“What’s clear is that an Obama victory could have profound political implications for the future of the Democratic Party. When 44 arrived in office, some forecast that he might usher in a New New Deal. (Nope.) But if he gains reelection by consolidating his party’s position with the electorate’s ascendant demographic forces, Obama may succeed in creating a viable post–New Deal coalition on which Democrats can build for years to come. ‘Ronald Reagan turned a whole bunch of people who are now seniors into Republicans,’ says Messina. ‘What is happening now is that young people, women, and Latinos are becoming Democrats. That’s the coalition Obama brought; demographics brought it, too. And for the next 30 years, it is going to be a real challenge for Republicans.’”
“Of course, if Obama loses, all such grand talk will be consigned to the ash heap of history — and hubris. And there are plenty of Democrats more jittery about that possibility than they were just a month ago. To their eyes, the president’s team seems off-kilter, his campaign off-brand, his rival finding his stride. ‘The natural gravity of this race is such that Romney will be close or a little bit ahead very soon, and it’s going to be like that through the convention,’ says a Democratic strategist. ‘Romney doesn’t have idiots working for him; they’re going to run a safe, smart, tactical campaign.’ And they have proven adept at one thing: ‘They kill well,’ admits a senior White House official. ‘And that’s not unimportant.’”
– John Heilemann, “Hope: The Sequel,” New York magazine
A whopping 85 percent of comments were critical of Democrats regarding an Olympian story about partisan congressional gridlock on transportation projects. So I wondered: Is this merely a reflection of this paper’s style of moderation or is right-wing dominance normal for the Intertubes?
Let’s compare the same story run in three McClatchy newspapers
The News Tribune posted the same story by Rob Hotakainen. Only 68 percent of 28 comments were anti-Democrat. The Bellingham Herald also ran the same story, which generated two comments. One was anti- and the other pro-Democrat.
Let’s go back to The Olympian story. It elicited 13 comments, 10 of which were anti-Democrat. One comment was neutral and only one was pro-Democrat.
The total number of comments from these three McClatchy Newspapers was 43. Thirty-one of those comments were anti-Democrat. That’s 72 percent. Meanwhile, seven comments were pro-Democrat, or 16 percent. The Olympian’s commentariat is more heavily dominated by the right but they represent the majority perspective among comment threads at two of three McClatchy newspapers.
‘Up’ really can become ‘down’ if you insist on it long enough
The thing that I find most striking about the anti-Democrat comments is how religiously they follow national Republican talking points. For example, here’s wmscott in The News Tribune: “Does over 3 years without a federal budget indicate anything to you. Our Dem controlled Senate is even refusing to conference on bills of late. Sen Reid will not allow votes on the Fiscal bomb and debt limit or nearly every bill from the House. Who is blocking who?”
Here’s how The Olympian’s Leftwing_conspirator challenged a similar Republican comment: ”Nice try…Reid hasn’t brought things to a vote because it would be a waste of time. The bill would get about 53 votes, all democrats, but because of the filibuster, it would still fail. Given that it’s not really a political winner, there’s no political benefit in bringing a bill to the floor for failure either, so why do it? If the GOP would allow its members to actually negotiate rather than run from the Tea Party every time it barks (or the Koch brothers threaten to fund a challenger in a primary), then maybe something would get done. Even the Heritage Foundation signed on to a study that said the GOP has been the primary obstructionist causing the most gridlock since the civil war, and they practically write half the political commentary for Fox news.”
Not to by outdone, JonnyDemocracy dished out the standard Republican response: “Federal law requires a budget every year. Presenting it gives the opportunity for an honest up or down vote. The House version is then reconciled with the Senate version and sent to the President for signature. That is how our government works, until today. The Senate is not only violating Federal law but playing childish games with our nations future. If you want to see obstructionism look right into the face of Dirty Harry Reid, the Demorat Gangster holding America hostage for petty and partisan political reasons. Not even a nice try Leftwing.”
How can the average voter makes sense of these competing claims?
It won’t be by reading these comment threads, which function more as joint press conferences than real debates. What’s sad is if newspapers put more resources and creativity into reader-engagement methods they could generate a far deeper and more factually grounded dialogue.
Instead, they go for the cheap and easy out — 24/7 comment threads with minimal moderation. This is one reason why I think Victor Packard may be right that journalism needs to be reconceptualized from a commodity into a not-for-profit public good. And while we’re at it we might as well look for ways to integrate the news media and education.
Or the media could just take the quick and profitable road to fascism.
EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been said about Stewart Brand that his idea of heaven is a room full of people arguing. I resemble that remark. Not that I’m into debate merely for the sake of it. A key goal of Olympia Views is the drill down more deeply into issues that typically get brushed under the carpet because of fear of conflict. Or group think. Or analytical vapidity. I don’t always agree with Russ Lehman, but I think his ideas are worth taking seriously. I appreciate that he took the time to write the following comment, which I’ve reposted from “Olympia placemaking in a virtual world” to give it more prominence. Russ, it would be helpful if you could offer additional information about what Rick Anderson is doing.
I was thinking about how this great blog post attempt at a discussion on “placemaking” went off on a Co-op tangent. Then I realized that, in fact, the Co-op may just be the perfect metaphor for the original discussion.
It is quite apparent to anyone who reads any local news and/or commentary, or has shopped at the Olympia Food Co-op, that almost any mention of it seems inevitably to bring out the strident defenders who seem offended at anyone who is not a “believer.” This may be a board member, a counter culture aficionado, an Olympia iconoclast, or just someone who loves to fight. It can even show its virulent form, as was the case here, when the offended has a grudge with someone and takes it out in writing on different person … who was making a otherwise innocent point.
Perhaps the Co-op is emblematic of exactly what Olympiaviews, and Mark have written.
Mark made a great point about the weather creating a contributing factor to the surliness that sometimes is present in Olympia. Surely the constant looking down, being covered with hoods and hats and the general lack of light makes for a somewhat dour civil society. Call it the “Old School Pizza” model of customer service – “Yea, what do you want?”
But, Port Townsend, Bellingham and Seattle have similar weather and the co-ops there are magnificent. They are friendly places where shopping for organic, local and generally higher quality food is a pleasure.
So why is the Co-op (and many other establishments) here, well…less than that? Is it the influence of Evergreen, where sometimes any association with capitalism is considered a capitulation to hegemony? Is it the proliferation of a culture which is predominantly bureaucratic (read: risk averse, anti-creative, etc) and at the same time adolescently oppositional (“I’m already against the next development”) while also being pretty homogeneous – both culturally and politically?
That the Co-op here can be a difficult place, to be a board member and to shop is axiomatic, and only the stridently defensive don’t see it. But the maybe the Co-op is more like other institutions, especially retail, than different – only more so. The parochialism that Olympiaviews has written about in the environmental movement here is certainly present, and deleterious to the cause.
A local “expert” has been working with nonprofits to join forces (where appropriate) and seek common ground both because it makes economic and organizational sense and because it is more likely to better serve the needs of the community. Rick Anderson has some great ideas and (literally) a world of experience. I hope that all of us can check our egos, be willing to share then turf and focus on the true goals of making this a better and more livable community.
Lately the 101 Fighting Keyboard Battalion has argued that the county commission would better reflect the citizenry — particularly in south county — if it had five rather than three seats. So perhaps if Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe win reelection the Republicans who opposed home-rule charters in the 1980s will finally support one.
Stranger things could happen, such as George Barner returning to the county commission. When I first saw him listed as a challenger to Wolfe I thought it was a typo, but nope. Interestingly, commentator Roscoe said, “Bring back Barner. He is the only one who listens.” To which prominent conservative commentator GregT80 responded, “Romero asked him to run. He is running because he is broke and ill and needs the money.” To which Sage3 stated, “Barner is running to be sure (Karen) Rogers doesn’t get out of the primary.”
So there you have it — what constitutes political commentary in The Olympian. And to think that McClatchy Newspapers didn’t have to pay a dime in labor costs! This, dear friends, is our new media future.
I shouldn’t be too hard on The Olympian. Friday’s non-bylined article did refer to a public utility district commissioner race as “vitally important to Thurston County.” And the story’s introductory paragraph did insist that “there would be no need to watch reality television” because local races “should provide more than enough entertainment value and drama.”
Only the article didn’t do much to explain why. That’s like a hamburger without the beef.
If this were the restaurant business you’d have alternative choices. But if you want substantive political analysis of county-level races where else can you find it? That’s an honest question. Perhaps Olympia Power & Light will soon weigh in. Or is it sticking to Olympia politics?
Olympia Views isn’t a “real” news media outlet — and I need to finish planting the onions — so here are some quick campaign data on county commission races from the Public Disclosure Commission. As an added bonus — at no extra cost! — you’ll find a few slices of punditry.
Republican challenger is outraising Romero
It looks like Romero will have a fairly competitive race for the District 2 county commission seat. Republican Andrew Barkis has raised more than Romero: $21,758 to $17,214. As local Republicans go Barkis has generated a pretty good list of donors but I’m not seeing signs of cross-party support. This is such a Democratic-leaning county that lack a of bipartisan donor base is usually predictive of defeat. There are exceptions, such as Judy Wilson unhorsing Barner in 1992. However, an X factor needs to be at play. Even Ken Balsley acknowledges this, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons.
Despite Barkis’ more aggressive fundraising he currently has less cash in hand than Romero because he’s been spending much more heavily: $13,593 compared to Romero’s $6,612. In a way that makes sense. Unlike Romero, Barkis will need to work hard to build his name recognition.
He also needs to present a compelling reason to kick out an incumbent. So far the county jail has been a major issue, which Jon Pettit tries to hang around the necks of Democratic commissioners even though it has had bipartisan fingerprints all over it.
I could see the jail having resonance if The Olympian doesn’t do its journalistic job of reminding people how we got to where we are. But in general Barkis doesn’t (yet) look like he is ready for prime time. For example, take a look at his website. Here’s a guy running against one of the best-known and longest-serving elected officials in the county and he is making the following argument: ”Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the county had a leader with a strong track record of being involved in our Community . . . . Someone who demonstrates proven success?” Romero’s website quickly — and quite nicely — blows this argument out of the water. (Although she could use better photos.)
At this rate Barkis is going to have to whip the electorate into a STOP Thurston level of hysteria in order to win. I have no doubt he will raise lots of money in an effort to do so. Do not hear me suggesting complacency in this race — particularly if it turns out to be a Republican year for state and federal offices.
Wolfe now has three challengers
I imagine that Wolfe’s inner circle is having interesting conversations about how to think about her reelection campaign for the District 1 county commission seat. As previously discussed, Rogers could be a bigger challenge than a typical Republican candidate because she could draw bipartisan support if she plays her cards right. However, the entrance of Barner — who calls himself an “independent Democrat” — and Republican Ken Jones adds a new wrinkle.
Neither Barner nor Jones have raised any money and created a web presence (at least that I found). This is not a good sign given that the primary election is only a few months away. However, Barner does walk in with the advantage of being a sitting port commissioner and long-time local leader. Meanwhile, Jones is a former mayor of Tenino so presumably already possesses a decent base of support in the south county.
So where does that leave Wolfe and Rogers? The numbers haven’t changed since we last checked in: Wolfe has raised $4,936 and spent $1,436 while Rogers has raised $7,280 and spent $0.
Wolfe’s website displays a classic incumbent strategy of wrapping herself in the flag of the Democratic party establishment, such as a campaign kick-off event in March that included Sandra Romero, Karen Valenzuela, Olympia City Council Member Jim Cooper, and congressional candidate Denny Heck.
In contrast, Rogers’ website zeros in on fiscal responsibility. She demagogues on the county’s $100 million in debt, which according to the latest state-level figures is average for Washington’s higher-population counties and represents only 14 percent of what Thurston is allowed to borrow. However, I suspect that her rhetoric will sound good to low-information voters. In general her talking points strike me as more effective than Barkis’.
Nevertheless, my sense is that Wolfe has this one to lose — but she could if she doesn’t take the race very seriously. That means articulating in a much more accessible way how county government operates.
Jones looks like he will get washed out in the primary but could siphon away south county votes that Rogers was clearly hoping to win. By the same token, Barner could garner old-guard Democrat votes that might ordinarily go to Wolfe. Or he might draw away from Rogers moderate and even progressive Democratic voters who want change but can’t stomach her flirtation with the right wing. Or he could do both.
So Barner may be the biggest wildcard in this race. Pay attention to two things. First, how energetic is he in ramping up his campaign? Second, how does he position himself relative to Wolfe and Rogers? Even his Facebook page doesn’t yet offer any hints.
Well, I didn’t get the onions planted. Damn.
The Los Angeles Times has an eye-opening story on how medical providers may charge patients far more for basic procedures when insured than when paying cash. I’d encourage you to read the story by Chad Terhune — the numbers are shocking.
The moral to this story is that more transparency is needed so providers don’t price gouge those using insurance plans. Where, per chance, will that transparency come from?
It’s great that the Times has shed light on this topic, but what’s most needed is some type of a website that constantly monitors healthcare costs — in our community. Kind of like a local version of Consumers Reports.
To avoid conflicts of interest, such a site would work best if entirely funded by its users. As in, duh, advertising leads to conflicts of interest.
Oh, hell, why not go all the way and become a nonprofit? And create satellite websites around the country? That could be a valuable service. And perhaps a financial foundation for ongoing news coverage of healthcare policy issues.
It’s just a brainstorm. I offer it to illustrate the range of possible local independent media opportunities. You don’t have to merely think in terms of mass-market publications such as Olympia Power & Light or niche outlets such as Washington State Wire or Oregon Health Forum.
The latter was a high-priced policy journal that went out of business a few years ago. Might it have survived if its readership target had been healthcare consumers rather than a rarified group of industry leaders and policymakers? I suspect so — if they offered tangible services such as up-to-date price comparisons.
“Consumers will pay more for many types of liquor beginning Friday, when private retailers can sell spirits in Washington for the first time since Prohibition ended. The price hike, which a wholesalers trade group says could be 15 to 35 percent, comes as a shock to retailers and restaurateurs. But wholesalers say they need to cover increased costs and new investments.”
– Melissa Allison, “Some costs going up Friday as private retailers take over liquor sales,” Seattle Times
Coll runs through the recent corporate machinations of Facebook as evidence that it doesn’t have adequate governance to justify its increasingly powerful role as a public space. Coll concludes by announcing that he has deactivated his account and explains how you can too.
All well and good, but if social media aren’t going away, shouldn’t we also discuss better alternatives to Facebook? Who should control them? What types of governance would better work in the public interest?
I have avoided signing up for Facebook so d0n’t have very good answers to those questions except to offer the general suggestion that such a politically sensitive service might be best overseen by a not-for-profit entity that is ferociously committed to protecting its participants’ privacy and operates at arms-length from political interference.
In a way that sounds like something a public library might do. If the social media could be funded through tax dollars then it could be operated at a loss and there would be no need to sell participants’ information to advertisers. Alas, libraries seem to see themselves largely as buildings rather than as an evolving portfolio of increasingly virtual services.
So where else might we look for virtual public space? Might we begin to see over time the development of community-based social media that grow out of nonprofit news outlets? If so, how do you pay for the needed equipment and staffing? I don’t know enough about the cost of operating such a system to guess whether a decentralized approach would work — or whether the future of social media does indeed belong to national or multinational organizations.
Anyone have any thoughts or information to share?
Mediaite has a post, “Five Outrageous Hustler Lawsuits and The Photos That Brought Them to Court.” The article illustrates how, to quote Justice Frankfurter, “safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.”
Of particular local interest might be Hustler’s satirical ad, “Jerry Falwell talks about his first time.” It uses the format of a Campari liquor ad to make fun of Falwell, a right-wing preacher who co-founded the once politically powerful Moral Majority.
Read the ad at your own risk. It’s, um, pretty crass. But it does illustrate that ridicule is one of the most powerful forms of political rhetoric. Mediaite writer Frances Martel noted that “Falwell sued and lost, with the Supreme Court declaring that public figures are fair game for parody as long as the parody, as in this case, is clearly labeled. It was an unprecedented ruling, one we can thank for legalizing programming like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher, outrageous and despicable as the original Campari parody may be.”
I write this as a follow up to “Vote to catch up to the ‘new’ new media.” Just as Works In Progress and Green Pages would do well to update their technological chops, they might also consider new rhetorical approaches.
Satire does take more skill to write than the usual left-wing manifesto. But judging from the comment thread to “Daycare for the right wing,” there are creative folks who could have great good fun cranking out locally focused satire.
All it takes is some organizing.
Effective satire is going to get pushback. So it might be wise for a fledgling local project to make sure it has some legal help on the side. And a thick skin. Public figures can strongly react when they are on the receiving end of a parody. Particularly in a town that is not exactly known for its sense of humor.
Nevertheless, satirical approaches such as The Daily Show represent a potentially powerful tool for getting the public’s attention even when you operate on a shoestring budget.
I personally would like to see an Onion-style deconstruction of state government. The opportunities for satire are endless. Indeed, such a media outlet could be viewed as a form of organizational development if it transcended the tendency toward cheap cynicism.
Oh, to be young and mortgageless.
Austin Jenkins is one of Washington’s best state-level reporters, but he too can succumb to insidious government bashing. As a case in point, he wrote a story earlier this week about a portrait being made of Governor Gregoire. In his original post in The Washington Ledge he wrote, “It appears this was a sole source contract and not an open bid process.” Even in the expanded story the headline emphasized the painting’s cost: “$18,000 for Gregoire portrait.”
The uninformed reader could easily come away with the idea that here’s another example of government wasting our money and doing end-runs around standard practices.
In fact that’s not the case. If Jenkins was familiar with state government procurement practices he would know that sole-source contracts are used for a variety of purposes where an open-bid process doesn’t make sense. As in this case.
I give Jenkins credit for expanding upon the original story. For example, he noted that the cost of Gregoire’s portrait was considerably less than than what was paid by a governor in another state. But why does the expanded story’s headline focus on the cost?
Eighteen thousand dollars is budget dust. The capital press corps’ obsession with petty expenses can distort the public’s understanding of what are the real drivers of government spending.
This is chihuahua journalism. It has a yapping, “gotcha” quality that may generate more page hits and get the right-wing propaganda machine off your back but represents a lazy and insidiously cynical form of journalism. Yes, the public has a right to know how their government operates, but given the increasingly limited resources of the capital press corps, why focus on issues that do little to increase the public’s understanding about the key policy issues of our time?
Certainly there is room for feature stories. Jenkins’ expanded post goes more in that direction — and is an interesting slice of life about the end of an administration. My complaint is with the framing, particularly in the original story.
The trendsetting Talking Points Memo no longer considers itself as primarily a website. According to Neiman Journalism Lab reporter Adrienne LaFrance, TPM is now a “bundle of knowledge and expertise that ‘exists inherently in no particular platform.’” That’s why it is aggressively moving into mobile devices and video.
Developing content for different platforms means thinking hard about how people will use them. TPM deputy publisher Callie Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “We’re giving a lot of thought to three different kinds of consumption: Active consumption being at the desktop, on-the-go consumption being on your mobile phone, and passive consumption being in your bed, on your tablet, something like that,” Schweitzer told LaFrance. “For me, it’s literally about the physical way you’re doing it. You can certainly actively consume at all of those different places but when you’re reclining, looking at a beautiful visual on an iPad, it’s very different than being on a mobile phone or sitting at a desktop.”
TPM publisher Josh Marshall says that transcending a web-based business model is a response to rapid changes in his readership base. For example, mobile devices are expected to soon reach a whopping 50 percent of TPM’s audience.
I’d argue that TPM comes as close as any new media outlet to being a useful model to emulate at the local level. As a case in point, it has experimented with video programming such as Polltracker Crosstabs and The Wrap.
As previously discussed, the only independent local media outlets that have been as aggressive in exploring new platforms have been Everyday Olympia and the South Sound Business Examiner (I’m leaving out the Cooper Point Journal because it appears to be dying).
At the risk of offending, let’s call a spade a spade: Green Pages and Works In Progress are in danger of dying off if they don’t catch up with technological changes. OlyBlog is better positioned but, as previously discussed, it could gain a broader range of content if it teamed up with one of these publications.
When I’ve mentioned this to local media insiders I’ve been surprised by their skepticism that the above-mentioned media outlets will update their approaches anytime soon. If that is an accurate reflection of reality, remember that subscribers and advertisers could be a powerful driver of change. This could be done with simple gestures such as adding a note to a subscription renewal or ad payment. Vote with your wallet!
Russ Lehman asks “why this blog pays so much attention to what most rational people realize is RNC/Fox talking points.” Short answer: Because we’re getting our butts kicked.
Here are two national polls that illustrate the depth of the problem. Gallup recently updated its occasional survey about whether Americans fear “big government” more than “big corporations” or “big labor.” While fear of labor is at a record low of 8 percent, fear of government has risen to 64 percent — more than twice as high as corporations at 26 percent.
Even Democrats now fear big government more than corporations
The numbers are even worse once you drill down. Independents, who typically swing elections at both the state and national levels, fear government (59 percent) almost twice as much as corporations (29 percent). Even Democrats fear government (48 percent) more than corporations (44 percent). That’s a dramatic change from 2009, when fear of government stood at 32 percent vs. corporations at 52 percent.
You might think that Washington state is an oasis of government lovers, but — as we’ve previously discussed — favorability rates have declined despite Gov. Gregoire’s aggressive reform efforts.
Worry about key environmental problems at all-time low
Meanwhile, an0ther Gallup Poll asked how much Americans worry about seven environmental problems. The proportion of respondents who expressed a “great deal of concern” dropped for all seven problems since 2000. In addition, concern about water and air pollution fell to all-time lows.
As a case in point, in 2000 72 percent of respondents expressed a great deal of concern about pollution of drinking water. In 2012 that amount fell to 48 percent — a whopping 24 percent drop.
Extinction of plant and animal species only dropped 9 percent in 2012, but at 36 percent it was the second least worrisome environmental problem. Only global warming was lower at 30 percent.
Gallup states that there are two likely explanations for declining concern about environmental problems. “First, Americans are a bit more positive now than they have been in the past about the quality of the environment. Second, the economic downturn has forced Americans to focus more on bread-and-butter economic issues than quality-of-life issues. It may be no coincidence that environmental concern was highest in 2000, when the U.S. was enjoying one of the strongest economies in recent memory, and that environmental concern has reached new lows recently, after the worst financial downturn in the last 25 years.”
We can’t counteract right-wing spin without upping our game
I offer this context to underline why I think it is important to bring up impertinent topics such as the insularity of the local environmental movement, and its slowness to transcend single-issueitis, shift toward a more professional staffing structure, and embrace electronic technologies to extend its reach.
It’s pretty obvious that the South Sound has a wealth of forward-thinking progressive-green policy wonks. And, as Russ Lehman has illustrated, we know how to critique the dominant paradigm. What we most lack are the skills to build effective organizations.
What needs to happen to change that?
The AP’s Mike Baker broke an important story about Rob McKenna allegedly using King County government resources for campaign purposes.
If this had been a Democrat, the 101 Fighting Keyboard Battalion would have been screaming for the elected official’s beheading. So how have they responded to this story in The Olympian? Out of 14 comments, nine presented Republican talking points.
Astuteone sums up the response: “And so it starts! The dumbocrats start trying to dig up dirt about McKenna so he won’t beat their chosen one.” Larry-phill tries to brush off the allegations as “(e)vents from 10 years ago . . . politics as usual from King County and the Democrats.”
My favorite comment is from Jim_S, who simply ignores the content of the story to state, “They are going to have to try REALLY hard to dig up anything bad on McKenna! Actually, they will have to resort to making stuff up, which is page one of the liberal handbook!”
When asked where to get one of these handbooks, Jim_S’s response, “Look up the the teachings of Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler and John Edwards and you will find where the liberals base their tactics and way of thinking.”
This was the cue for Larry_phill to start riffing on Obama — as if the AP story anything to do with that topic.
I offer a tired reminder that the comment thread didn’t have to devolve into a right-wing parallel universe — the story could have been the beginning point of a thoughtful bipartisan conversation about the line between doing government business and campaigning. There are a lot of knowledgeable people in this town who could have offered interesting insights. Instead they have steered clear.
Glenn and Wild Child’s names seem to have disappeared from the comment threads but the dominance of the 101 Fighting Keyboard Battalion continues. Not so coincidentally, The Olympian’s subscriber base continues to decline. Why support a newspaper that has allowed one political party to hijack its comment threads?
In a recent comment Russ Lehman deconstructs the Olympia Food Co-op, which I pointed to as a source of community rather than merely a food store — for me. Although I haven’t seen the level of unwelcoming behavior that he describes, I’d agree that the Co-op can be rather insular. Whereas co-ops in other communities have strived to reach out to more mainstream shoppers, this one has chosen over the years to stay small and fairly homogeneous.
This seems to be a dominant pattern of local progressive-green groups. For example, the Carnegie Group and SPEECH use listservs rather than web-based systems for discussions. This can result in a more private and collegial dialogue than with more open web-based forums. However, such an inward focus doesn’t strike me as a recipe for dramatically building one’s membership base, let alone a green electoral majority in Thurst0n County.
This gets back to a point I’ve previously made, that the local left often suffers from a “loser consciousness.”
Rule 2: Avoid your neighbors
Some of the above may reflect a collective psychological affliction, such as post-traumatic stress disorder from getting one’s butt kicked politically too many times. However, the left’s insularity may also reflect the dominant cultural pattern of western Washington.
This gets back to the discussion about placemaking. Mark Derricott asks a key question of Olympia: “How do we make places in cities to which people move to be as far apart as possible?” In light of our recent attempt to grapple with that question it was amusing to see Crosscut’s Knute Berger offer advice to newcomers to the Seattle area. Rule No. 2 is “avoid your neighbors.”
“The Seattle Freeze is our famous social disease,” argues Berger. “Inoculate yourself. Don’t try to make friends, better to embrace the solitude, the peace, the occasional remote wave to the unfamiliar figure next door as you both place your recycling curbside. You didn’t move here for people, did you? Most everyone else moved here to get away from them. Socially, Seattleites will mostly disappoint. They’re just not that into you. If you must reach out, use Skype or Facebook. That way, people come with an off-switch.”
If you look at Olympia’s left through this lens it all makes sense. Hell, this explains my blog.
I buy lots of non-fiction books. I’d like to tell you about the most compelling one I’ve read this year but am afraid to mention the topic: global warming. Every post I’ve written about it has generated few page views.
That’s understandable. Olympia is lucky to have been exempted from climate change’s impacts. Nevertheless, I’d invite you to go read Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. I’ve pulled pieces from this book in a previous post. Am not feeling energetic enough to write a review but wanted to make a few additional points.
The first thing to know about this book is it doesn’t read like a deathly dry scholarly text. Although Mann does offer an overview of climate change science, it’s remarkably accessible. Perhaps more importantly, he tells a riveting story about the right-wing attack against climate science.
I’m fairly cynical but was nevertheless shocked at the depths that Mann says the fossil fuel industry and its Republican allies have gone in trying to subvert the scientific process. What I found particularly interesting was the degree to which basic techniques used at the national and international levels trickle inside our hyperlocal bubble. For example, our resident troll Arthur dishes out rhetoric that religiously follows right-wing talking points originally cooked up by high-priced propagandists.
This is important to remember even if you aren’t that focused on global warming politics. Some of the basic tactics of the STOP Thurston County movement look depressingly similar to those used by global warming denialists.
My main takeaway is that progressive-greens need to get a lot more sophisticated about how to counteract the right-wing propaganda machine. I don’t have any good ideas for how, except to stop assuming rationality and fair play. They will do what they think it takes to win. It’s pretty ugly but very real.
Mann, Michael E. 2012. The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. New York: Columbia Press.
It pays to read the fine print. A Poynter Institute story trumpets a study that found the unemployment rate for recent journalism graduates to be better than average.
Alas, one commentator pointed out that the figures refer to the category, “Communications and Journalism,” which includes a whole lot of other jobs besides working in a news media outlet.
Another commentator added, “(I)t would be very interesting to know how many recent journalism grads who want to work in NEWS gathering (print and broadcast) as REPORTERS are unemployed or settled for non-reporting jobs, including the broader category of jobs that have virtually nothing to do with da news.”
Elsewhere on Poynter.org a journalism grad wished that he had instead pursued a degree in mortuary science, which is apparently a booming field. Andrew Beaujon lamented, “Although I could have had all this, the career, the job, the growth rate, I followed my heart instead of my head. I chose to go into journalism and screw my credit rating from now until, well, eternity.”
Yup. To pursue journalism as a career very likely means to take a vow of poverty — or at least perpetual economic volatility. Why do that when the writing and thinking skills you learned in j-school can be so much more lucrative in other fields, such as technical writing, policy analysis or public relations?
I know a number of people in state government who would make incredibly good journalists. However, I’d never recommend that they actually attempt a career switch. It’s very hard to make a decent living as a reporter or editor — particularly here in Olympia.
That goes a long way toward explaining why the local news media are so mediocre. That isn’t going to change until folks start to acknowledge that you get what you pay for.
The cause and effect is really quite simple: A news media outlet that is largely — or even entirely — paid for by advertisers is going to meet their needs first. Selling high levels of consumption is a very different mission than acting as the eyes and ears of an all-too-fragile democracy. One could even go as far as arguing that a major reason for American democracy’s decline revolves around the failure of the news media to diversify its funding beyond advertising.
The Inkwell delves into this issue in a discussion with Victor Packard, co-author of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights. Packard suggests that we reframe the conversation from looking at the “crisis of journalism” as a business problem.
Packard concludes that “now is the time for structural alternatives to the commercial model of the press. Now is the time to transform a dying advertising-dependent model of journalism into a true public service model that provides a forum for diverse voices, scrutinizes governments and corporations, and offers rich information from a wide variety of sources and viewpoints.” He points to not-for-profit alternatives such as the BBC and NPR. I’d offer the friendly amendment of buying daily newspapers and turning them into nonprofit trusts similar to the Poynter Institute.
These are big changes. But they all start with readers like you deciding to pay for quality journalism even when you can get away with not doing so.
Mark Derricott has a fascinating series of posts on placemaking and the planning process. The first post asks readers whether they have found any place in Olympia exceptionally enlivening. Emmett O’Connell offers an interesting response. I’m posting this partly to encourage more people to chime in.
I don’t have a very good answer to Mark’s query. Compared to the small town where I previously lived, Olympia has felt rather generic and centerless. Indeed, its geographical dispersion seems to be reproduced in the balkanized quality of the community’s culture, e.g., substantial gulfs between the Evergreen campus and community as well as the capitol and community. Even local progressive-green groups tend to not work together all that much.
However, the two places that have been the most enlivening to me are the Westside Olympia Food Co-op and the downtown boardwalk. The Co-op comes as close as any building to being the center of the subcultures in which I circulate. The boardwalk, in contrast, represents to me a positive space where the entire community can mingle.
The second post discusses the link between a neighborhood’s quality of social life and all manner of outcomes, such as the health of its residents. Mark asks a key question of Olympia: “How do we make places in cities to which people move to be as far apart as possible?” My sense is that’s what many Olympians want to do. Hell, to a certain degree I do too.
I don’t think you can enforce a sense 0f community. But you can cultivate engagement. For me that happens when I see healthy and productive interactions occurring; when dynamics look dysfunctional I tend to withdraw into an analytical critique mode. Thus blogging.
The third post argues that improving the built environment can’t be done without better understanding what makes the social life of a community work. Mark suggests that this is a bottom-up process which transcends governmental activities such as comprehensive plan development.
“I’m talking about a collective awakening through action/praxis (in the ancient Greek use) where civic responsibility is commitment to the community by the way one lives one’s life — not by attending meetings, forums or open houses,” Mark states in a response to a comment by Rob Richards.
I appreciate Mark’s sensibility but find myself wondering whether his ideal can be achieved any longer given the eclipse of the “real” by the virtual. How can we possibly achieve “(m)ore time on the front porch and less in the backyard” when it is easier to send an email to Germany than it is to take the trash out?
One of the more provocative books I’ve read over the last decade has been, E-topia: “Urban life, Jim, but not as we know it.” Author William Mitchell argues that electronic technologies are causing the most fundamental reordering of human settlements since the rise of the Greek city-states. Tele-conferencing, e-mail and the Internet replace physical interactions.
In a digitally interconnected planet, concepts such as “civic space” take on whole new meanings. For example, web pages to some degree displace doors in buildings as points of entry, and a sense of community can become significantly detached from one’s physical location.
Whether we like it or not, we are not going to stuff the electronic revolution back into the bottle. That means we’re going to have to come up with better ways to integrate our virtual and physical realms. What does that mean for placemaking here in Olympia?
Mitchell, William J. 2000. E-topia: “Urban life, Jim, but not as we know it.” London: The MIT Press.
Matt Batcheldor’s story about the City of Olympia’s 2013 budget gap is pretty good by Olympian standards. It’s fairly detailed and doesn’t seem to have an obvious bias. Wouldn’t it be grand if all Olympian news stories were of that caliber?
That said, I got a sinking feeling when I read the article. For one thing, it suffers from some lapses such as not telling us the total budget figure and the estimated deficit’s percentage of total discretionary spending.
But even if this story had a bit more development it would still represent the journalistic equivalent of a Model T Ford of yore attempting to accelerate onto a busy contemporary highway. That’s a recipe for an accident.
What we have here is a hopelessly obsolete way of reporting on the increasingly complex public policy issues of the 21st Century.
Story’s obsolescence grounded in two decisions
The Olympian made two decisions that turned what could be a good piece of journalism into a poster child for what’s wrong with the field.
First, the story’s basic approach is colored by the Policy Caste System model of public affairs reporting. In this worldview, the vast majority of newspaper readers are assumed to possess only a general — and fleeting — interest in policy debates so are given little more than he said/she said summaries.
The problem with this approach is that it typically doesn’t provide enough information for the reader to make thoughtful judgments. This cultivates a lot of “noise,” e.g., perspectives grounded in a lack of understanding of a policy debate’s complexity. This is particularly problematic with budget stories, which have many moving pieces.
The Olympian’s second bad decision was to structure the budget story like a typical hard-news article from the print era, where the reporter writes a succession of stand-alone, one-dimensional pieces.
In contrast, what The Olympian could have done was to build its coverage around a “database” model of content, where the reader can drill down to more detailed layers of information, data and alternative policy scenarios.
To do that The Olympian would need build its content primarily around its web platform rather than its print edition. That would take a whole different way of thinking about how to structure content.
What would a new approach look like?
Let’s take a moment to visualize what The Olympian’s budget coverage could look like. For one thing, Batcheldor’s story would be filled with links that allow you to obtain more specific levels of information. Sometimes this is as simple as linking to a previous story, such as a proposal to pay for capital improvements to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
But more important is the systematic development of a second layer of background information. This might include sales tax receipts compared to other benchmark cities. Or a comparison of staff compensation costs with other local jurisdictions, state government and the private sector.
This second-layer content can’t always be written at once, but it can be structured in such a way so the material is more readily available to the reader.
Another important element of a new approach would be to pay more attention to cultivating reader engagement. For example, The Olympian could set up a series of web-chats where budget experts were available to take questions via comment threads.
Here’s the key: Once basic facts are put on the table, commentators would no longer be allowed to pollute the threads with propaganda that clearly isn’t true. Their comments would either be deleted or a moderator would provide a correction that links to source material.
I don’t mean to suggest that these changes would make the 101 Fighting Keyboard Battalion go away. However, I do think that a new approach to reporting could cultivate a more factually grounded and civil conversation. And that might translate into better policy decisions.
What can the local independent media do?
I wouldn’t expect The Olympian to update its approach any time soon because it would require too many cultural and structural changes in how they do business.
That’s unfortunate because the paper’s monopoly on local news coverage is so complete that obsolete coverage techniques will continue to directly translate into dumbed-down public discussions.
Think about how that could play out with Olympia’s 2013 budget. Instead of a mature debate about the complexities of revenue and spending choices, what we’ll likely see is bumpersticker sloganeering about “tax-and-spend” Democrats and the false promises of magic cuts that could balance the budget.
There is no substitute for The Olympian ditching its Model T approach to hard-news reporting. However, local independent news outlets could begin to point the way.
For example, the legacy media outlets — Olympia Power & Light, Green Pages and Works In Progress — could gradually shift their attention from print to web in how they structure their content. That might start with providing more links in web-based stories.
In addition, Green Pages has a proud history of sponsoring public events, so that publication would be a natural for also offering web-based conversations with experts and decision makers.
There’s no one best way to bring local public affairs reporting into the 21st Century, but it starts with the acknowledgement that the one-dimensional, stand-alone story is a hopelessly obsolete way of covering complex issues such as a budget shortfall.
EDIITOR’S NOTE: One thing that I’ve wanted to cultivate is an idea bank of sorts, where people could brainstorm new types of services, organizations or ways of addressing an issue. Toward that end, here’s a comment from Ellen. Friendly amendments or other ideas are invited.
OK great. I’m looking for a way to float the idea of a local stock market where people could invest in our local businesses instead of Wall Street. Do you fit in?