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I just returned from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. The experience was a strange one, and I left both heartened by the fire of the new crop of candidates and frustrated with the establishment politicians like Haley Barbour, who was pushing Charlie Crist from the podium.
My biggest frustration, however, was the treatment of the bloggers and the new media. I was one of few that were present. I have attended many, many conferences in the past year. I have not run across one that was as put out by bloggers as this one.
Let’s look at the last major conference: CPAC. The blogger lounge was clearly the nerve center of the event, buzzing with candidates and speakers who were available for interview and willing to talk to the friendly new media. This time, bloggers were clearly an afterthought. There were few of us there, and it was like pulling teeth to get interviews with anyone. The biggest difference was that I don’t believe the SRLC had anyone reaching out to bloggers to be there. They didn’t offer scholarship – in fact, every one of us paid our own way, and we had to pay for our own registration (with the exception of one bigger name, I believe),
I suppose this is what happens at establishment events. The problem is that with as much work as the GOP needs, it would benefit them immensely to take any opportunity they could to get good press. The bloggers aren’t out to get them. It would have done Steele and others a world of good to reach out and spend a few minutes speaking to us, if for no other reason than building good will. There should have been more of us there – looking around the media filing center, I was surprised at how empty it was. It was a disappointing turn out.
If they want grassroots momentum, the GOP needs to realize that bloggers and new media folks set the tone for many activists. They have got to start embracing them. The online movement is at the heart of what is happening with regard to Tea Parties, etc, and they would be wise to stop pretending they are ever going to get the mainstream media to comply.
UPDATE: Apparently journalists weren't supposed to pay. I, however, did and was not told differently. So, they did accomodate on that level. I have not been offered a refund.