of two Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor of Vermont. Mr. Freeman, 40, gave about $100 to Mr. Odum’s laptop fund, and said he would contribute $50 for Mr. Odum’s convention trip.
“Barack doesn’t need my 50 bucks,” Mr. Freeman said, “but John does.”