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The New Media Hits New Hampshire

Two days before 30 American University students arrived to fan out across the Manchester, NH Primary-land and film 3 to 5 minute mini-docs on the youth vote’s interaction with the 2008 Presidential election, a San Francisco-based television network set up a storefront to do the same thing.

Current TV, a progressive television network created in 2005 by Al Gore and targeted at young people, sent out "collective journalists" to produce an alternative kind of coverage of the New Hampshire primaries. The network typically uses viewer-created content, 3 to 5 minute "pods" uploaded by Current.com audience members and voted onto their cable channel. The Current’s New Hampshire team of journalists, all under 30, won a contest for viewer created content in order to obtain a spot to cover the primaries. They attended rallies, meet-and-greets and interviewed New Hampshire youth voters equipped with simple, digital video cameras in order to produce four special shows—one per day—all leading up to live election coverage on Jan. 8, the night of the vote.

The network rented and decorated a storefront "lounge" in the heart of downtown Manchester to conduct interviews, invite New Hampshire residents in off the street and promote the brand. Producers centered their coverage on issues rather than specific candidates because they said they believed youth should be able to base their choice on an issue like health or education, not on a "menu" of decisions made by a presidential hopeful. They passed out neon green pins proclaiming "You Have Issues," threw a mid-coverage party at a local bar and were a subject of media attention in addition to doing their own reporting

Their motto? They want to "reflect, not affect the youth vote." Armed with Wi-fi, digital video cameras and curious young people, it seems they’re doing just that.

The Bloggers’ Sphere:

Once we arrived in New Hampshire, it became clear that bloggers now have power that they didn’t four years ago. I’d never seen evidence of them, in the I-can-reach-out-and-touch-you sense, until the New Hampshire Primary Debates, hosted by Facebook and ABC, Jan. 6, 2008. But they are undeniably helping to shape the coming "media election," or the media’s effect on decisions surrounding the 2008 Presidential Election. More bloggers may have turned out to this debate simply because it was hosted in part by Facebook.

Glancing around an auditorium filled with stoic greats of print and broadcast years past, I noticed the most interesting people lined up their laptops on the table in the rear of the room. The spot was labeled "online" for bloggers and other non-mainstream media. Some bloggers donned red and white beanies. Others wore headphones and sweater vests. Only a couple female bloggers joined the group. Brian Lawson, the 22-year-old blogger that everyone in New Hampshire was talking about because of his useful, informational blog, New Hampshire Presidential Watch, pulled up a metal folding chair across from me.

Throughout the debates bloggers jogged the aisles to joke with each other and ask, "What are you going to write about?" The bloggers were mostly young, save a couple of 40 to 50-year-olds. Some used debate downtime to edit video of themselves at other events, going to rallies and talking to candidates on the street. Lawson stayed on his cell phone for most of the night. All exchanged a few words or a handshake with one another in a nuanced bid of camaraderie.

These young people represent the future of media covering politics. They’ve come out in full force for this election – about 30 bloggers sat at the online table for the debates. They’re all in this together. Several of the storied reporters visited the back of the room to chat with the bloggers and get their viewpoints. Lawson’s blog had been a go-to source for information on candidates’ schedules in the lead up to the primaries and journalists let him know they appreciated it. In the course of the debates, several news stations and two reporters came up to interview and gain footage of Lawson.

I left the debates finally being able to put the "blogger" name to several distinct faces. All eyes, notebooks and lenses are on these guys – further evidence that the underdogs of the media world are in this for the long haul.