Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The walls came tumbling down...a blogger's perspective of the lines between traditional media and bloggers reporting from significant events

The Texas Capitol---ubiquitous looking symbol of democratic government, and yet movingly significant.

It was Day Two of the Texas Democratic Party convention and I was sitting in the press room with the other members of the credentialed press. The other members of the press---who weren't sure who I was, at first, or how I fit in to the strict structure; in fact, weren't sure, after all, that I was one of them---and I tapped away at our laptops, preparing stories.

Here our language diverged: I posted mine, they filed theirs.

But I think most of them wrote at blogs, as well.

They knew I was a blogger because the very cool Vince Leibowitz and Charles Kuffner greeted me as we all arrived and checked into the press room. This greeting and our subsequent conversation claimed me as one of us, a blogger.

I'm afraid that dropped me immediately in the estimation of the reporters in the room. Glennia Campbell, one of the MOMocrat founders, experienced something similar in California. In the press room at the California Democratic convention, a reporter leaned over and said, "A blog? What...you have like two readers?"

Those who know the MOMocrats know this is far from true; it's become a well-read and well-respected source of information and opinion in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to an interview with Barack Obama, the MOMocrats also received press credentials to the national Democratic convention in Denver, have been cited in major news publications, run a radio show, and more. As I write this, one MOMocrat is talking to a major news network newscaster about an appearance on a program, and another is being interviewed by Al Jazeera English about sexism in the media.

While some blogs---especially political ones---are real tools (in all meanings of the word) and even some citizen journalists who write for otherwise well-read and generally respected blogs are too, many, many blogs and political blogs are excellent sources and resources that give highlight to information mainstream media leaves out (such as issues). Consider the Downing Street Memo---without bloggers that might have continued on in obscurity.

Truthfully, I think the media knows this. We are the breath at their back, and if they can't hear us breathing any longer, it is because we have moved far enough ahead.

I don't mean that as arrogantly as it sounds. I don't consider myself in competition with the press. I consider blogging an open medium for many voices. I consider that the Internet allows a space for additional information and points of view, which traditional media doesn't have, or doesn't have any longer---possibly due to budget. Smart media has recognized and harnessed this power, creating platforms attached to their news sites, such as chron.commons at the Houston Chronicle.

I also don't mean that as naively as it sounds. I realize that just because something is written doesn't mean it's truthful, based in any kind of fact or reality, or even worthy. That's why I always encourage people to read skeptically. At the convention, the wife of a delegate leaned over and asked me, "But what about the assertion that blogs run without any checks or balances, that you can't trust what you read on them?"

I replied, "You shouldn't blindly trust any one source for anything you read. You should always listen to news and opinion critically, then check it out for yourself."

She seemed surprised. Perhaps she didn't expect that answer. Perhaps she expected a defensive answer.

I'm not defensive, though, because I haven't anything to be defensive about. I do my best to write well-thought through pieces, with research behind them. I work with other writers who do the same. It's true that the groups I write with, Moms Speak Up and MOMocrats, are predominantly (exclusively) liberal, with a concentration on liberal topics. I think that's fine. I think it's okay to focus on the side you believe in.

I realize that's a break from how traditional and mainstream media have worked in recent history. And generally, I think it's good that mainstream media simply presents a well-rounded picture of information. I think it's right that they try to simply inform, in an unbiased way.

Except...that doesn't always work, and in trying to always present a well-rounded story and all angles, the actuality that the story being told is, in fact, the side chosen because it will capture attention and sell is obscured. But more than that, as Arianna Huffington wrote in her book, Right Is Wrong (review coming soon on MOMocrats) on pp 20, 23:
The "mainstream" media have. . .[adhered to] the belief that every major issue has two sides, two valid perspectives, and both deserve to be given equal weight. This is fine and dandy when the issue at hand is something like the death penalty, balancing the budget, or abortion. Rational, logical cases can be made on two (or more) sides of each of those issues---substantive arguments based on facts, studies, and personal convictions. But there are other issues that quite simply do not have two sides. Iraq wasn't a material threat to the security of the United States---at least not until it melted down into a chaotic cauldron of extremism and ethnic warfare after we invaded it. The health care system is broken, and insurance companies and big pharmaceutical-makers have gorged themselves at the public trough. And global warming is real, and will have deadly consequences for people and species all over the planet. Consequences that are already being felt.

The good thing about blogging is that it is opinion pieces---which doesn't remove it from logical, rational, or fact-based---and we are not beholden to advertisers who run roughshod over our content or other agendas other than simple expression. We can hold metaphorical feet over fire, and if our voice is big enough or widespread enough, it can be quite meaningful.

The irony about the "open-minded liberal" concept is that it allowed extreme points of view to become legitimized, and worse, tolerated. Somehow the invective of crazies so far off center that they have totally fallen off of the bell curve, such as Ann Coulter, has become mainstream. As Arianna Huffington wrote in her book, Ann Coulter is toxic curiosity (p. 21).

We let those voices in because we developed the politically correct perspective that every voice matters and should be allowed space to speak and count. It's a good theory and I already feel my mind rejecting any rejection of it.

But during the convention, a concept crystallized for me: being counted doesn't mean being validated, such as by winning.

I noticed during each vote that went from voice (were the ayes or nays louder?) to roll call (actually cast a vote that was tabulated) some number of people always stood after the tabulation results were announced and shouted, "WHEN IS MY VOTE GOING TO COUNT?!?!?!"

I wondered how they didn't see that their vote had just been counted. It was one in the final tally figure. Their side, though, simply hadn't had enough numbers. So they lost. That's not the same thing as not counting.

I accepted during the last two elections for President, governor, local elected officials and more that while my vote had counted, it was not enough and constituted, sadly (and tragically---from my point of view) the minority.

But it was counted.

That's what blogging can be: a place to count.

Whether it's on blogs, the news, or anywhere, we may still let people voice their point of view. But we don't have to legitimize it or even agree with it. We can be critical of it. We should be.

News also doesn't have to be titallating.

I reached my Breaking News Fatigue by 2002. I passed my ALL!!! NEWS!!! ALL!!! EXCLAMATION!!! POINT!!! tolerance by 2004. I don't even watch television news any longer, except in some rare cases, and then I have about a 30 minute tolerance limit.

But that's where we live: in a reptilian state of heightened emotional response, and we've become adrenaline junkies and thus exclamation point news junkies from it.

I saw it at the convention. The TV news crews stalked the halls, looking for the Loud, the Cliched, the Caricatured. They found a loud Hillary supporter running for national delegate, surrounded by piles of paraphernalia. It was loud, colorful, and obvious. That's where they stopped. That's who they interviewed. They had a story, look and conclusion in mind, and they hunted until they found it.

The trouble is that loud doesn't always equal representative, but by always seeking the loud and obvious---that's how a vocal minority gained perception as public majority.

The news crew got their soundbite and I got a craw full.

The visual image of the convention on the local news was stimulating, to be sure, but didn't fit with all, or even most, of the people I spoke to and interviewed. If I hadn't known better, I might not have known any better, based off of that news report.

It has changed us. Or it can, if we let it. That's why I write. I felt myself becoming overwhelmed, and from that, complacent. I, who have always been a fighter. Writing forces me to think critically, and within that, to find what I believe and then to keep to that. With my feet solidly on the ground of my own values, I see where and how I can act. It's an empowering place. When I feel empowered, I don't feel fearful (or overly so) or frozen in indecision or by overwhelming "what can I do, I'm not enough."

Luckily, we have a multitude of sources, and luckily, many, if not most, people scan through the wide variety. Eventually, in our own minds, with a balance of information across the spectrum, we form a value judgment. That's as it should be. In my opinion.

In the end, I believe blogging is achieving legitimacy and respect. We don't need to let mainstream media define us, though---as places such as The Today Show endeavored to do with some mom bloggers---and we don't need to define ourselves by comparison to mainstream media.

Eventually, in the press room, I felt a thawing. Bloggers and print media writers clumped together and exchanged quips, tips and ideas. (TV kept to themselves, aside from cameramen occasionally making quick, furtive eye contact; radio looked very busy, but sometimes quickly smiled.) By the end of the convention, I felt a sort of acceptance and maybe even some respect.

We all saw that we each were dedicated to finding and sharing information with readers. We all saw that we each had an interest in the topic, a passion for what we did, and a curiosity about the world we lived in.

That's a bond, and it can let us work alongside one another in this world of communication, ultimately painting a better picture.

Speaking of pictures, here are a few from the convention:

Chelsea Clinton spoke, on her mother's behalf.

A moment back stage with Kirk Watson, a state senator and convention chairman.

State senate candidate Joe Jaworski wowed the crowd at his party by playing the drums really well.

The Governor's Mansion burned early on the morning we were leaving, after the convention concluded.



Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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19 comments:

anniegirl1138 said...

When I first started blogging it was for me alone. Later on I came to realize that it was a form of writing that can and does touch people and is every bit as legitimate as print genres.

Nice piece.

slouching mom said...

Very, very cool.

And this?

"We are the breath at their back."

Hells yeah!

jen said...

i was just talking w/ J about this over the weekend, the notion that we don't answer to anyone - no editors to tell us we can't publish our thoughts - and the power in that is immense.

and yet the words must translate into change. we must figure out how to move our words. it's that that i wrestle with. great post, sister.

SciFi Dad said...

So THAT'S where you've been!

Very impressive, Julie, and (as always), well written. Blogging has come a long way... just as the print media people learned to accept television journalism, so they will accept bloggers as well.

liv said...

you absolutely inspire me, woman.

thanks for standing our ground.

thailandchani said...

Well, bloggers don't have to (but sometimes do) cater to advertisers and sponsors. That makes a huge difference in the things we're able to discuss.

Looks like an interesting event you attended.

Glennia said...

Actually, it was another blogger who made that comment, when he found out we were moms and bloggers. He didn't think that anyone read momblogs, or that moms who blog have any political savvy or the intellectual wherewithall to take on tough issues. Even among bloggers, there is a pecking order. We were undeterred by this comment, mainly because we're used to dealing with children.

Most excellent piece, Miss J.

Florinda said...

Terrific post, and touching on several important ideas. There's so much good stuff here I can't comment on it all (but I will link to it in my weekend blog roundup!)

I think we bloggers have to be aware that those on the "outside" may not be ready to take us quite as seriously as we take each other (and sometimes ourselves), but we're growing, and if we can be patient, they'll come around.

You make an excellent point about how validation of a viewpoint may be seemed as equal to "winning," and it's not. Never has been. Just because someone hears and respects your viewpoint doesn't mean you're going to get your way.

Again, great piece, Julie!

jeanie said...

Reading your post, Julie, brought to mind the pamphleteers during the times of Shakespeare and how they were another voice of information for the people.

Every piece of information we receive, whether through mainstream media or alternative sources is going to be influenced - by the writer, by the proprietor, by the best soundbite or headline, even by the stance of the recipient.

Congratulations on the kudos of being in the sanctum - and good on you for being one of those breaths.

Jennifer H said...

I would think you could hold your own in just about any room. I'm glad you're holding the line, and pushing it forward, too. Blogging will only improve the way we communicate.

MommyTime said...

I only discovered your blog a few weeks ago, and I'm always delighted when a new post pops up in my reader because everything I read here makes me want to just shut my computer and think for a little while.

You are so articulate about both the potential power of blogging and the limits of any single media source that I don't have much to add without chewing on this for a while. Except to thank you for making that move which I hope others in the position to do so will also undertake: to respond with such intellect and grace to the disparaging assumptions that have long plagued moms (mother = brainless) and that plague mom bloggers even more, I think.

Blogversary said...

Great piece and like someone else said, well articulated.

Amy@UWM said...

Go back and tell those reporters -- each and every one of them -- that THIS reader doesn't read any mainstream press for my political coverage, but I do read this blog, BlogHer and MOMocrats. Go ahead. Tell them.

cocokrispybeans said...

Julie:

You. ROCK.

That is all.

apathy lounge said...

Two readers? The nerve of that bitch! Glad you're there to speak for us. And give a critical listen, too.

kim said...

You are so wicked cool.

we_be_toys said...

You go girl!

I did wonder where you ahd gotten to, and now I see!

And since when do reporters or journalists NOT wite personally biased accounts?

Jeff said...

By the end of the convention, I felt a sort of acceptance and maybe even some respect.

How awesome is that? Thank you for helping to BRING that respect to the blogging community. We are not going to go away!

Mayberry said...

Yes, Julie, I was going to say exactly what Jeff said -- thank you for representing all of us so expertly.

My mother was just visiting for a few days and kept insisting on watching the TV news. It made my skin crawl!