Christine Stuart photo

With a little more than a month before the presidential primary in New Hampshire, stakeholders explored how the role of the traditional media, bloggers, and citizen journalists have changed the political landscape in the Granite State and beyond, at an event Thursday hosted by the New England News Forum.

A fixture in the New Hampshire political scene for years, Arnie Arnesen, a radio talk show host and blogger, said Thursday that the traditional media have abandoned their role as a “check on power,” and have traded it to become stenographers for power. She said when blogs began gaining popularity many were afraid they would become nothing but echo chambers, but in many instances that isn’t the case.

However, the 2008 election will test how effective blogs were in getting voters to the polls, Arnesen said. She used Ron Paul’s campaign which was waged largely on the Internet as an example. “I know people who are monitoring him to see if all the Internet hype is anything more than typing,” she said.

Dan Kennedy, blogger and journalism professor at Northeastern University, pointed out that blogs have a different way of news gathering than traditional journalists. He said blogs get a piece of unconfirmed information and they put it out there and over time it emerges as either credible or not credible, whereas traditional media sit on information until it can be verified and properly vetted. He called the bloggers method, “crowd source journalism” because the blogging community works on vetting the information together. Kennedy used the U.S. Attorney firings as an example of this new type of reporting technique.

Christine Stuart photo

David Tirrell-Wysocki, of the Associated Press, said he likes that the blogs are providing competition for reporters, who grew up not knowing what it was like to compete against another news organization. He said the blogs forced every single news outlet and newspaper reporter to file a story immediately at the risk of getting it wrong. He said if a reporter gets it wrong enough “I’m cutting myself off from my sources, when all you have is your reputation and accountability.”

“Whose holding the bloggers accountable?” Tirrell-Wysocki asked.

Arnesen said a blogs readership is based on the credibility of the bloggers work. She said the readers determine which blogs survive. It’s about “Take a risk and be right,” she said.

Brian Bissell, of the Huffington Post, who moved to New Hampshire just to cover the primary, said he has a hard time believing anything that’s written on a blog. He said in the mainstream media there’s a built-in trust, but “it’s hard for a blog to have credibility.” He said he would like to work on the longer policy pieces, missing in today’s newspapers, but “I don’t want to lose my readers while I’m working on a policy piece.”

Going back to the New Hampshire primary, James Pindell, a reporter with the Boston Globe said at 7:15 a.m. Thursday morning he checked his email and read a note from a blogger giving us a heads up that something unfavorable was going to happen to Republican Mitt Romney today, the day of his big speech. The tip as it turns out came from a rival campaign as a “knock on Romney’s big day,” Pindell said. “What stopped him from putting it out there himself?”

The two-hour long discussion was not long enough to answer questions about whether blogs have forced campaigns to change their strategies and establish a netroots presence because they need to influence the web conversation, as well as the mainstream media, or whether an online conversation can replace a handshake from a candidate.

For more, including video on Thursday’s conversation, visit The New England News Forum’s web site.