Beyond porkbusters: Paramedia

I like Porkbusters (and I’m about to hear Glenn Reynolds plug the movement on Reliable Sources). It was born the way things are online: a sudden need, a sudden inspiration clicks with a critical mass and movement moves. This is a great example of our distributed world swarming together to accomplish something. Remember: The internet isn’t a medium. It is a means.

So how could the Porkbuster example be extended? At the MT&R fest the other day, Jay Rosen lauded the similar example of Josh Marshall having bloggers uncover the secret vote on the DeLay rule — a movement of the moment much like Porkbusters. Then Jay said he wanted to come up with another idea:

There wasn’t time for me to explain my suggestion for a next big project in open source journalism– a blog-organized, red-blue, 50-state coalition of citizen volunteers who would read and attempt to decipher every word of every bill Congress votes on and passes next year.

Or, in the vein of Porkbusters, start with the budget and create the wiki-annotated view of federal spending.

All it takes is a leader to push the notion the first time and then a lot of people agreeing and willing to pitch in… and maybe a tag or a microformat to help it come together.

This is the smart mob as a new newsroom. Not the new newsroom, mind you: another new newsroom.
On the way into Manhattan this morning, I listened to Mitch Ratcliffe’s podcast version of this post, in which he argues that we are witnessing the growth of “paramedia.” This is parajournalism.

  • Jeff—By “paramedia” I mean not just journalism, though that is certainly one of the ways the network influence I’m aiming at understanding will express itself and Porkbusters is a fine example. But I’m also interested in other concerted efforts to influence public debate, which could include PR, political campaigning, etc. What I’m particularly interested in is how influence will grow, die and be sustained (sometimes well after its natural value is exhausted), which is what we working on measuring with the tools developed at Persuadio, my persistently stealthy startup.

  • “All it takes is a leader to push the notion the first time and then a lot of people agreeing and willing to pitch in”

    There’s an Illionois state senator who also wants to represent the Mexicans in his district on a Mexican advisory council. As the Trib says: “raises the peculiar prospect of the Cicero Democrate offering policy advice in an official capacity to Mexican Cabinet members while creating laws in Illinois”.

    I think IL should pass a law at least preventing something like this, and I’d like to find out where national and local politicians stand.

    Now, all I need to do is find that “leader” to push this, since I don’t have the pull. Think Glenn will push this? While I haven’t asked, somehow I don’t think so. What about our host? No, I don’t think he’d be interested either.

    In blogdom there’s only a limited number of “leaders” available to push something, and if they have no interest in the subject I guess we’re SOL.

  • Marina Architect

    These efforts are commendable: no question. At what point does it become a direct influence on policymakers. It ‘s still noise in the wind now.

    Here’s my Open Proposal to Developers:

    Redifining consensus: we need to develop an official registry linked to home addresses that accurately reflects US consensus. For instance, over 120 million (40% of population) direct users certified by an independent registry have voted to support or reject a given measure. Can we explore this official registry for policy support. Polls, Nielsen, Alexa et al need to be buried. Let’s get a large online registry that reflects consensus that policymakers can stand behind and we can perpetuate in the media. This can really make a difference and change everything. Anyone want to explore this? Let’s get 120 Million people tuned in. Any views on the feasibility of this.

  • nate Zuckerman

    More of the other white meat (pork) will be spent in restructuring the gulf states than is given back by the congressmen notified about their pork.

  • We have on Aidpage (disclaimer – my company… but no… not a plug… directly relevant to the topic) the best possible compilation of information about the federal spending programs plus the possibility to comment on each one of them… plus the possibility to publish and link your own pages if your want to participate more significantly. See it here: It is not enough to look at the Budget… you have to look further into the specific federal funding programs developed on the basis of the Budget… and then even further down into the even more specific federal grant programs based on the funding programs. The cycle involving hundreds of billions of dollars starting from tax collection… and ending in distribution is not easy to follow but we plan to make it much more exposed to public scrutiny. In fact, our plan is to develop Aidpage exactly as a “paramedia” reflecting the processes of aid distribution… including government assistance and nonprofit aid. For now, what you would see on Aidpage are mostly statements of people in need that somehow learned about the government programs but don’t know how they may benefit from them. This is only scratching the surface of the problems. But it is a scratching from the right direction… from the bottom up. Please, excuse the messy interface… Aidpage is really in beta… But we will build this… no matter what.

  • Jeff, if you’re looking for a good cause to get behind – something currently being neglected by the media and the government – think of the La Palma volcano. There’s an alarming theory that a volcanic eruption on the island of La Palma in the Canaries could cause a tsunami that would flatten the east coast of the United States, killing tens of millions of Americans.

    There are experts who say it will happen, others who say it won’t. Most agree that there’s a very good chance of a major eruption in the next 100 years, though.

    A good chance of a cataclysmic disaster in the next 100 years is exactly the kind of important-but-boring thing, like budget minutiae, that the old school media sucks at covering. There are assuredly steps that the U.S. Government could take to investigate the possibility, mitigate the chance of it happening and begin to plan to manage it in the event of it actually occurring. It should be done.

  • RiverRat

    If we really want to use a prefix to define the role of bloggers para- is a really bad idea. Just look at the bolded definition below.

    Words matter folks, they really do.

    Main Entry: 1para- Pronunciation Guide
    Variant(s): or par-
    Function: prefix
    Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin, from Greek, from para; akin to Greek pro before, ahead — more at FOR
    1 a : beside : alongside of b : parallel c : parasitic d : associated in a subsidiary or accessory capacity e e : closely resembling the true form : almost — especially in names of diseases
    2 a : isomeric with, polymeric with, or otherwise closely related to — compare META- 4a b (1) : the relation of two opposite positions in the benzene ring that are separated by two carbon atoms (2) para-, usually italic : a derivative in which two substituting groups occupy such positions — abbr. p- — compare META- 4b, ORTH- 3b
    3 : beyond : outside of
    4 a : faulty, irregular, or disordered condition : abnormal b : perversion c : abortive
    5 : derived from an original sediment — in the name of a metamorphic rock — compare ORTH-

  • RiverRat—In my essay on paramedia, I specifically said the term isn’t how to describe bloggers. It’s a way of discribing networks of influence that can be wovn out of the new and old media. I also covered the etymology, citing exactly the same OED. Bloggers are bloggers. Paramedia are, as I defined it:

    “Paramedia are networks of people with access to media publishing tools and training that align through self-organizing or by explicit planning to promote and support the discussion of an idea, agenda or problem.”

    It has to do with organizations emerging based on new tools, not what the people who use the tools are called.

    Yes, words matter. We’re past the point where it would be a good idea to have a new name for bloggers.

  • RiverRat


    Not having read your essay I was responding as a military veteran to the implication inherent in using the prefix para- which I consider subservient.

    If you’re proposing conceptual fusion of the paleo-journalism and neo- or socio- journalism facilitated by technology may I suggest consideration of another prefix; one that transcends both….meta-journalism

  • RiverRat — I’m not talking about journalism, though a group of bloggers reporting the news is one aspect of media and could be a paramedia if it were *coordinated* either intentionally or through self-organization. [Correction, you cite a different source for your etymology than I do].

    Instead, I am looking at the many uses of new media as means to influence. That’s why the prefix, para-, is the right one, as it comes from the Greek for “beside” and is “distinct from but analogous to” the word it prefaces. Para- is not subservient as it has generally been used, instead it conveys a literal or semantic adjacency that doesn’t necessarily imply hierarchical superiority. I do go at length into the analogy to paramilitaries in an age where virtually all weapons have been “democratized,” though I also tried to underline how they are different, too.

    I hope you’ll take the time to read or listen to the essay (it’s available in audio, too).

  • RiverRat

    As is often the case, people can and will differ on definitions based upon cultural and educational influences. I will just reiterate Webster’s 1st definition of the prefix para-. Para-, to me, does not convey in current usage, “beside” or “equal to”. The prefix equi- does, as in equivalent.

    1 a : beside : alongside of b : parallel c : parasitic d : associated in a subsidiary or accessory capacity e e : closely resembling the true form

    Yes, I will read your essay and I appreciate the dialogue.

  • The beginnings of a widely annotated law/legislative wiki may already be happening within the legal blogosphere. Already, thousands of lawyers and law professors – usually highly specialized – provide rapid response and analysis on new cases and legislation. For instance, the Patry Copyright Blog ( is one of the single best sources for analysis of copyright law and legislation anywhere. The trick of course is to get all of these citizen experts contributing to a central source or meta-project like Porkbusters. Perhaps Professor Reynolds can call upon his colleagues to engage in some voluntary legislative analysis, perhaps on an Instawiki.

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  • For per-family estimates of the costs and occasional savings of federal legislation, check out The site is a resource for people who want to know about federal spending just (slightly) before it happens.