About a week and a half ago I got an email from a friend of mine who is very active in the Greater KC DFA chapter asking me to be a part of a panel of local media. The burning question that the panel was tasked with answering: What role do you see media playing in the current and future political climate at the local and federal levels?
Sure, I thought. Why the hell not? I write better than I talk, but what the hell? I am uniquely situated to answer that tough question. On the one hand I have a traditional-media reverence. My childhood was spent providing anecdotal fodder for my grandmother’s weekly column – a column she is still writing at 98.
On the other hand, I have watched the media deteriorate into cloying obsequiousness that makes keeping my last meal down a challenge every time I think about it. Woodward and Bernstein aren’t even Woodward and Bernstein any longer – now they worry more about preserving their access than uncovering wrongdoing and the only money they are interested in following is the money that ends up in their bank accounts.
This fact has disgusted me thoroughly, to the point that I decided to do something about it.
Michael and I have been having this conversation for years – if the traditional media was doing their job, the blogosphere would have reached it’s apex at the AOL chatroom stage. But that didn’t happen. Instead something no one foresaw happened. Blogs began to fill a void that was left as traditional dead-tree newspapers withdrew from the marketplace and they began to rely more on the syndicates like AP and Reuters.
This abdication on the part of the dead-tree papers happened simultaneously with a revolution of technology and information access. This revolution in technology and information access just happened to coincide with the generation that embraced punk rock and the “Do It Yourself” ethos becoming honest-to-god grownups. These two factors got an able assist from the fact that we are the last generation to have gotten a solid civics education when we were in school. For the most part, we are rather fond of that government we learned about in school and think it is high time that we gave it a whirl.
We had a couple of ideals that we held to tightly. One was the unassailable fact that we, for the post part believe that if you don’t know what your government is doing, you don’t live in a Democracy. The second was that if the media wasn’t going to do it’s job and tell us, we would just do it our damned selves. Since nature abhors a vacuum, our collective snit dovetailed nicely with the revolution in technology and access to information, and blogs were born.
When my kids were in school and I was spending an inordinate amount of time in a minivan, we would listen to the news on the way to school every morning, and it never failed that something would set me off, and I would rant at the radio. The kids would look at one another and say “Mom’s fired up again.” When they learned I was blogging they all heaved a huge sigh of relief that they would no longer be my sole audience.
My personal blogging genesis came about one morning a little over four years ago. I was still working two hospital jobs, one public and one private, and I was just coming off a brutal rotation – we had lost a lot of seasoned staff in the private facility in the wake of the HCA takeover, and I am the sort of supervisor that leads from the front. If my staff has to work overtime, I work overtime too – I don’t ask anything of anyone that I am not willing to do myself. As a result of this leadership philosophy, I had worked twelve of fourteen days, and put in 88 hours over the preceding eight days.
I was looking forward to a lazy Saturday, and my husband was intent on seeing I got it. He had unplugged the phone, turned off our cell phones and threatened the lives of our progeny should they trouble me at all. For my part, I was intent on letting him spoil me.
When he heard me get up and go to the bathroom he came up and asked me if I was up to stay. When I told him I was, he told me to get back in bed and rest, he would bring me a cup of coffee, a bagel and the newspapers. I was more than willing to comply, he is good to his word, and the first twenty minutes or so were pure bliss.
Then I read an article in the KC Star and I was fired up again, and I commenced to bitch.
I have actually been online in some way or another for over twenty-five years. I searched academic databases doing the research that was part of my job and my education starting in the mid 80s. I was getting email on a green monochrome monitor that scrolled a line at a time with the receiver of the phone in the cradle of a 12-baud modem at a time when most offices were still using IBM typewriters. But the only social thing I did online was chat with other military wives. (The Balkans was the conflict that gave today’s active duty spouses the prototype for the electronic support group.) After 9/11, I tracked down people we had served or studied with to make sure that everyone was okay.
But I didn’t really use the net for politics until Matt Blunt came to power in Missouri. When he slashed First Steps, he was attacking the most helpless of all my patients – he was hurting children who needed specific therapies to overcome deficits. I went online and found a couple of groups, we organized, we fought, and we stopped him.
So back to the bedroom in our old house… The article that set me off that March morning was about the further cuts that Blunt was making to the social safety net, and learning that the foster grandparents program was being defunded sent me into a rage. A grandmother who is raising her grandkids to keep the family intact deserves $136 per month, I think. Traditional foster care costs more and disrupts family bonds, and it offended me no end, and I started to rant. My husband listened politely for a while and then he asked the question that launched a thousand posts…”Why are you telling me this again? I already agree with you.” I stopped cold, looked at him and said “You know what? You are exactly right,” and I kissed his cheek, got out of bed, put on my robe, took my cup of coffee into the office and two hours later my first post was up on the original Blue Girl, Red State and with that, I was no longer ranting to my kids and shaking my fist at the threatening sky. With that first post, my status changed. I was a blogger.
Because that initial post generated some interest and comments, and got linked by Kevin Drum, it occurred to me right out of the gate that I had hit on something very powerful and important, that connected with people on a deep and personal level, and that the fact that they could interact with me, whether they agreed or disagreed, had the power to be a game-changer.
The four-plus years I have been blogging have been eventful, to say the least. What started as an outlet has indeed made a difference, and it has assured my immortality (okay, in this case “immortality” is a synonym for “obscure footnote in legal textbooks” but still…) and turned into something that resembles a job. While I couldn’t live solely on what I make from ad sales and donations and sponsorships, I can afford to keep doing this because I don’t have to worry about where my next doctors visit is coming from.
And that just drives me harder and hones my focus.
Because I can take that huge, dominating factor out of the equation, I feel compelled, being a bleeding heart liberal down to my very marrow, to wake up every day and continue the fight for social justice, to deliver to you that which makes it possible for me to take up the fight.
I have always felt compelled to give something back. That feeling has led me to volunteer in a lot of interesting situations. It has led me from a recruiters office in Chillicothe, MO to the o
ffices of KLCC, the public radio station in Eugene, Oregon to a DFA panel discussion in Kansas City one fine October night in 2009. I never thought that the words “each according to their ability” sounded inherently evil. In fact, I think it sounds pretty good. And my ability lies in advocacy and doing so not just for myself but for my ideological brothers and sisters who simply don’t have that opportunity. And one of the main ways I can advocate is by blogging.
As blogging becomes a more prominent and accepted form of media and reaches more and more people, the impact of media on politics is going to adapt and change. Some changes will be positive, and some won’t, but progress moves forward, not back, and that is why progressives will always win in the end. We are entering new and uncharted waters. But by being careful and having not just an idea of where we want to end up but knowing where we have been, we have a pretty good shot of getting there. And with that in mind, I ask again…is it time to convene that panel on blogger ethics yet?
All in all, it was a productive and informative meeting, and the audience members asked great questions. And I learned something, too…I learned that radio guys talk. And talk. And talk and talk and talk. And bloggers? While they talk, we tweet…