Primary Battles Through New Media

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Last week, I participated in a televised show with New York public radio host and all round smart guy Brian Lehrer in a discussion about new media, blogs, Facebook, microjournalism and how it was changing the structural ecosystem of political organizing and participation.
I thought it was a fascinating and thoughtful segment — about a half hour long.

Also on the show were TechPresident.com co-founder Andrew Rasiej and Columbia Journalism School New Media professor Sree Sreenivasen.

— Steve Clemons

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2 comments on “Primary Battles Through New Media

  1. wow power leveling says:

    freewheeling, rabidly partisan press of 18th C. Philadelphia that I have in mind, and how that press was used to organize and galvanize voters. Reporting from the scene on a shove (like O’Reilly’s of an Obama person), to pick one small but benchmark example, is totally 18th century: overheated papers, pamphlets, and one-off broadsides were whipped out constantly in response to moment-by-moment events; distribution throughout the localized, walkable center of action occurred http://www.cheap-lotrogold.com almost instantaneously. In the rowdy, divisive Pennsylvania Assembly campaign of 1764, for example, when the party of Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Galloway was largely upset by John Dickinson’s insurgent coalition, the press was a seething free-for-all of personal invective, kneejerk

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  2. William Hogeland says:

    I keep checking back here to see whether Steve’s remarks on this subject have drawn comments, and I keep being amazed to see the big “0.” Now I’m thinking the “0” tells us something germane to the very issues raised last week on the Lehrer show, a discussion that I found provocative. (Or that it tells us nothing: I actually think that for a few hours at least, the comment functionality for this entry was acting up. But still!)
    The use of new media and social networking in political organizing and election reporting — as the phenomenon has begun arising in this presidential nominating season — represents a set of broad, long-range social, cultural, and technological issues, possibly ambiguous and nuanced, certainly impossible to assess, define, or question in the heat of typical lean-forward, type-and-post mode. To consider them means commenting on the nature of posting comments.
    We’d have to think, that is, about what we’re doing online, and what it might mean, and we’d have to live with having no real answer. Meanwhile, every flashing, momentary “news cycle” — whose blink-of-an-eye speed is a result of these very technological and social developments — twitches our collective comment muscle onward to the next micro-action in the drama. Who has time for old-school ruminating, whither this, whence that, blah blah. We’ll think about what it all means later. Something may just have been said in Ohio!
    Which might begin to suggest something both about the amazing power and about the extreme limitations — even potential for regressiveness — of new media, blogging, and networking in politics and news. To someone who has been pursuing one career in Web development and content management almost since the Web began, and more recently pursuing another, seemingly unrelated career in the old-fashioned narrative history of the American founding, I’m amazed to think that political blogging, online social networking, and microjournalism are bringing my seemingly disparate endeavors unpredictably together — both fascinating me and freaking me out a bit.
    It’s the freewheeling, rabidly partisan press of 18th C. Philadelphia that I have in mind, and how that press was used to organize and galvanize voters. Reporting from the scene on a shove (like O’Reilly’s of an Obama person), to pick one small but benchmark example, is totally 18th century: overheated papers, pamphlets, and one-off broadsides were whipped out constantly in response to moment-by-moment events; distribution throughout the localized, walkable center of action occurred almost instantaneously. In the rowdy, divisive Pennsylvania Assembly campaign of 1764, for example, when the party of Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Galloway was largely upset by John Dickinson’s insurgent coalition, the press was a seething free-for-all of personal invective, kneejerk response, meanspirited satire, even the dredging up of disparaging remarks Franklin had once made about Germans (the Hispanic voters of their day).
    Much of it was news not fit, in the magisterial and paternalistic 20th century Times sense, to print. And plenty of us have been asking for years who gave the Times (and its ilk) the job of deciding what’s news. Let a thousand flowers bloom, welcome to the 21st century, it’s the democratization always inherent in the Web, now finally contributing to the democratic process itself, etc.
    Yet when it comes to O’Reilly and the Obama person, to stick to the benchmark example, it’s still fair to ask whether such a report, in any useful sense, *is* news. (If it were Obama and Clinton shoving, that would be one thing: indeed, in 1764, Galloway and Dickinson were reported, probably falsely, to have exchanged blows outside the Pennsylvania State House). O’Reilly’s personal conduct is news only in the O’Reillyish sense of thinking that any event featuring O’Reilly is by definition important. It would be different to write (or post) a piece on fear and loathing in the campaign pressroom. Or on O’Reilly, or on shoving, etc. The value of such a piece would depend on such possibly quant considerations as the relative mastery of a writer and the attention span of a reader; it might be funny, dispiriting, illuminating.
    But is the very idea of an attention “span” in danger now? when the tiny snippet of fact, lurid or otherwise, uploaded as it occurs, commented on by the reader even as it’s pushed down a notch by the arrival of a new snippet, has us agog?
    No. Comments on this blog, and on some other blogs (in a variety of styles), show that attention spans are strong and that sincere political reflection is thriving — in some measure thanks to the online phenomenon. There’s an upside, God knows; as I said, I’ve been doing Web work for a long time. And in the 18th Century, too, citizens were anything but apathetic; discussion was vigorous. Still, to ask it another way: Could the “unfiltered” quality of new media have at least a tendency to pull us also backward, toward the time when all journalism was nothing but interested, and nothing but gossipy, and no divisions were known to exist among news reporting and political tactics?
    I don’t know if others will read and respond to this, of course — the entry to which it refers being entire *days* old, and the minute-to-minute juggernaut breathlessly ongoing — but I’m glad Steve, Lehrer, and others are taking time to reflect on issues that will resonate beyond whatever happens next, and I’d love to have more discussion on this.

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