Do we over-cover the Presidency? In a word: Yes
: As I natter on about presidential politics at home (imagine not being able to just click me off!), my wife frequently shakes her head and asks, Does it really matter who’s President? Of course, it does, I say, starting with the courts and then reciting the rest of the standard litany. But that doesn’t take long. And I soon see — as is usually the case — that my wife is right. It doesn’t really matter all that much who is President. The system is bigger than any person.
So do we cover the Presidential race too much? Is our coverage disproportionate to the true importance and impact of the office?
Yes and yes.
Why do we do it? Well, part of it is political; we elect the individual rather than the party. Part of it is cultural; we like celebrity and we like power and the president is the biggest at both. And part of it is the fault of media; it’s easy and fun to follow the pack and cover the Presidential race while the real story is harder to get.
Yesterday — in preparation for my ETech Emerging Democracy panel — I made two points: First, that political reporting isn’t really reporting because it doesn’t tell us much of anything we couldn’t find out on our own. And second, that we (in media) have pointed the cameras the wrong way in covering Presidential races: The real story is not the candidates but the voters.
Today, I’ll add too more observations: First, that we (in media) cover politics way, way too much — way out of proportion to their importance in our lives and the interest of our audiences. And second, that we cover the Presidential election way out of proportion to its importance in comparison to local politics and government bureacracy, which have a far greater impact on the lives of our audiences.
: The problem, of course, is that most politics and most government below the level of President just isn’t as much fun; it’s not as sexy; it’s not as easy to cover.
The Republican bozos in my town who spend my money like drunken Democrats — just because they are never challenged and because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely — have more of an impact on my life most days than most Presidents. Federal agencies and bureacracies — the IRS, the FCC, the FTC, and on and on — have more of an impact that their boss, the President (though, of course, their boss has an impact on them). State and county government are still generally meaningless and helplessly boring.
Now newspapers do cover these guys but the coverage is, frankly, dull — and it’s not really their fault. Politics and government are dull. That’s why most people don’t talk about politics the way reporters and pundits do; they have lives. And that’s why reporters and pundits try so hard to sex up the presidential race.
I used to think this was just a fact of media and political life.
: But I do believe that the era of the web and weblogs and the Dean online revolution can change all that.
The real followup to the Dean lessons that I want to follow is how his use of the Internet to increase communication and connectivity can be used at other levels. I think these tools can make a gigantic difference at the local level — in America and anywhere in the world — where politics and government affect our lives.
The Post-Dean Manifesto for Online Politics
: So let’s start with a post-Dean manifesto for local government and federal agencies:
1. We should insist that all town meetings be webcast (live and recorded). I can’t go to night school board meetings because — duh — I have kids and need to be at home. But I would watch them.
2. We should insist that our local politicians and federal congressmen have weblogs or the equivalent to inform us of their stands and actions. We should mistrust any politician who doesn’t — what are you hiding? — and not vote for any candidate who doesn’t.
3. We should expect federal and state agencies to have web sites that are as informative and easy to use as any weblog. The FCC site has tons of information but it’s hard to find. So they should hire a weblogger to point to the important stuff. And they should have search that meets the standard of ease of Google. That’s citizen-friendly.
4. We should expect politicians, candidates, and officials to enter into dialogues with us, the citizens, via forums and weblog links. Rather than sending us email, inefficiently, one at a time, make the discussion public and transparent.
5. We should then expect journalists to truly report and not just repeat what we can find out through all the means above. That includes telling us what our officials aren’t telling us. That includes, more importantly, finding out what the citizens care about that the politicians are not addressing.
The days of one-size-fits-all journalism that had to report on the things that (they say) matter are over. If you care deeply about FCC regulations on media consolidation, you can go to the FCC’s web site and to webloggers who track the FCC to find out what you need. You no longer have to hope that a reporter also shares your interest in the topic and happens to cover it and that an editor happens to publish it.
This presents new challenges and opportunities for journalists. They can free themselves of the shackles of covering the dutiful.
But first, we have to insist that our politicians and officials inform us fully.
We have the tools. Now we need to use them. And thanks to this campaign, we’re learning how.