Friday, March 27, 2009

A Blogger-Driven News Distribution Network, Part 2: The Solution

The other day, I wrote about one of the key political problems that Florida faces -- the lack of media coverage of state and local politics, or of any politics that has a direct affect on Floridians. Today, I want to talk about what I think we should do about it.

As the title of the post suggests, I think we should create a blogger-driven news distribution network. What exactly does that mean? I think it means that we, the bloggers, take up the role of providing Floridians with news on state and local (and some national) political news. If we don't do it, it isn't really going to happen. We'll continue to get a diminishing amount of information that doesn't provide citizens with what they need, provides it in a biased fashion and fails to provide sufficient context and background to help citizens make wise decisions for themselves.

So, basically, what I'm talking about is using the power of the liberal/progressive/Democratic blogs in Florida to provide the broadest coverage of political news possible. We are the new media, we should be come the new "news." I don't necessarily mean that we should become activists and make news -- although there is nothing wrong with that -- I mean we should be the new reporters and cover politics in Florida in a way so that citizens have the maximum amount of information available to them at any time. Obviously, they don't get that now and it's not coming from the traditional media.

So what are the key aspects of making this happen?

1. Identifying what is "news": This one seems straightforward, but newspapers and TV stations seem to get it wrong so often. Here's a simple list just off the top of my head (feel free to suggest other things that should be on this list)...

-Public policy (state, local and national legislation, cabinet decisions, agency rules and regulations, court rulings)
-Elections (candidates -- including minor/third party candidates, polls, dates of importance, public events, etc.)
-Current events (disasters, crises, and other bad things that might give rise to the need for new policy, good things that happen, too)
-Oversight (does policy work, are officials doing their job correctly, who is breaking the law or ethics rules, etc.)
-Grassroots activism (what people and groups are doing, how they do it, what works and what doesn't work)
-Party activities and events (meetings, conventions, internal elections, rules and regulations -- including third parties)

Not that hard a list to come up with. Imagine what the voters could do if all this information were reported on. A lot of this will require original reporting, not just reacting to media sources (although there is obviously a place for that, too).

2. Developing sources: To get this information, we need to develop a network of sources that make this information available. We need to make contact with elected and appointed government officials, political party leaders, interest group decision makers, lobbyists, media people and, probably most importantly, the staffers who work for each of these. Quite frequently, the staff members know more about what's going on than to the actual decision makers. In addition to giving us the regular media info and press releases, if we develop these sources, they can give us information before the mainstream media gets it or give us stories that they might not be able to give to the MSM, for whatever reason. Other sources of information shouldn't be overlooked, either, such as web sites (particularly those of government agencies), actual legislation (you never know what you might find if you actually read a bill), freedom of information requests and other avenues. Attending public events is a great approach, too, particularly if you have a video or audio recorder. I think the "macaca" moments happen a lot more frequently than we know, particularly with state and local officials and candidates who aren't trained in public speaking or how to keep their deepest, darkest thoughts to themselves.

3. Promoting ourselves and each other: Contrary to popular belief, if you build it, they won't just come. It doesn't matter what kind of writing or research you do, if no one reads it, then you've probably wasted your time and haven't helped people make wiser decisions. We need to do a much better job of promoting each others' web sites and important work (South Florida Daily Blog and FLA Politics are amongst the best at this). Cross-promotion needs to be more frequent and more substantive (not just links, but links and commentary, responding to what others have done). We also need to work on how to attract new audiences. I'll have a lot more on that concept later.

Obviously, I'm not telling anyone what they have to write about. And no one person can write about all of this stuff. Some people won't want to be reporters or do extra research or use traditional journalistic "standards." That's fine. Variety is good. It actually helps. Newspapers have their opinion sections. And it's one of the reasons I'm not suggesting we all join together on one big web site or anything. I like the idea of a network of independent sites, each with their own focus, style, editorial policies, etc. I think we should be working together more, but we should still be working independently as well. Talking to each other more, linking to each other more, commenting on each others work more and stuff like that will be a big part of moving everything forward, though, so I am suggesting such things.

Critics will suggest, of course, that what I'm suggesting here is biased and therefore I'm a hypocrite for complaining about one bias and promoting another. Obviously, there will be bias in what I'm suggesting, but it will be biased in the right way. Everything and everyone has a bias. Some biases are good, some are bad. Most of us tend to be biased against mass murderers and serial killers. Rightly so. My biases are pretty straightforward, so I'll put them out there:

1. I'm biased in favor of facts.
2. I'm biased in favor of valid evidence.
3. I'm biased in favor of logic and reason.
4. I'm biased in favor of helping people.
5. I'm biased in favor of using government to help those people.
6. I'm biased against people who don't agree with these biases.

That's it, those are the biases that I operate under and that I expect other progressives to operate under. They may or may not. To each their own, but this is how my process works. Besides, it's clear that these aren't the biases that the mainstream media operates with, those include things like: profit, corporations, official sources, profit, sensationalism, profit, sex, profit, violence, profit, did I mention profit. I think my biases are better and they better serve the public.

Anyway, this is what has been bumping around in the back of my brain. What do you think?

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