By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

BMG on the Patrick endorsement

The new-media story of the 2006 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign is Blue Mass Group, three young (well, youngish) Democratic bloggers who’ve been following Deval Patrick’s, Chris Gabrieli’s and Tom Reilly’s every twist and turn.

By opening up their site to outside contributors, Daily Kos-like, BMG has attained critical mass, and is currently attracting about 2,000 unique visitors each day. Recently the site scored an impressive journalistic achievement, exposing the anti-Patrick Campaign to Stop Killer Coke as just some guy. The BMG report completely contradicted a report in the Boston Globe that the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly called “oddly credulous.”

Earlier, the Globe profiled the BMGers — three former John Kerry volunteers, Charley Blandy, David Kravitz and Bob Neer.

Although BMG’s coverage of the race has been even-handed, a pro-Patrick sentiment has come through pretty clearly. So it could not have surprised anyone when, on Aug. 14, Kravitz, Blandy and Neer gave Patrick their endorsement.

At a time when the daily press and, especially, television (with Jon Keller as the notable exception) have downgraded their coverage of state and local politics, apparently on the theory that no one cares, BMG has emerged as a Web site that really matters — especially to the liberals and Democrats who make up the majority of political activists in Massachusetts. It’s a site of political junkies, by political junkies and for political junkies.

The Patrick endorsement could be something of a watershed — a sign that BMG is ready to move up to the next level of influence, or, conversely, that its carefully nurtured sense of community has been put at risk. With that in mind, Media Nation conducted an e-mail interview about the endorsement, the results of which you will find below.

According to Kravitz, he answered Questions #1-4, Blandy handled Questions #5-7 and Neer took Questions #8-10. “We have all reviewed, edited, and signed off on all the answers,” he said by e-mail.

Q: Why did you decide to endorse?

A: For a couple of reasons. First, since our views had crystallized, basic honesty with our readers demanded that they know where we are coming from. We are not a newspaper where there is a “wall,” however artificial, between the editorial staff and the reporters. We should not pretend to be neutral observers when we aren’t. Second, it has always been a goal of the site to advocate for the election of candidates that we think advance progressive Democratic values. Endorsing the candidates who we think are most likely to do that seemed to us to be a natural — indeed, a necessary — part of that process.

Q: Was there a process, or were the three of you unanimous in your support of Deval Patrick? Were others involved?

A: Each of us independently decided to back Patrick. Our “process” for the endorsement consisted of getting together for lunch to talk about it, and then e-mailing back and forth until we were all satisfied with the draft. We were unanimous, and no one else was involved.

Q: If you had not been unanimous, would you have endorsed anyway?

A: Not collectively. If we hadn’t been unanimous, we probably each would have written separate statements about who we were supporting.

Q: Are you concerned that endorsing might compromise BMG’s goal of being an honest broker for people interested in Democratic politics in Massachusetts?

A: Not really. As I said in response to Question #1, the endorsement is in part a way of coming clean with our readers — it explains who we are voting for, and why. It would be harder to be an “honest broker” if we knew who we were voting for, but didn’t disclose it. We have no intention of changing the way we manage the site or the topics we write about after the endorsement. We have always welcomed, and we continue to welcome, opinions that differ from ours. (And, by the way, the three of us not infrequently differ from each other!)

Q: Newspapers often endorse as close to the election as possible so as not to taint their coverage. You’ve endorsed more than a month before the primary. Why so early?

A: Well, we’re not a newspaper. Frankly, the fact that we’re seen as a fair-minded place is very unusual for a blog, and we’re quite proud of that. But again, we felt that since we were all leaning heavily towards Patrick, we needed to be honest about that.

As far as “tainting coverage”: We’ve found that it’s a useful discipline to stay officially neutral, regardless of one’s private thoughts, for as long as possible, just to see how things shake out. But we’ve been watching the race since before there was a race, and we’re satisfied we had enough information at this point to make a decision.

Also, we feel that it’s not enough to be thoughtful and to have the right opinions about things; one of the main reasons we started the blog is to effect results. We don’t have the broad readership that a newspaper has, speaking mostly to folks whose political engagement may consist of inking a spot for a candidate once every two years. But we’ve observed that a significant part of our audience actually gets involved in politics on the functional level — from licking envelopes and phone banking all the way to actually running for office. To the extent that our endorsement moves anyone from thinking to decision and then action, it’ll have its desired effect. Five weeks before the primary is not too long a lead time for that. In contrast, the newspaper timeframe — a week or so before the election — would be too late for a blog to have any impact at all.

Q: Your readers are so intensely interested in politics that it’s hard to imagine they haven’t already made up their minds. What effect do you think this endorsement will have?

A: We think that it’s a pretty strong field, and there are likely folks who haven’t made up their minds (there was a recent post from an undecided voter that generated a very interesting discussion). And as the year progresses and our readership grows, hopefully we’re picking up readers who want to find some good discussion about the race. But again, it’s not enough to be thoughtful; it’s not enough to come up with the right opinion: If you want to have a wider impact, you’ve got to act on it. Perhaps people will be convinced by our endorsement to act on their thoughts.

Q: Following on the previous question, how do you think your endorsement might have an effect beyond your readership?

A: We don’t have any idea. While the endorsement is probably not a surprise at all to folks who know the site, we do hope it’s another crystallizing moment — however minor — where the choice becomes a little bit clearer for everyone. The sense of inevitability and momentum in a campaign is hard to pin down to one thing: favorites in political races emerge over a period of time. Perhaps the reasons we gave for supporting Patrick will filter into the general conversation about the race: independence, charisma, boldness.

Q: What has your growth trajectory been during this campaign?

A: You can find a complete record of our traffic since we started the site in late 2004 here. We make this information available to anyone at any time via the “Traffic report” link on our main page. Our traffic will probably be up about 10 to 20 percent in August compared to the June-July average. Right now we’re averaging over 2,000 unique visitors each day.

Q: Does your decision to endorse represent some sort of coming-of-age for Internet media? What does it mean for a partisan, relatively small Web site such as BMG to endorse as compared to say, the Boston Globe?

A: I don’t think it represents a coming of age since we are relatively late to the endorsement game, and political blogs have been backing candidates from the time they came into their own during the Howard Dean campaign. We have a far smaller readership and a narrower political spectrum of readership than the Globe. What our endorsement does mean is that we’re more aggressive than the Globe. As to what our endorsement “means” beyond a statement of how the three of us intend to vote on Sept. 19, the answers to Questions #5-7 address that.

Q: Although BMG is obviously partisan, you have tried to offer fair treatment of the three Democratic candidates for governor, even though your pro-Patrick leanings were rather clear. How will BMG change after the primary, when you will obviously be supporting one Democratic candidate against a Republican?

A: We have always said that, starting on Sept. 20, we will strongly back whichever Democrat wins the primary. That said, we are not an arm of any campaign, and that will not change after the primary. We will continue to call things as we see them, which has included and will doubtless continue to include criticism of the candidate we are supporting. Further, although we will advocate for the Democrat in our coverage, we will welcome Republicans who want to make the case for their point of view.


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2 Comments

  1. Peter Kadzis

    Good for the Blue Mass Group.That blog is excellent point-of-view journalism and while, as Kennedy points out, it tilts toward Patrick, it strives for accuracy and fair mindness.The endorsement is clearly meant to sway voters, to have impact. And I suspect it will do both.And it’s an important wrinkle in that it offers evidence that blogs do matter and are not trivial flashes in the pan as some “experts” would have us believe.

  2. Peter Porcupine

    I have been a guest on BMG for over a year, offering the GOP point of view; I expect that to continue through – and after – the election.I applaud Charley et al for being HONEST enough to endorse early and make their bias transparent, as opposed to newspapers which have an equallly entrenched bias skewing their coverage, but who hide it until primary day.

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