The New Elite in the Fourth Estate, you have the power, the danger of a new incumbency, and holding on to the long tail.
Three years ago, many of us went to rallies where a presidential candidate told us, “You have the power”. We dutifully replied, “We have the power” and went about owning our newfound power in different ways. Some of us did what we were told as volunteers, some became leaders of new or revitalized Democratic clubs or local parties. Some of us went on to become candidates or even elected officials. Some of us are now incumbents running for re-election. Many of us found our voice online. Gov. Dean has gone on to become head of the DNC.
At a meeting in Burlington a year or so ago, I warned that as we became the new leaders, the new consultants, we also would become the new incumbents, and we faced the danger of acting out our own version of the line from Animal Farm, “All grassroots activists are created equal, but some or more equal than others.”
This has come home to me with the recent discussions of a meeting of bloggers with President Clinton. Two years ago, I was privileged to be one of the bloggers that received credentials to cover the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. I remember the blog posts back then about who got to go and who didn’t. It is a difficult issue when there are few slots available. Some of the posts sounded like people expressing their disappointment about not making the short list, but others raised important points about what the selection criteria was, or should have been.
Now, there is a similar discussion about the Clinton gathering. The Republic of T started it off. Liza picks up the ball and runs with it. Micah Sifry at Personal Democracy Forum and kid oakland, in a DailyKos diary explore the issue further.
The most blaring concern is the lack of racial diversity. This is a big problem that I cannot speak nearly as well as Liza can about, perhaps in part because of my own whiteness. Yet I suspect the lack of racial diversity is just the most blatant part of the problem. Micah writes about how “power is seductive” and “most of them [the invited bloggers] were pretty awed by the event”. The bloggers represented are the new elite of the fourth estate. They have a great number of readers. They are the high frequency population in a statistical distribution, and not the Long Tail.
The problem is, they also have the danger of being a monoculture. Part of the beauty of the long tail is the diversity, the hybrid vigor that it brings. So, I get worried when I read writeups about the event, such as Christy Hardin Smith saying, “we wanted to emphasize the need for better messaging and coordination/cooperation with blogs and the Democratic leadership”. Whose message is being coordinated?
Do we have a new elite in the fourth estate? Do we have grassroots activists that are more equal than others? Have we moved from Edward R. Murrow, whom the Museum of Broadcast Communications describes as “the most distinguished and renowned figure in the history of American broadcast journalism,” and Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in television news” to a new generation?
Perhaps. Yet the long tail remains. The belief that all of us have the power, and not just a select few, remains. The belief that anyone can start a blog and get their voice heard remains. Yes, there is the problem with getting people to read our little blogs. There is the big problem of the digital divide. The voices that we really need to hear, the voices of the dispossessed, the disabled and the disenfranchised, regardless of their race, do not have access to blogs, and if they do, know one ever finds their blogs. Perhaps Winston Smith was right when he wrote, “If there is hope, it lies in the proles”. Perhaps what really matters isn’t lunch with a former President to better coordinate messaging, but helping at a Community Technology Center to bring new voices online.
I’ve looked at blogs from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow, it’s blogs’ illusions I recall. I really don’t know blogs, at all.