Democrats & Liberals Archives

Let's Get Intermodal

The internet is having an impact on politics, just as other new media did when they arrived. Netroots are great. Anyone can communicate with anyone, without a talking head in between putting their own spin on the issues — or their employer’s spin, or the advertisers’ spin. A large and increasing number of Americans use the internet.

But political discussion on the internet doesn’t reach everyone, not even everyone who’s on the internet.

For example, at an online-gaming site I follow sporadically, you can't get a conversation going about politics. Any political thread there either dies out from lack of interest or turns into a flamewar and gets locked by the moderators. The internet is a great way for people with a common interest to find each other. That's partly because we can do searches and not have to see all the stuff we're not interested in. And that means that people who don't share our interest in politics can find what they're interested in, without hearing what we have to say. The internet is a medium that fosters diversity, not homogeneity; that's a good thing in itself, but not for getting a political message out to a broader section of the electorate.

And if internet-based political activity doesn't overcome that hurdle, it's going to be a very minor part of the political scene, not a radically transforming influence as print, radio, and television were. The way to overcome that hurdle is by using the basic strength of the internet: connecting to very specific targets, and getting information to a few who want it instead of broadcasting it to many who don't. In this case, the targets are the interface with other media: most newspapers these days accept information via email.

But that's still a broader category than the 'few who want the information'. If you write a letter to the editor, and send it to the New York Times, they'll read it along with the other ten thousand letters they got that day, and odds are it will enter oblivion without making a ripple. If you write a letter to the editor of the Quincy Sun, they'll read it along with the other three letters they got that week, and odds are (if you live in Quincy, and your letter is any good) it will be published.

The other information small newspapers want and netroots activists can provide is announcements of events. This has the potential to mesh well with sites like MeetUp. When you post an event on MeetUp, there could be a check box to indicate whether the event is open to the public or not, and if it's marked public, another check box to send an announcement to the nearest local newspapers could go from grayed-out to accessible. It could use the zip code of the event location to find the nearest papers, from the same database of small newspapers that activists would use to send letters to the editor. This could be done either in coordination with MeetUp, or by writing a shell page that sends your information to MeetUp.

News-oriented radio stations might carry this kind of announcement as news too.

So, netizens, would anyone like to write a shell page with a mirror of MeetUp's forms plus the ability to generate a mailto: link based on the zip of the venue? Would anyone like to support this suggestion on one of the Dean campaign's blogs? Would anyone like to gather the zips and email addresses of newspapers? Any thoughts on whether this project would best be done through MeetUp or independently?

Posted by dsws at June 18, 2003 8:18 PM