By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Help me organize a talk

Next week I’m giving a 15- to 20-minute talk on the role of the media in the presidential campaign. What I’d like to do is mention a few media trends and how they may play out. I thought I’d put up a rough outline in the hopes that you might help me refine it. Here’s where I’m at right now:

  1. Citizen journalism. From the “Macaca” video to Mayhill Fowler, expect the unexpected.
  2. The rise of a liberal counter-media. Left-leaning, media-savvy Web sites such as Media Matters and, increasingly, the cable channel MSNBC mean Fox News and Rush Limbaugh no longer have the field to themselves.
  3. The decline of the so-called objective press as a trusted source. The public that is most engaged with politics wants its political news delivered in the context of an ideological community.
  4. The role of “undernews.” I believe that’s a Mickey Kaus term. I’m referring to stories and rumors that are kept swirling online, breaking into the mainstream later if at all.
  5. The 24-minute news cycle. No longer is it enough to respond within a day or even in a few hours. There’s no longer a news cycle — it’s constant.

Well, there are five, which seems about right. But I’m not sure it’s the best five, and some are clearly subsets of the same phenomenon. If you’ve got a better idea, or some examples I should use to flesh these out, don’t hold back.

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  1. Sean Roche

    Crowd-sourced opposition research.The combination of the web and the blogosphere means that all the world’s a war room.

  2. Tim Allik

    Dan, I like your topics. One thing that’s struck me is the “silophication” of political debate and discussion in recent years thanks to the web. There are loads of radical right-wing bloggers — but generally speaking the people who read them also come from the radical right. The same goes for liberals and liberal bloggers. On the Democratic side we have Democratic Underground. On the Republican side we have Free Republic. The rules are as follows for each of these web communities: beat up your opponent all you want, but don’t criticize someone on your side or else you’re apt to get kicked out. There seems to be a lot of agreeing going on in the blogopshere – but not much room for polite disagreement or constructive debate. How do people with opposing backgrounds and values engage in civil dialogue about the issues of the day without resorting to cheap shots or name calling? I wonder if this situation can be resolved, and if so, how?

  3. GardTrask

    In light of recent high-profile selections, perhaps a topic to be intertwined is the “Vetting Media”. The choice of Sarah Palin, the process, the vetting (or lack thereof) and the rushed nature of the selection seem to be a case of mistakes “condemned to repeat”.In 1972, McGovern picked Thomas Eagleton, later forced to withdraw his nomination. In 1988 Bush was vilified for choosing Dan Quayle without even interviewing him, and most notably, the selection of Walter Mondale in 1984 of Geraldine Ferraro set back the cause of woman Executive Branch candidates in his lack of judgment considering her family finances. Now, as more bubbles to the surface about Sarah Palin, I find I rely on the Media to vet where the party did not, both parties, equally.

  4. Pocket Rockets

    Rename No. 5 the 24-minute opinion cycle… then you can fold Nos. 2&3 into that. Most of what you get on Fox and MSNBC is opinion and slanted "analysis"… at least in prime time. This trend may be good for ratings, but it is poison for our democracy.

  5. Suldog

    As regards #3, true and not true. Some folks in the choir definitely want to be preached to, but there are many (like me) who have come to the conclusion that the media refuses to consider their desires, and we thus have almost given up on the whole of the mainstream.Of course, as you know, “the media” is not the amorphous blob some of those on all sides would have us believe, so sometimes it just takes a bit of searching to find those who still at least seem to be objective. Still, it is such a wearing search at times that it seems hardly worth the effort.

  6. acf

    I agree with Suldog regarding #3. I want my news delivered to me in a professional manner, without cheerleading to one side or the other, or denigrating the opposition. I also do not want ‘happy talk’. Sometimes resisting the urge to make that cute last word is what makes the difference between a good report and just more infotainment. As for point #2, those outlets may be necessary, given the rise of the Republican attack station FoxNews, but I don’t watch it, and I don’t watch them. They have too much airtime on their hands and the quality, or lack of it, shows as a result. An analysis of how much news coverage is actually created on each station might yield surprising results. Besides their cycle of repeating reports, there are the so called news talk programs that deliver the real propaganda of their ownership. They are worthless delivering news, and useless doing anything but pumping up the already convinced. I don’t watch them. I won’t watch them.


    I think your list is pretty good, Dan. Citizen journalism is real. If the mainstream media misses something, citizens will pick it up and as long as they have an outlet to get the story out (which there are plenty of now), the story will get out.That means rumors get more treatment than they used to. Some get debunked immediately and some have to keep on churning before they are validated or thrown out.Two recent high-profile pregnancies, for example, got their “media start” on the Internet. Of course I’m talking about the John Edwards and the Sarah Palin “controversies.”It was the constant drumbeat of the blogs that forced resolution to the rumors. The first proved to be factual. The second – not so much — but another pregnancy was presented as a result.2. I don’t know if you would consider this a “rise” or not. The Daily Kos, for example, isn’t a newbie in Internet-land. Both sides are fairly well-represented.3. It is up to the individual media outlets to maintain a high level of integrity. And for those who are interested in integrity, they will gravitate toward those who maintain the highest ideals.4. The undernews is real and it will continue to get more real. They bubble up in the Internet ether. 5. The news cycle is instantaneous now. Some recent examples. John McCain can’t answer how many homes he owns. Within hours, the Obama campaign has ads up in key states. Barack Obama is talking about McCain’s gaffe. Obama’s surrogates are talking about the gaffe. It was extraordinarily well-executed on behalf of the Obama campaign.Likewise, Barack Obama uses a commonly used phrase “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”The McCain campaign jumps into action immediately declaring he called Sarah Palin a pig. They hastily arrange a conference call with a former Governor (who happens to be a woman) who condemns the action, they launch a commercial the next morning and successfully make a media spectacle of it.Did either have long-lasting legs? The McCain housing thing — a bit (but it’s forgotten now). Who knows how long the lipstick “issue” will last.The point is, both campaigns are taking advantage of a news cycle which is, I would call 24 seconds, not 24 minutes.

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