Blogging on the Run in Boston

BOSTON -- Eight journalism students from three American universities have been posting real-time blogs, including photos, from the Democratic National Convention here this week.

Sponsored by Cingular Wireless, the students use Motorola camera phones to write and photograph their reports. After snapping shots of delegates, candidates, protesters, and Bostonian passersby, the students send their blogs via the Internet-enabled phones to a convergence media center run by Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. There, the articles are posted onto the Web.

"We are creating a mosaic of the convention," says Adam Beam, 21, a student at the University of South Carolina and participant in the Cingular project.

Online on the Go

More than 300 of their stories have joined other postings on the Text America site, which features on-the-go bloggers filing from Web-aware cell phones. The students admit that friendly competition is part of their motivation to report on many different events and people at the convention, just as Cingular had hoped.

"We want to help reach young Americans and get them involved in the political process," says Marc Lefar, chief marketing officer of Cingular Wireless, in a statement.

Each blogging student equipped with a Motorola V-400 camera phone develops a theme for the day and creates a thread online.

The group met on Sunday before the convention and learned how to operate the phones.

"I'm a little bit technophobic, but I'm getting used to it," says Becky Venne, a graduate student at Northeastern University.

Venne, who studies broadcast communications, found the blogging was easier for her than other students because she is used to thinking of stories in terms of images.

"I come from the perspective that the story is a snapshot and the text is secondary," Venne says.

Drake Lucas, a graduate student at Emerson College, finds the photographic element changed her reporting perspective.

"I am used to having to research and work on a story ahead of time, working from information more than visuals," Lucas says. "You need both elements with this. Sometimes people have a great story but the visual isn't great. Here it is more visually oriented."

Blog With a Name

Credibility is a central issue for the students.

"The minute 'blogger' comes out of our mouth they think we have an agenda," Beam says.

Lucas has noticed a lot of bloggers are covering the campaign, but says most are writing opinions.

"Our project isn't partisan," Lucas says. "We keep standard journalism ethics; but we are just using a new medium." She recommends that people who want to start blogging should consider how others would see them.

The students learned quickly to tell subjects they are blogging for Rock the Vote because people are familiar with the MTV initiative and MTV.com has links on its site to their blogs.

Lucas, who doesn't usually use a cell phone, says she finds the less intrusive nature of a camera phone is helpful in reporting. "It's a non-threatening medium, not some big camera in your face," Lucas says.

Venne recently started using the text-messaging feature on her personal cell phone, relieved that the camera function is "easy to use."

She says people on the street are receptive to the new technology.

On Wednesday, she and her Cingular partner covered the homeless community's reaction to the convention. Impressed by how politically informed some of Boston's homeless were, she says people on the street were equally impressed that two minutes after talking with her, their image was online.

Trials of Technology

Beam's one complaint is that the Motorola batteries tend to die before the day ends. With all the downloading the students do during the day, the batteries run out quickly.

Beam convinced a Cingular employee to give him a cell booster.

"It's in case Kerry walks by and my battery is dead, I can squeeze one more shot out of it," he says. His other recommendation is that organizers use their connections to get the students into more post-convention parties.

Blogging via cell phones would be a great way to cover the Olympics or Election Day activities, Lucas says: "It's a great way to be a part of a lot of little stories."

Beam says the chance to attend the DNC and to walk around on the floor of the FleetCenter is a dream come true.

"The journalist in me would love to have a desk and file good longer stories," he says. "But I am 21 with a year left in school, and so this is just great to be here. This is the top news story in the world for the week and I get to be here and contribute to it."

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