Sunday, February 27, 2005

Not quite David vs. Goliath

You know, I don't often tackle writing about subjects that I can't research to death in support of my opinion--truth is, I don't write these articles to publish my opinion as much as to create a clearinghouse for the "facts" of the issue, lest they be forgotten in the commentary.

But I've been chewing on something for a while now, as have many outlets in both the blogosphere and even the mainstream media. The topic, of course, IS the blogosphere and the mainstream media: which medium will dictate the "news" cycle in the future?

Now I'm one to be very cautious of the phenomenon known as "blogger's triumphantism". While I believe the blogosphere has done a decent job of policing the MSM, and has even taken the lead in reporting some stories of significance, there is a limit to the contributions that an internet-only medium can make in today's society. The bottom line, to me, is that convenience still dictates actions across the majority of households in America, and the MSM outlets are far more convenient than the blogosphere, a situation that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

But then I ask the following: how can a medium that offers all the benefits of the blogosphere NOT ascend to the same--or even surpass--status as the MSM? Obviously there are some obstacles for bloggers to overcome, but won't the merits of the system eventually be rewarded? The answer is no, not necessarily--although it is not without hope. There are possibilities for an increased blogger role in the landscape of information processing and reporting. What would it take for the blogosphere to become a mainstay in the majority of households in America in the same way that the MSM is today? In my view, there are three things that would need to happen: a) greater convenience for a multimedia experience by the audience; b) the ability for blogging outlets to play "big game" on an even level with the MSM; and 3) for MSM's credibility to become so suspect that the audience actively seeks an alternative to their habitual news outlets.

The blogosphere currently is home to some of the best-written, well-researched and easily-digested WRITTEN commentary available to seeking eyes. Occasionally you get photographs to back up the narrative, but most of the blogosphere is based on Gutenberg's idea with a 21st century flair. And I've got to be honest with you: that format will never be the top choice ofy a society that is used to having headlines flashing on the bottom of the screen while they watch sports, the morning shows, or even Headline News. The problem is at a sort of a good-news, bad-news bridge right now: the technology is in place for a more multimedia blogging experience--but that doesn't address the main problem. The problem primarily is time. Most bloggers, even the big-name bloggers, created their blog as an accessory to their "other" job (whether that be as a "real" journalist or not, few bloggers live on the content and proceeds of their site alone). The written word will always be the format of choice for those "on the go" bloggers. But that doesn't mean that multimedia will be shut out of the blogging experience; it just means that the blogosphere will have to undergo an evolution to incorporate the full possibilities of the medium. Already there are "group blogs" that allow for frequent posts on a variety of subjects--I look for the revolution to be something along those lines, as some of the more popular blogs incorporate one person (or one firm) specifically to add visuals and sound to the words published by those already established in the medium. If "subscribers" could wake up or return home from work and have a multimedia news capsule waiting in their e-mail inbox from their blogs of choice, maybe the desire and/or need to turn on the TV or open the newspaper would be diminished. . .but I digress. The specifics of how the multimedia revolution occurs is less important than the fact that some form of evolution must occur if the blogosphere is ever to become more than an oversight activity for the MSM. The opportunity does exist for bloggers to take a larger role in the news cycle, it just remains to be seen if that opportunity will be exploited.

Secondly, the appearance of major personalities on MSM outlets gives that medium an incredible advantage on the blogosphere. The Sunday morning shows--heck, the EVERY morning shows like Today and GMA--can get the major newsmakers on their programs seemingly without effort, a feature that the blogosphere lacks. However, headway is being made in this area: look at Michelle Malkin's great work at getting eyewitness accounts from some of the major players at Jordan Eason's DAVOS trainwreck. That single incident may be the most glaring example of the blogosphere (it doesn't hurt that she's a "real" journalist, too) being able to get major newsmakers to address the issues of the day "on their turf", but it is hardly isolated: Gov. Owens gave members of the Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs about a 30 minute interview prior to delivering the State of the State address in CO earlier this year; several authors and other public figures have used the blogosphere to register complaints and/or corrections for the record (correcting, of course, information that appeared in MSM outlets). And I am sure that it will not be long before the more media-saavy members of the public start using the blogosphere as a place to give up-to-the-minute progress reports on the issues of the day. For the public figures, it is a freebie: exposure in a growing medium without any expense except for time. I look for "talking heads" to become more accessible to certain outlets in the blogosphere in the future--possibly even in the near future.

But now for the biggest kicker: EVEN IF the blogosphere is able to bridge the multimedia gap in the future to make their product more digestible to the public; EVEN IF the bloggers start getting sit-down time with major newsmakers willing to go "on the record" with the relative unknown asking the questions--it will all be for naught if the product that the MSM puts out is still reviewed as credible by its viewing audience. It all goes back to the famous saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." As long as the public "trusts" the news as it is presented in the MSM, they will not look elsewhere for the news.

So to answer the question "which medium will dictate the news cycle in the future?", one must answer this question first: which medium can overcome their handicaps the best? The blogosphere is limited by both a perceived inconvenience and lack of ability to produce newsmakers in their content; the MSM is shackled by its bias. Only if the MSM fails to control their product will the door be opened to whatever advances the blogosphere can add to its content. The advantage is clearly with the outlets of the mainstream media--but will they realize that their "hold" on the news is entirely dependent on how they perform the duty of news reporting? Or will they continue to act like they're the only show in town, putting facts behind agenda in the production room priority table?

I guess time will tell. In the meantime, please visit the sites that I link to on the right to get another take on the issues of the day.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Who disturbs my slumber???

There must be something really interesting going on for me to awaken from my winter hibernation!

And indeed there is. To wit: the case of Kelo v City of New London (CT), which takes a look at the "limits" to which ANY LEVEL of government can use the 5th amendment "freedoms" of Eminent Domain for their purposes. For in-depth background and on-the-scene reaction from the arguments presented yesterday, read SCOTUSblog.

This is why I'm writing today: this issue disgusts and intrigues me on an intellectual level. Now I know that the appeals process is a strange animal, where the ruling on a case is less about the actual merits of the case than it is about the lower court rulings and prior similar rulings from the SC. In this particular instance (and inferring from Marty Lederman's observations linked above), while it is hard to exactly determine how the Justices feel about the local governments assertion of Eminent Domain in this case, it is pretty much understood that the majority of the Supremes will not move to overturn earlier decisions by the SC which essentially grant local governments carte blanche in using the practice in question.

Why all the hubbub? First of all, this is a sickening display of the temporary nature of "ownership" in the face of "progress" as determined by politicians. The city evicted the people living in 15 homes in a fairly low-output economic zone essentially because they felt that the land could be put to more profitable purposes--not because of poor upkeep by the owners (which has been used in the past) or through any other fault of the owners. After two lower court decisions, the case has now been transformed into the following key question: can economic development ALONE be used as a valid reason to engage in the practice of Eminent Domain? According to the CT Supreme Court, that answer is yes--unanimously.

(Note: the decision at the CT Supreme Court level was NOT unanimous--but the idea of economic development as a valid reason for ED was agreed upon even by the dissenting judges)

Do you get that? According to the CT Supreme Court (and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court, depending on how this decision is written), any city that sees a need for development of land for economic purposes (by which I mean places of commerce, like shopping malls and restaurants--but which COULD BE greatly abused in the future to place some high-priced (i.e. highly-taxed) homes in a primo location currently occupied by lower-taxed owners. Didn't CA have an issue with this similar problem a few years ago???) is free to take whatever land they wish in the exercise of Eminent Domain.

This is wrong on SOOOO many levels! But I'll take the highest-minded level in my rant today: the SCOTUS has, through two other property-rights decisions and possibly a third on this case, refused to step in and rule against the "interests" of a local legislature. If this ruling goes against Kelo, it will be the largest gift yet to local governments, granting them virtually unchecked power to seize land from private owners for almost any reason. And I can understand, on some level, the desire for the SC to choose to stay away from overruling the express desires of an elected governing body--but a) that hasn't stopped them before; and b)what about checks and balances? By saying that the local government is the last word on the interest of a locality, the Supreme Court is taking itself (and the entire judicial system) out of the picture to ensure proper treatment of that locale's citizens. And that isn't how the system is supposed to work, at least not according to how I remember that week in my high school social studies class.

All I know is this: if I lived in a rural part of a county that was experiencing quick economic growth, I'd be looking really hard at how I could turn my private property into a business interest--and fast!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

what's REALLY happening with the voters in America

Inspiration for this story: that Howard Dean appears to be a shoe-in for the next chairmanship of the DNC.

And in this I see the biggest problem with the Dems. Now while much has been written about a "shift of the electorate" to the right in the wake of the November elections, trying to actually gauge the placement of 100+ million people on a political spectrum is a fool's exercise. Let's look at the facts: Bush garnered more votes in 04 than he did in 2000 by a substantial margin (12 million); Kerry got substantially more votes in 04 than did Gore in 2000 (8 million); AND Kerry got over 10 million more votes in 04 than Clinton ever received in a single election (Kerry also got a larger percentage (by 5%!) of votes than did Clinton in '92). Those are the facts, and if you want to draw conclusions about the 120+ million Americans that voted in 04 AS WELL AS the unknown millions who didn't vote. . .well, you can understand why I might be skeptical to accept your findings.

But one thing IS pretty clear about politics in America: the visible leadership of the Dem party has moved to the left. When folks like Michael Moore get a reserved seat next to a former President at the national convention, you have become a party that caters to the way left rather than to the middle left. Other issues also trumpet the Dems' turn to the outside of the spectrum: support for partial-birth abortion; the desire to cut-and-run in Iraq; more government money to pay for almost everything (hello, higher taxes) are just some examples. The Dems getting major face time of late (aside from Hillary, who's ALWAYS received plenty of face time)--Boxer and her grandstanding at the Rice confirmation hearings, Byrd and his delaying of the Rice's confirmation, Kerry, Kennedy--they are all from the less-than-moderate faction of the party. And now the prospect of Howard Dean running the DNC, supposedly in an effort to correct the "abandoning of the Democrat's true values". This is the same Howard Dean that was so liberal that he forced other potential Presidential candidates to "go left" in a move that was pretty well repudiated by the electorate this last fall--and now he is given such an important (in appearance more than function) position in the party?

Listen, a party is as easily identified by its people as by its policies. Remember Arnold's speech at the GOP convention? He said he became a Republican (albeit a very liberal one, but Republican nonetheless) because of Richard Nixon, who spoke about ideals that a young Arnold found appealing. The Dems continue to thrust some very liberal minds into the role of ambassadors for their party. . .I've just got to ask them one thing: why? Playing the game this way appeals more to those who already share your ideals (by and large) than it appeals to the middle-of-the-road voter. Which group do you think is greater in number: the liberal-minded people who, for some reason or another, weren't energized by this last election but COULD BE energized in the future if the party can establish themselves as even more revolutionary; or the moderate voters who are likely to respond to a more moderate tone from the Democrats? It appears that the party is banking on the former. . .

. . .which just seems like a loser strategy to me. Look, the GOP has a fairly easy task at hand in 2008 (REGARDLESS of how the next 4 years play out. For more on that, check back here in the future): nominate somebody to the moderate side of Bush. Heck, the fact that Bush can't run again already puts the GOP in a good position because all the moderate-leaning Bush haters (and there were more than a few of them) won't be so quick to vote Dem. The Dems, on the other hand, need to find more votes somewhere (hopefully they won't just "create" them, although it appears they already may have done so this past year) PLUS they need to win the anti-Bush voters on merit rather than on hatred. Going further to the left is not likely the way to woo these voters.

And that's just from a popular vote standpoint. Looking at the Electoral College map from this past election, is going "more left" the way the Dems can overcome the vote in Ohio? Is it the way for them to hold on to the close victory in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin?

Now I'm not the world's foremost scholar on such matters, but I can't imagine that there's a lot of potential for investment return by taking a "more liberal" stance on the issues of the day.

There are a plethora of lessons to be learned from the election in 2004 for both parties. So far (in my opinion) I haven't seen the Dems respond to those lessons correctly. I just wonder what it will take to jolt them back to reality. . .

. . .maybe another "YEEE-AW" incident?

Well if that's the case, then they've got just the right guy for the job.