Tags: Journalism

Exposing the Shameful in a Shameless Political Culture


The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt features cheery news for Scott Brown in New Hampshire, how a statement can shift from inspiring to trite when applied to modern politics, what the White House petitions can tell us about America, and . . . 

The Frustration of Exposing the Shameful in a Shameless Political Culture

The good folks at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity are having a conference today and Friday. After having gatherings of usually right-of-center and government-watchdog bloggers and writers from all across the country in locales such as Scottsdale, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina, the Franklin Center is gathering us all . . . in Alexandria, Virginia. So much for getting away from this winter cold. Seriously, if they held this conference any closer, they would be in my living room.

We get together at these gatherings to figure out how to be better and more effective at what we do, and I suspect one topic we’ll be grappling with is what to do when you’ve got what you’re convinced is a terrific story, some mind-boggling expose of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement within our government at any level . . . and the public yawns. The Franklin Center was founded in part to fill the gap left by disappearing local coverage of state capitols, and their mission in a nutshell is to uncover, investigate, and expose shameful behavior in government. Unfortunately, they’re trying to do this in an increasingly shameless political culture.

There’s an outdated complaint that the Right has too many commentators and columnists and not enough reporters. Perhaps that was once true, but the ranks of those doing original reporting have expanded greatly once you add up everybody at NR/NRO, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, Reason, James O’Keefe’s videos, the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and a host of others I’m forgetting. We’re getting better at amplification and linking and promoting and tweeting each others’ work.

But for some reason, there are a lot of days when it feels like we’re not quite there in terms of actual real-world impact. I know everybody’s had at least one story that they feel was like nitroglycerin, and should have made a big, lasting impact, that just hit the web or print pages and … pppppht. Nothing. The world reads it, shakes their head and goes tsk-tsk, and goes on. We have a surplus of things to be outraged about and a dearth of attention and energy to focus upon it, and the public’s attention span seems to be shrinking every year. Obamacare’s messes, ludicrous contracts, Benghazi, embarrassing wastes of money, embarrassing wastes of space in Congress . . . they all just pile up without much of a consequence.

At one of our last gatherings, we noted how quickly everyone was able to turn a Post reporter’s dismissal of the horrific abortionist/ghoul Kermit Gosnell as a “local crime story” into a rallying cry; the media was dragged, kicking and screaming, into covering Gosnell nationally. We scrappy little Pajamahedeen can really get a story out to a wider audience when we’re all pulling in the same direction. Of course, it’s tough to get us all pulling in the same direction, and it’s got to be organic.

The Left has Journo-List; we have our mailing lists where a grassroots activist will dismiss all congressional staffers as useless selfish parasites sucking on the public teat . . . the congressional staffers for conservative lawmakers will take offense at the comment and call the activist an ill-informed rabble-rouser, and before we know it, it’s turned into a flame war. It’s fascinating to see how often the liberals describe the “right-wing noise machine” as a well-oiled, engine-revving, unified, self-reinforcing, powerful megaphone, a drone clone army, snapping to attention and coordinating its messages, activism and actions for maximum effectiveness.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, I’m not a member of an organized political movement; I’m a conservative.

Rereading the fine print on my invitation from Franklin, I see I’m supposed to come to this meeting with some solutions to these problems. Drat.

Like I said, our efforts as individual writers, reporters, bloggers, activists, and other politically active types have to grow organically; they can’t be directed on high. I can’t make somebody else care about a topic, issue, controversy that they don’t, and vice versa. There are few forms of criticism more tiresome than “Why are you writing about X? Why aren’t you writing about Y?” as if the world weren’t large enough for both.

Having said all that . . . maybe it’s time we on the Right stopped getting sucked into every penny-ante pie-throwing fight over every mook who comes along and says something stupid, controversial, or incendiary on cable news or Twitter.

Tags: Politics , Journalism , Franklin Center

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism


The first Morning Jolt of the week offers a look at complaints about the White House Correspondents Dinner, some truly jaw-dropping statistics about the increasing rate of gun sales in this country, and then these thoughts on what I learned, and shared, at last week’s conference in Orlando:

Spreading Our Ideas in the Era of Drug-Dealer Journalism

Things I learned at the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank and the Franklin Center’s Future of Media discussions this past week in Orlando:

  • According to Anton Vuljaj, political advertising strategist from Google, YouTube’s search engine is the second-most used search engine on the web, after Google.
  • Direct mail brings in $36 million per year for the Heritage Foundation.
  • One of the big problems with modern groups that promise get-out-the-vote efforts is that they blur the line between voter contact and voter interaction — i.e., a robocall, a door hanger, an e-mail all count as voter contact, but the voter may or may not even look at them. The best get-out-the-vote groups aim for actual interaction with the voter, via phone or best of all, in-person by knocking on doors.
  • No Obama campaign offices in Ohio shut down completely between 2008 and 2012. Are any of the Romney offices still open?

Here’s an abbreviated version of the talk I gave on the panel, “Leading Voices in Conservative Journalism (Who Were Available)”:

Andrew Malcolm just observed that we’re no longer in the “Pharmacist Era of Journalism” — where an authority figure stands above you and gives you what experts have decided you need to know. Perhaps we’re in the “Drug-Dealer Era of Journalism” — where you may not completely know or entirely trust the source who’s giving you what you want to know, but it gives you a rush, and you’ll probably be coming back for more later.

Most of us in the world of conservative journalism are now aiming to reach that chunk of web users that go onto Facebook and never come off. Predicting which pieces, visuals, and ideas go viral remains a crapshoot. My graphic on foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority being spared by the sequester was viewed 334,000 times. I’ve had other ones that I thought were just as good get 1,000 views or so.

A good chunk of the Facebook-only audience is relatively apolitical, which is a way of saying we’re trying to offer political news and arguments and ideas to people who fundamentally aren’t that interested in policy and politics. We’re facing the challenge of trying to reach a new audience while continuing to serve a very good, loyal audience that is interested in what we do.

My favorite example of handling the loyal audience/new audience divide badly is when NBC decided they wanted to get more women to watch the Olympics, and thus large swaths of their prime-time Olympics coverage were devoted to documentary-style features about the hardships that the athletes had overcome — a seemingly endless cavalcade of relatives with cancer, or car accidents, or brutal injuries, or their dogs getting sick, or the Starbucks barista getting their drink order wrong — suddenly, every athlete’s life was like a country-western song. And the usual audience for the Olympics asked, with greater levels of irritation, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be watching some actual athletic competitions? Wasn’t some skier supposed to be falling down a mountain by now?”

So while we need to be embracing social media and providing our news stories and arguments and ideas in ways that are more bite-sized, I have this nagging fear that we might lose, or perhaps slightly devalue, some of what we’re here to do. There is no such thing as investigative tweeting. A Facebook graphic is two sentences at most, a picture, and perhaps a hashtag. Theoretically, you can use Tweets and Facebook graphics as bait, designed to bring people to the long-form, meatier pieces, but I wonder how many people retweet a headline without actually clicking through to the story.

I’m a writer. I like long-form journalism. I like a good Fisking, where you dismantle a lousy argument by going through it line by line and exposing every falsehood or illogical conclusion. And I hope we can figure out a good balance that does all of the important work, the hard work, the work that takes time and resources — with the work that is fun and funny and quick and spreads quickly but that ultimately doesn’t stick with you.

Tags: Journalism , Media , Social Networks , Conservatism

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