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News media like DailyKos were in our past. And, they will be our future. 8/3/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Alexis de Tocqueville, DailyKos.

Daily newspapers will one day discover that they are in direct competition with media like lefty blog DailyKos, but by then it may be too late. The strange truth is that today’s DailyKos, filled with hyperbole, ranting, and partisanship, is much more similar to newspapers in Thomas Jefferson’s day than is the NY Times. Even the newspaper that Jefferson himself co-founded, the National Gazette, was more similar to the DailyKos than the Times — its purpose was to provide a voice for a disenfranchised group, the anti-Federalists, who were displeased with the centralized government policies of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

Similar thoughts were running through the mind of citizen journalism guru Jay Rosen this week, as he walked the aisles of the YearlyKos convention in Chicago. He regretted that “during the age of big media our journalists lost sight of [the] fact” that democracy is the most educational form of government, and in turn education requires argument and participation. This is what blogs like DailyKos are all about. Jefferson would agree, having written in a letter to George Washington, “Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth [than attack and defense] whether in religion, law, or politics.”

But the biggest reason that blogs like DailyKos will win out is that they fulfill a human need today’s “objective” papers do not. This need was captured best by 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in his book “Democracy in America,” in which he marveled at the ability of individual newspapers to attract and organize like-minded citizens into “Associations,” each representing a different voice. He wrote, “Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.” Today, DailyKos makes an association. Tomorrow, associations break newspapers.


1. Tim - 8/6/07

PressThink comment:

Can there be associations today, or tomorrow, without the commerical, and “socially responsible,” newspaper? In fact, has the consolidation of newspapers reflected the consolidation of civic associations, or disconnected the newspaper from civic associations through their religious devotion to “objectivity”, “view from nowhere”, …?

Has the relationship between newspapers and associations been weakened or replaced by talk radio, email, web, …?

Is it possible, even fathomable, that a civic age is active all around journalists who refuse to participate and tut-tut from journalism’s cathedrals?

Is Stout’s book an act of civic journalism? Which is closer to civic journalism: Alexis de Tocqueville Exploring Democracy in America or Jeffrey Goldfarb Civility and Subversion? Neither? A little of both?

2. Steve Boriss - 8/6/07

Tim, I think that when newspapers turned to “objectivity” they suppressed a consumer need to find, join, build, and participate in associations, and their audiences simply found other outlets for it (e.g. talk radio and blogs). I don’t think a socially responsible newspaper is necessary to create an association in the age of tthe Internet, and that if newspapers don’t soon join-in in the association business, they will be left behind.

3. Ferdy - 8/6/07

I do not reject an objective press, insofar as that is possible. What I reject is the unobjective press that is masquerading as objective, a press that creates point of view by sins of omission or failure to do its own reporting. I do not want a paper of record that has a bias. I welcome the debate, such as it is, on blogs, but I don’t find discussion among the converted of either side occurring, as it does, on its own blogs of choice, to be debate. A place where both sides came come together and thrash things out is needed. I don’t know if we’ve quite got that place yet, but blogs of mainstream newspapers may be the answer.

4. Steve Boriss - 8/6/07

Ferdy, I share your dislike of an unobjective press masquerading as an objective press. But I also do not believe it is possible to have an objective press. Having the debate occur in the same site/blog is asking people to read material that they don’t agree with, which I am not sure would ever catch-on either. I think the best we can hope for is to have places where the converted converse that hopefully include material that is fair to the other side’s arguments.

5. Ferdy - 8/6/07

I just don’t see that happening. Politics in this country has become too polarized and mean. I don’t see enough people willing to see the other side and coming to a consensus. I’m involved with Offthe Bus, and even there, the concentration on the financial dealings of everyone but the frontrunner Democrats (Clinton and Obama) is pretty telling to me.

If we’re really going to get the truth out, bloggers as well as traditional media and other information sources are going to have to play fair with EVERYONE. There is simply no other way to gain credibility with all sectors of the country.

6. Steve Boriss - 8/6/07

Ferdy, I wasn’t suggesting that’s what I would like to happen. But, I don’t believe it is possible to change human nature. It’s a rare person who is willing to read two opposing viewpoints with equal zest. One they will like, and one will make them uncomfortable. We are exiting an era in which one side had a monopoly while claiming to be objective, while all other other sides were uncomfortable but thought they were simply out of the mainstream. We are entering an era in which all voices will be heard. It seems inevitable that there will be more debate than ever. But perhaps we can hope for less “heat” as everyone at least sees their views represented and understands that their view is not the only possible one.

7. Ferdy - 8/6/07

If they read blogs that oppose their views and are willing to open their minds. If not, blogs simply add to the cacophony and meanspiritedness. It will simply be the Republican vs. the Democrat newspaper in town times 20. I’ll pin my hopes on a pro-am approach to newsgathering, with a few truly balanced blogs that assume this approach claiming the most readership (I hope).

8. Tim - 8/6/07

“We are entering an era in which all voices will be heard.”

I think we’re entering an era in which all voices will be shared. Like voices will find each other and build associations/communities. Some of those communities will be demagogic and feed off each other (both within and without).

Demagogic is different than democratic. Demagogic is different than argument, debate or deliberation.

Objective is different than demagogic, democratic, argument, debate or deliberation.

I would like to see newspapers building democratic associations based on debate and deliberation. By that I mean:

Press politics currently is the commodification of eyeballs and ears. When press politics becomes the commodification of thought and speech by the public, then they’ll have their politics right.

9. Tim - 8/6/07

BTW, I forget to include a link to Stout’s book: Democracy and Tradition

10. Steve Boriss - 8/6/07

Tim, One man’s demagogue will be another man’s great orator. Jefferson put his faith in the numbers of citizens and their collective good judgment. Was his faith misplaced? Because public policy is a social science and not one that is subject to laboratory experimentation, we will never be able to answer that question. Also, thanks for the link.

11. Ronald - 12/10/08

i wrote about this yesterday as well, totally agree with this post.

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