February 27, 2011

Cover Yourself

Did you know there were demonstrations all over the U.S. yesterday for two different causes? Well, actually, there's a fair chance you do, that you were at one of these marches or demonstrations. There's even a good chance you had to choose between showing your support for Wisconsin's public unions and telling Congress that the services offered by Planned Parenthood are hugely important because people in your city did both. In February. Outside.

If you were watching TV, you probably had no idea. If you spent your morning reading a Sunday paper that has national coverage, you might still be in the dark. Our national media is falling down, again, on covering grassroots activism.

If they could be voted out of office, I think we'd have the energy and the numbers required to make that happen. Enough of us have had quite enough of making more sense with more style than the usual talking heads. Enough of us have had quite enough of gathering large groups of people behind serious ideas and being treated like the fringe. Enough of us have had enough of being ignored.

All right, so we can't vote them out, but we can stop waiting for them to pay attention. We can report our own events, print our own pictures, tell our own stories. We can demonstrate our own legitimacy to others, but even more than that, we can demonstrate it to ourselves. It's all too easy to think we didn't make a difference when the big guys don't look at us, but we need--oh, do we need--to not let that happen. That way lies disengagement.

We're already doing some of what we need to do. We are taking pictures and video as we act en masse. In a very brief moment of searching, on the day after the rallies, I found Flickr sets of photos for the Walk for Choice in New York, Seattle, and Birmingham, AL and for the Wisconsin solidarity protests from Los Angeles, Santa Fe, and St. Paul. There is much more out there. People were and still are tweeting about their participation on #walk4choice and #WeAreWI. People are blogging their pictures and videos.

Between the Flickr sets, a Tumblr that is collecting "the best pics, vids & stories I can find from every walk," and collections of local coverage of events, we're figuring out how to curate our participation. I particularly like the Tumblr for this application. The ongoing update structure means that our participation stays "news." It gives room for those who make time for participation in busy schedules or stop to process before sharing their views or go on to take further action to be part of the story as well.

Now we just need to figure out how to filter all this information in a way that adds to the story instead of leaving out the individual participants. We need to create stories that fit in a link or two or three that can be digested in an attention-deficit world. This is what more traditional media has often done for us, what we would hope they would continue to do for us. At their best, they distilled large-scale events into manageable chunks without making the events smaller than they actually are.

We're working on this, I think, aided by those who write the press-releases that get ignored. But we can get better. We have to get better, because unlike the old mainstream media, we're going to have to earn every set of eyes we get, particularly the unconverted ones.

Once we do that, however, the old media can go hang. We won't need them anymore.


Clarissa said...

The print media have seen their subscription rates fall steadily in the recent years. Newspapers around the country are closing down. Even The New York Times needed a major bailout in order to stay in circulation.

I agree that the print media have demonstrated their complete incapacity to report. All they give us is political propaganda paid for by their corporate bosses. This is why more and more people are turning away from the print media and start looking for their news online.

The day when the last corporate newspaper in this country closes its doors for good will be a happy day. And it's coming very soon.

D. C. said...

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera is making major moves into world journalism. Al Jazeera? Seriously. They must smell blood in the water.

One way or another, I really doubt that they're going to be terribly concerned about losing their access to the usual sources. Instead, they're doing a good bit of real-time collation of multiple New Media sources including Twitter.

I'm still shaking my head about this.

Heather M. Rosa said...

Just one more ongoing example of your point: a friend in the Phoenix area of Arizona pickets weekly with a devoted group of anti-war protesters, and has since the start of the illegal war in Iraq. Any coverage? A column inch, once.

Kelly McCullough said...

Clarissa, the print media are bad all right, but the television reporting is even worse.