A Tourist in Netroots Nation


Pittsburgh, PA – I’ve landed in the unfamiliar nation of U.S. progressive politics, specifically its online army. Netroots Nation is the reincarnation of YearlyKos, which was the conference that grew out of the Daily Kos. I’m on a panel called Democracy Without Newspapers, with many* people who have been thinking and speaking about this stuff much longer than I have. So I’m pondering what to say to this audience.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

— assuming (hoping, praying) you folks care not just about “big D” but also “little ‘d'” democracy, then you should sign up for the movement (it doesn’t exist yet, tho colleague I chatted with on the plane mentioned plans to launch it, will let you know when that goes public) to reinvent journalism. (yes, journalism – in my personal definition journalism may be created by all kinds of people, not only journalists, even by non-people).

—  I say it doesn’t exist yet because what’s happened till now has mostly been based (IMO) on new models that reject the old, attempts to “fix” the old, or attempts to “save” the old.

—  The folks in the Tweeting in the Trenches panel talked a lot about going where people “are” as a reason why it’s key to be in social media. Which is why we need to remember that most Americans are still in front of their TV sets.**

— It’s time to stop obsessing about the medium and get back to the role of news and information in a little d democratic society.

— There are a lot of interesting experiments going on outside the U.S., both in legacy media (note no other country relies as heavily as U.S. on profit-driven, ad-supported media for their newsgathering) and in various forms of participatory media, including many projects that don’t consider themselves to be journalism projects (but to my mind could benefit from more journalism).

— I think we’re going to need LOTS of attention to how to pick up the slack on certain kinds of reporting that I don’t believe either mainstream media or volunteer online efforts have the motivation to do. I think it will require some serious, organized, not-driven-by-profit efforts that include a mix of journalism expertise, technologists, volunteers, activists and so on.

— Repeating what someone said at a conference in Berkeley recently: “Got something you want to try? Come develop it in Africa! If you can make it work there, it’ll work anywhere!” Working with people in other circumstances is a great way to open your eyes to new possibilities.

Some exampes I might mention:

Crowdsourcing by Gazeta Wyborcza

Tax returns of Brazilian politicians on Politicos do Brasil

Ushahidi – a tool for reporting on crisis

Frontline SMS – use a computer to broadcast via SMS

and of course my friends at Global Voices.

* are there really 7 people on a 75 minute panel? From bitter experience inflicting such a thing on my own conference, I mutter “O, that way madness lies.”

** Local television news remains more popular than either cable news or network news – 52% regularly watch the local news about their own viewing area, while only 46% regularly read the newspaper, and 37% of the public – including more than half (what do the other 45% do? think of them lately?) of those who go on the internet (55%) – say they regularly get news online. . (2008 News Consumption Survey Pew Research Center for the People & the Press)

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