It's a good thing that the bloggers were personally interesting, though, because the official discussion tended towards the banal. Inter alia, we discussed potential (and actual) legislative regulation of blogging, and a blogger code of ethics. I acquitted myself as I usually do in person: by reminding myself again why I'd rather write than speak.
To the discussions, though...
For starters, I won't waste my time trying to justify a press exemption for bloggers. I'm a private citizen with an opinion about politics. If the legislature passes a bill restricting that speech, bloggers will issue Andrew Jackson's challenge: they have made their decision, "now let them enforce it." It can't be done.
In any event, I think it unlikely that politicians would be keen to get on the wrong side of bloggers. You don't mess with people who buy ink by the barrel, and you probably shouldn't mess with people who buy pixels by the gigabyte.
As an academic exercise, I suppose it might be interesting to formulate some ideal Blogger Code of Ethics. It would be a purely academic exercise, though, because there is simply no way to impose or enforce it. Nor would the adoption of such a code of ethics actually make a blogger more likely to be ethical. There is no distinction between a bloggers code of ethics and an individuals code of ethics. If I'm an intellectually honest individual, I'll be an intellectually honest blogger. If not, I won't. It's really that simple.
Some of the bloggers seemed a bit upset that many of us don't think we need to formalize a "code of ethics". Really, I'm not sure why. I've managed to make it 30 years so far without writing down my formal code of ethics. I'm certainly not going to do it so I can petition the legislature for the right to speak freely.
Ultimately, the quality of a bloggers ideas are more important than the content of his character. However, if such a thing is important, I'll endorse Ninja-Bear's idea: "Don't Lie, Cheat, or Steal". I'd hope that our readers believe that of the three of us already.
Other bloggers already posting about the conference:
Suffice it to say, it went well, particularly once things really got humming in the afternoon. About sixty people attended. The discussion was good, I witnessed many an unlikely meeting of the mind, and we all got to know a good number of people in ways that I think will benefit us all, and certainly the Virginia blogosphere.
My favorite part, though, was when a couple of dozen of us got together afterwards for drinks and dinner at Guadalajara, a Mexican place down the road. I was disappointed that more people didn’t come out. I think the most useful discussion occurred in that informal setting — I certainly got the most out of that portion of the day.
I am glad to see, as Will points out, that the attendees came down against "regulation" and some sort of "code of conduct." To regulate is to ration, and with this particular medium, that would spell the end of many smaller blogs, not to mention raising the entry barriers for new blogs. And as for a code of conduct...if you don't have one ingrained in you already, no piece of paper—no matter how nicely framed—is going to make any difference.
The Summit really couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be—was it a Sorensen good government discussion grafted onto blogging, was it an issues discussion, or was it just about the unique characteristics of blogging? There were aspects of all three, but they were disjointed. I was disappointed at the low level of knowledge about blogging among the agenda speakers and I thought the quality of facilitation during the discussions was uneven.
Still, I'm glad I went and to the extent that it was the first event of its kind hosted by Sorensen, it established a baseline for the future. As always, it was interesting to see the people behind the blogs in person and I finally got to meet my colleague Barnie Day in the flesh. I have to say that the comments I found the most provocative came from those with an "old media" background: Michael Shear of the Washington Post, Bob Gibson of the Daily Progress, and our own Jim Bacon. They grasp both the similarities and the departures between blogging and journalism.
On the issue of civic engagement, today’s summit in Charlottesville was a hopeful sign. The fact that 60 or so private citizens spent a whole day, on their own dime, to talk about the state of blogging and politics in Virginia, definitely demonstrates that people can get involved if they want to do so. Among participants today were most of the political bloggers in Virginia, from right-wing conservatives to left-wing liberals. For me, it was fascinating to meet these people and to participate in a discussion where people disagreed, but were never disagreeable.
A good time, I believe, was had by all. It was particularly good to meet Shaun Kenney and Rick Sincere—both of whom I've corresponded with often—and WaPo reporter Mike Schear, a fellow Richmonder. Unfortunately, I didn't have as much time as I'd have liked to talk to many of the bloggers, but the summit organizers thoughtfully put together a name/email list, so hopefully bloggers will feel comfortable making further contact.
In any event, I'm on vacation for the next week and heading down to Georgia. (and finally meeting McQ!) I may check in to the blog, but it certainly won't be a priority. Till then...
It was my pleasure to meet both of you. (and I’m glad I caught these comments before I hit the road) I really hope we can organize another blogger gathering - sooner, rather than later. Touchy as the situation could become, I think it would be useful to have a gathering devoted to a discussion of politics—or, at least, our role in political discourse—as well as the actual practice of blogging/the blogosphere.
I’d also be interested to hear ideas on, for lack of a better phrase, a good business model for political activism in the blogosphere; the elusive Next Step.
Failing that, of course, Waldo can always regale us with more stories about executing elephants and slaughtering turkeys. I know that goes well with dinner. :)