Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Breaking the Silence 

So some people were talking about the problems the Dems have getting out the message recently, and the comment was made:

Clinton just blasted every thing about Commander CCB. Edwards just blasted him. John Kerry gave an incredible speech to Brown.
And of course, the MSM carries almost none of this.
Gore underwrote two planes to fly people out of NOLA and personally flew in supplies.
Is that a headline at NYT? No.

It seems true to me, although I have to admit that my consumption of SCLM products is absurdly low. Most people around the Internet agree that the coverage of the “good” kind of Democratic discourse is abysmal. I remember a study I saw a few years back, talking about pundits on major media news and commentary programs. If I recall correctly, the ratio was something like 3:1 in favor of right-leaning guests. And that doesn’t take into account the fact that the left-leaning punditry these days is usually aabout as leftist as Bush Sr, or as kooky as Al Sharpton- in other words not really a fair representation of the full spectrum of leftist thought at all. Further, from what I can tell, the right-leaning voices are way overrepresented by ultrarightists, pseudofascists and theocrats.

I did the tiniest bit of research and came across a couple of interesting pieces that I’ll share. First, a Slate piece quoting a Washington and Lee professor of journalistic ethics speaking on newspapers:

...distribution fell 8 percent in the last decade, and 12 of its 25 biggest papers lost circulation last year.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, for a lot of reasons I won’t go into but probably relate to declining interest in print vs. “new media,” increasing corporatization and declining variation of content, and a general trend against reading in the country in general.

Next, here’s a sample from a Common Dreams piece:

So who are the people that the media CEOs are catering to? Media surveys support the data that the 18-25 age group turn to the internet instead of TV. When asked what is more preferable: TV or the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in a Youth Study 2004, 75% preferred the Internet to 15% preferring TV. Nightly network news shows are viewed regularly by 64% of people 65 years old or older compared to only 22% in their 30s and younger.

I’ve also read that individual news programs have statistically minor audiences, usually not totaling over a couple million on any given slot or day, usually well below that. In a population of approaching 300 million, it’s a point worth remembering.

Obviously, people get their information from a lot of different sources, and I’m sure the method of gathering information is positively correlated with education and income levels, and skewed for race. But the important question is: how can the Dems reach more people?

Once again, I don’t have all the answers. But I think a couple of points are valid:

-Dems need to do better research. This may mean firing a consultant or two, and replacing them with properly trained academics or statisticians, but oh well. Clearly, most Dems don’t understand that given the numbers above, there are huge segments of the population who don’t read, watch or care about what Bill Falafel and Needra Pickler have to say. Yet from the overall shape of Democratic Party communication and discourse, you’d think the Dems are convinced that everyone in America thinks like the pundits, and only about the issues the pundits want to cover. This just isn’t true, and it’s time the Dems started addressing the issues about which a majority of people want to hear.

-Dems need to do even more than they already are to take advantage of the “New Media” numbers. That is, they should redouble and complexify their on-line outreach and fundraising efforts. The net is still really cheap, and it influences the young far more than traditional media. Youth are the future, and remain a tremendous pool of untapped activists and voters. IIRC, they have the lowest voter turnout, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Plus, I hear programmers and game designers work cheap these days- let them make some sites, games and other on-line interactive toys to get more young people involved. Hell, the Army is doing it.

-I’m open to the idea that there’s value in using the traditional media still, but the last five years have shown that 99% of that media is hopelessly pro-corporate, and thus usually heavily in favor of repeating only the Rethuglican agenda. There are two solutions: convince everyone to stop watching TV news and opinion programs altogether, or buy a couple of major papers and TV stations, and start broadcasting a properly Democratic message. I recognize that either of these steps requires enormous effort and tons of cash. Smarter people than I could plan out a ‘ground up’ approach of how to do the latter, but the point is that the Republicans have already done it. Whining about how difficult this would be isn’t going to help anything. Surely, there are a few liberal millionaires and Hollywood producers left in this country? There’s even a business angle: the dearth of liberal traditional media has created a vacuum, one big enough to fill advertisers’ coffers in short order. Bring back liberal media, and viewers will follow.

As usual, I don’t think the Dem leadership cares much about these issues and I don’t have confidence that they’ll come to their senses about message dissemination. But for local pols, this advice is still useful. Just as local media is more effective than is often supposed. And cheap. Lower order Dem pols should take advantage of their ability to be more ‘real’ to their constituents than a bunch of DC Bubble denizens, and combine internet outreach, local paper and TV access, and get busy with winning. Forget the DLC, “unified” messages (often little more the DINO versions of Republican discourse) and talk to people about those things that truly matter to them. And speak truth to power, as I’ve blogged on earlier.

I can’t stress enough the transformation I’ve experienced as a result of being better informed, and I thank the Internet almost 100% for that. I know I’m not alone. I had a conversation with an elderly White veteran last night in a heavily pro-Bush neighborhood, a business owner. He wanted to talk about, after hearing me let slip something negative about the war....the Trilateral Commission. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather, hearing the stuff that came out of his mouth after that. He thanks a lot of free time in his old age and the internet for his own understanding of politics. We’re not alone.

Media battles are ugly, bloody and painful, and we’ve already lost too many major ones. Cringing, hiding and whining isn’t enough, the Dems have got to take affirmative action. As always, I’m open to suggestions from you, dear reader. It took the Right ~20 years to effect their coup, but they managed it. We’re the smarter side, so hopefully we can retake our ground in a shorter time, which may be all we have left.

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