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'Bloggers' Chronicle Presidential Campaign

Web journals like Joshua Marshall's have become indispensable this campaign season: They mobilize supporters, question traditional media coverage and feed the insatiable appetites of political junkies.

A powerful new networking tool for the politically plugged-in and hangers-on, the constant online chatter broadens campaign discourse and accelerates the news cycle.

Such journals, known as blogs (search), may not be doing much to sway undecided voters, but analysts say they strongly impact the media, campaign consultants and activists.

"A blog's not going to have the same reach as a Washington Post or USA Today or an AP article," said Cameron Barrett, a longtime blogger now with Wesley Clark's (search) campaign. "But it does have reach, and people consistently go to online blogs to find information that traditional media ignore."

Consider Marshall, who raised $4,500 from readers and lit out for New Hampshire, laptop in hand. Marshall believes blogs can collectively be as influential as talk radio; his daily audience is about 45,000, comparable to a medium-sized newspaper.

From a Howard Dean (search) rally Tuesday, the morning after the one-time favorite placed third in Iowa's caucuses, Marshall described the subdued tone of both the candidate and his supporters.

In the evening, he remarked on Sen. John Kerry (search) coughing repeatedly during an informal Q&A, and on Wednesday, Marshall published a transcript of his recent interview with George Soros (search), a billionaire financier who wants President Bush unseated.

Blogs are collections of links and ideas, usually frequently updated. Their most recent entries are on top, and readers can generally post comments. Blogs are increasingly popular, and the software behind them gets friendlier to use by the day.

For Marshall, who has written for such print publications as The American Prospect, blogs let him mix news, opinion and personal observations with no meddling from an editor.

His postings, at TalkingPointsMemo.com, are often written in real time before the event he's chronicling is even over. Readers get a sense of being there.

Some blogs, like The Command Post, seek to be objective aggregators of news. But many make no such pretense.

Dean campaign staffer Allison Stuntz filed frequent pro-Dean dispatches from a press bus in Iowa, while Kerry's blogmeister, Dick Bell, made arrangements for staffers and volunteers in New Hampshire to submit items — pro-Kerry, of course.

Traditional news outlets, Bell said, typically don't have the space or broadcast air time to follow campaigns as extensively as political junkies might like. That's where blogs take over, aggregating items from multiple sources.

Campaigns count on them to recruit activists — and contributors.

Though only 10 percent of visitors to Kerry's site check out the blog, Bell said, those people tend to linger longer.

Alongside campaign blogs are unofficial ones, including ninedwarfs.com run by a conservative, Kevin Schmidt, who has traveled throughout Iowa to poke fun at the Democratic field.

Some news organizations, including The New Republic, have their own blogs, while many independent bloggers devote themselves to slinging barbs at news organizations, occasionally encouraging readers to e-mail or phone reporters about perceived biases or inaccuracies.

Individual blogs even target specific reporters, including Jodi Wilgoren of The New York Times.

"I guess I'm missing something here, but why the hell is it any of our business what role Mrs. Dean plays in Gov. Dean's political life?," reads one post on The Wilgoren Watch, its author commenting on Wilgoren's story about Dean's wife.

Wilgoren has signed up for e-mail notification of new postings and takes such criticisms in stride.

"I do read it," she said. "I'm interested in everybody's feedback about my work."

Some analysts have their doubts about blogs, however.

Larry Purpuro, coordinator of the Republicans' e.GOP Project in 2000, said many bloggers were little more than "armchair analysts in their bathrobes [with] no serious interest in leaving their living rooms to actually help the campaigns."

And blogs allow negative stories that might have died after one or two news cycles to be repeatedly cited and linger, said Sree Sreenivasan, a new media professor at Columbia University.

Take Dean's impassioned, fist-pumping speech after the Iowa caucuses Monday night.

The blogs were all aflutter Thursday with a "dance version" parody of the performance. In the audio remix, Dean's rattling off of the names of upcoming primary states is set to a pulsating techno beat punctuated by a siren.