I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it must be like for an 18-year old getting ready to vote (maybe) in her first presidential election this November, trying to make sense of the vitriolic and accusatory politics that we have lapsed into, all the while being told that this is a world she should fear and that it may be the most important election “of our lifetime.”
If she’s feeling a bit of angst, she’s not alone. I am too. Not so much about the choice for president; for me that’s always been very clear. What I’m having some butterflies about is more this sense that things are getting wildly out of control when it comes to politics, and that much of it has to do with blogs and the read/write Web.
Jay Rosen has a great post at PressThink that captures much of what I’m feeling. As a journalism major, blogs and blogging have always sparked my interest as a democratizing tool for the masses. Personal printing presses for all. Call me a Pollyanna, but I’ve always seen this as a good thing, and long term, I still do.
But if August, 2004 doesn’t go down as the beginning of a dark period of change for mainstream media, I’ll be very surprised. Whatever side you take on the Swift Boat ads, there can be no doubt that traditional journalism failed the test, or at very least, was rendered irrelevant by what happened. As Jay puts it:
While [the Swift Boat Veterans] do benefit from news coverage of their campaign–and from lazy, he said/she said journalism–they are capable of telling their own story on their website, publishing their own book and selling it to lots of people without benefit of good reviews, finding their own allies in the blog world (some of whom have large audiences), raising their own money, and of course running their own ads aimed at voters.
All the big newspapers shot the story down, but the story itself, to continue an unfortunate metaphor, didn’t even get a flesh wound. Two totally opposite narratives are plausibly presented as fact, and those “facts” were disseminated widely thanks to the technology. Then, it’s up to us.
And that, to me, is really important from an education perspective. This is all about how we teach our kids to filter and edit the messages they get. The old ways of separating fact from fiction aren’t going to work any more because these new sources of information just don’t work under that formula. Think of that 18 year old girl…have we prepared her for this?
She should be blogging.