11.10.2006 12:00 AM
CNN Sponsors Election Night Party for Bloggers
Political bloggers have spent plenty of time over the last few years beating up on CNN, not to mention each other. But plied with free food and booze in front of the network's ever-rolling cameras at a special Election Night "bloggers party," at Tryst, a saloon in the Adams Morgan area of Washington, D.C., everyone played nice.

"We were truly heartened by the response across the political spectrum left and right," said Alex Wellen, senior Internet producer for "The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer" and the boss of CNN's "Internet reporters" Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner. "These people are so smart."

CNN has engaged the burgeoning world of Web video, user-generated content and the so-called blogosphere, with advanced features on CNN.com and one-minute Internet segments on The Situation Room. Still, the Election Night event--with its not-so-edgy visuals of the bloggers tapping at laptops--intrigued and confused some of the guests.

"I thought what they were going to do was lock us all in and gas us, and I was actually surprised they didn't," said Wonkette Editor Alex Pareene. "I don't know--I guess they're trying to get us to like them more? It's working pretty well, I'm having a decent time."

Pareene and others did note, however, that their Web-connections failed for a few hours early in the evening--a bad development for a blogging party.

Scott Johnson of PowerLine was flown in from Minneapolis and put up in a D.C. hotel. "It's a big investment and I can't say I understand what the thinking is," he said.

For Johnson, it was a tough night.

I wanted to come out here because I have met many of the other conservative bloggers, and I wanted to meet the other ones who were coming out here. I like them and I anticipated that this would not be a great evening and that I would enjoy the company," he said. "And I would say, so far so good."

Johnson also demonstrated that the VIP treatment didn't skew his politics.

"I don't think we've ever said a kind word about CNN's coverage of anything," he said. " But our experiences with everyone at CNN have been positive, I like the people and I can't believe how professional and delightful they are to deal with. But their coverage is just painful, in my view--very hard to watch. It seems to me like the PR arm of the Democratic Party and I have a hard time watching it."

"I was really surprised that they were going to do it and I'm actually glad that they did, if nothing else to do a test drive before 2008 when it's going to be a much bigger election cycle," said Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend.

For hours, CNN cameras shot the bloggers, many of whom were blogging about blogging, or blogging video clips of themselves being shot blogging. Some had mini-cameras of their own and were posting the party on YouTube. The results, including interviews with the bloggers, ran on CNN throughout the night as well as on CNN.com's premium Pipeline service.

"Fox News should also be doing something like this, but they haven't reached out to the blogosphere the way CNN and MSNBC have, said La Shawn Barber, a self-described conservative. "I would expect that they would reach out at least to the conservative side of the blogosphere, but they haven't."

"We had some really smart people at the top who understood how important this element was to political coverage and were going do whatever it took to get them in the room and have that conversation," Wellen said.

He speculated that the bloggers too were there for dialogue, not just for the exposure; most draw large volumes of Web readers already.

"It's always good to be out there and to be on TV on election night when there's millions of people watching, but I do have to admit I came mostly for the open bar and the free food," said Pareene, who lives three blocks from the party site. "If it had not been with in walking distance I might not have considered it quite as much."

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