Monday, May 15, 2006

Politics, journalism, the world wide web

The conflict between the netroots and DLC progressives, which parallels the tension between blog-based and traditional journalism, is too often cast as a conflict between messy upstarts and gray eminences. What nobody comments on is that a reasonable percentage of web-based political action and journalism is that it's in many ways superior to traditional forms of the same.

The medium is superior. Via the web, you have the capacity for meaningful audience feedback, instant access to the record, and the opportunity for any internet-enabled person to contribute.

The reporters are better. Internet journalism is often undertaken, as in the case of Dr. Delong, or Juan Cole, by experts in a given field. While their knowledge is not absolute, they are intimately familiar with the state of play in a given field and are much less likely to fall prey to thoroughly debunked theories and talking points. In addition to the skepticism that reporters are supposed to cherish as their most powerful weapon, bloggers bring to bear a mindset informed by academic rigour.

Web-based reporting is more free of conflicting interests. While bloggers do depend on information that comes free-of-cost from newspapers, they are not in any way beholden to them, to advertisers, or to the institional interests of a given publication. Nor does their livelihood depend on what they say or how they say it.

Internet-based political action is far more transparent than establishment versions. Members of political parties have had far less capacity to influence their party. You could become an activist/professionalize your political involvement, you could write letters, and you could vote.

Web-based debate is, counter-intuitively perhaps, given the stereotypes about angry bloggers, more measured, more thorough, less exclusive, less resource intensive, and more responsive than op-ed debate. It's sort of a low-cost, fast-reacting, and wildly participatory form of peer review. Look at TPM cafe for an example.

So what's really interesting about articles like this from the NY Times is how far out of the loop they are. At the level of his article, he doesn't realize how quickly its shortcomings will be illustrated to millions (?) of readers and, therefore, how easily its message is discredited, which actually increases the message's inaccuracy. Because the message is less potent, it can't go as far as it might have in the past to perpetuate the meme of a "troubled directionless democratic party."

He's also missing the boat at the level of the wider political landscape. Because of the web and its capacity for dissemining information and argument, establishment members of the democratic party are going to be less label to practice politics-as-usual. Simultaneously, the party is more likely to gain political power, in that the Republican party is equally hampered. It is far less able than it has been in the past decade to influence the messages moving back and forth through the national discourse.

The future is by no means certain, but at the very least, there are more reasons than there have been in a while to expect that progressive politics will be both more succesful and more effective than they have been during the time when the myth of the dems-in-disarray was the dominant meme.

Only people with outdated ways of getting information might fail to see it.

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