Today the Vincent Gray campaign announced it would be holding a blogger roundtable at Ben’s Chili Bowl. The campaign sent invitations to many notable DC bloggers, offering an opportunity to sit down with the candidate and ask questions. After the whole street car fiasco, it made sense that the Gray campaign would want to build a better relationship. This is great news for the campaign, establishing a good relationship with D.C. bloggers could go a long way to helping get their message out. WMATA gets this. DC Water gets this. DDOT gets this. The list goes on, and it’s a great thing.
Unfortunately, the Gray campaign has stumbled in its implementation. Included in the invitation to the event was the following:
Unfortunately I have to make one point about expectations — this isn’t an opportunity for activism. We’ll expect the same level of decorum and professionalism exhibited by full-time journalists so that everyone who has a question gets the opportunity to have it answered.
Assuming this one goes well and is productive, we’ll have a few more availabilities exclusive to bloggers before Primary Day. We’ve tentatively planned them for the morning of July 31, the evening of August 16, and then the final one on the morning of September 4.
The fact that the campaign felt this sort of disclaimer was necessary shows a lack of understanding of what exactly we as bloggers do. The invitation was sent to many of the largest blogs in the District, to people who are not unfamiliar with how to attend an event and not cause a scene.
If the Gray campaign wants to engage the blogosphere, the expectation that writers know how to behave should be assumed. If there’s any question, you don’t invite someone to the event. The writers at WLDC were not the only ones who felt insulted by this, Geoffrey Hatchard of the District Curmudgeon, had this to say:
While it’s clearly smart public relations to get your message out via as many channels as possible, extending a welcoming hand while using the back of it to slap someone across the face is insulting. All the people who write these blogs are adults and don’t need to be reminded how to act in public. For comparison, many of the same people were invited to speak with George S. Hawkins, the General Manager of DC Water at a roundtable last week, and there were no preconditions, limits, or points that were set out-of-bounds pre-conversation. We were told to ask and say anything we wanted, and the level of candor between the interviewers and the interviewee was refreshing. This invitation speaks down to those the political consultant is trying to get to say nice things about his candidate. It’s not good strategy.
Poor wording indeed. Especially in DC, blogging is serious business. We take our work seriously, and we expect no less of ourselves than we would if we were “full-time” journalists.
UPDATE: The Gray campaign reacted swiftly, issuing an apology this afternoon. In the email, Gray’s new media coordinator states:
I couldn’t have more respect the hard work that goes into them and didn’t mean to offend anyone. This is new ground for local campaigns and I obviously erred with my tone. I truly just want to make sure everyone gets a chance to ask questions, which is of course why the campaign is trying to create these opportunities in the first place.