My hat is off to Jane Morgan the Executive Director of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta. I recently made a suggestion to her on Twitter that bloggers should be accredited media at their leadership convention in Edmonton on October 17, 2009. Almost immediately she responded - and favourably to the idea. OnTwitter she is @wildrosejane and I am @kenchapman46 if you want to follow us.
Her blog is "Up Close and Personal With Jane." Here is her recent blog post on the point and accepting the challenge. I am returning from out of the country the day before the event but I plan to be there and posting on my impressions from the floor of the WAP convention. I expect others more adept at social media than me will be live blogging the results in real time. There will be quite a few of us political bloggers who will take up the invitation and be posting from the floor of the convention.
Some tweets have expressed concern about allowing "overly partisan bloggers who are strong supporters of other parties" into the WAP convention. I understand the angst at one level but in reality, we will be blogging anyway. By not being there we will not have the advantage and responsibility of accountability that come with actually being there. The fact that bloggers of any and all stripes will be there in person will add authenticity and authority to the social media dialogue that will happen.
I also applaud Jane for also saying that no anonymous bloggers will be allowed. That will add to the accountability and responsibility of the bloggers who post about the WAP leadership. That does not mean blogger's nom-de-plumes can't be used, just that the real name of the blogger has to be published too. Putting the real name of registered bloggers on the WAP website would solve that identity and political perspective problem for readers. This way readers will be able to judge the content, context and credibility of the bloggers...critically important stuff in a vibrant dialogue on policy and politics in the province.
This initiative will be good for the credibility of the WAP. It frames them as an open and accountable party who are demonstrating a commitment to free speech and supporting serious citizen engagement in politics. They also get enormous amounts of free publicity and new media coverage that will be more fact based and biases (like mine) more exposed as well.
Now I wonder if my party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will do the same thing at its November Annual General Meeting in Red Deer. That is when the party delegates will have a confidence vote on Premier Stelmach's leadership. Again the blogosphere and the social media will be alive with commentary in any event. It would be better if the citizen journalists who want to attend the AGM could do so and write their posts in real time from the actual event itself. But again lets not allow anonymous bloggers into the event and lets post the names and URLs of the registered bloggers on the Party website for all to see. Anonymous bloggers will still write stuff but readers can discount their commentary because they don't know if the source is informed and trustworthy.
Yes the bloggers at the PC Party AGM and the WAP Leadership Convention will be looking for interviews with party members and delegates in attendance. Yes they will be asking the key questions about perceptions of Premier Stelmach's performance as party leader and who should lead the WAP and why. Yes there will be biases in the blogging. But there will also be a wide array of bloggers and postings, not all of them supportive of the "host" political parties. That again is the essence of free speech, freedom of association and the price any political party should be prepared to pay as part of it role to promoting a dynamic, vibrant democracy in Alberta.
The old days of controlling the content, context and timing of political messaging is gone. Now it is about the Internet based conversation that happens within social, political, economic and environmental networks of concerned citizens. These exchanges of ideas and opinions are in the open, unfiltered and unmediated by traditional one-way messaging of the conventional news sources.
Political parties are pretty much private clubs, with too much power, in my humble opinion. Anyone can join but few do because they are seen by the general population as closed and constricting. To include and accept social media, and bloggers in particular, into the media mix of such political and partisan events will open them up to scrutiny and accountability but how can that be a bad thing for democracy?
So I applaud Jane Morgan and the Wildrose Alliance Party. Congratulations for having the courage and taking the initiative to be open and accountable as a political institution. Kudos too for being nimble enough to see and accept the new media reality of the 21st century. It can only be a good thing for your organization and for politics in Alberta.