Sunday, July 13, 2008

There is hope. It'll take some work, but there *is* hope...

Believe it or not, this is a non-political post...

Over on the right side of this blog, you'll see a link to the blog of progressive writer and columnist David Sirota. While he doesn't use humor to make his points with the ease and authenticity the way that Molly Ivins did ('authentic' means that she was an authentic wiseass :) ), his observations about the corporatization of America and the damage that it has wreaked upon our society are always right on target.

In his most recent newspaper column, he discusses the 'homogenization of American politics', the growing tendency of American media and American voters to focus their attention on the races for President while ignoring more local races like those for city council or state legislature.

He notes in his blog entry on the column -
You can have a conversation about the presidential race with almost anyone these
days - yet most people have no idea who their state legislator is.

His observation is totally accurate. I work with people who can talk about the latest misstep by a presidential candidate on the campaign trail, and do so in great detail, most of them don't know what legislative or congressional district they live in, much less who represents them. And many 'activists' aren't much better - until Ed Hermes announced his candidacy for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, I didn't know which county district I was in, or who was elected to represent my district (fyi - SD1, Fulton Brock).

A big part of the problem (as noted by Sirota, too) is the homogenization of American culture in general and the growth of conglomerated news and entertainment outlets - large, distant corporations running TV stations in New York, radio stations in Chicago, and newspapers in Podunk.

Local news coverage is getting the short shrift, even from supposedly "local" newspapers and TV stations. Most of those have been conglomerated into corporate media empires whose sole focus is on leveraging their holdings to enhance short-term profits.

Part of the way that they do this is to reduce expenses by closing distant bureaus and news-gathering operations and instead using wire service reports for national news or generically-produced 'human-interest' stories that could be found anywhere, ranging from Springfield, Maine to Springfield, Oregon. When actual local coverage is merited, too often an intern or somebody else equally low-paid cobbles together something from press releases. This approach leads to local news coverage that isn't so much 'coverage' as it is 'exercises in appeasing advertisers and potential advertisers."

And if advertisers/potential advertisers aren't involved? The MSM frequently doesn't even bother showing up.

For instance, even though every candidate in the district was present (2 in the audience, 6 on stage), neither the AZ Republic nor the East Valley Tribune covered Thursday night's candidate forum in LD18. The only MSM coverage, such as it was, was this article on the Phoenix New Times' website warning of a possible nativist rally at the forum. However, they didn't cover the forum itself (I don't really blame the New Times for that - it's more a 'nightlife and entertainment' weekly than a hard news source, though they do some great investigative work over there).

However, in spite of being all but ignored by the MSM, the forum (as well as the LD18 race overall) did get some coverage - from Sophia Tesch in a blog hosted on the website, this rather low volume conservative blog ('low volume' as in 12 posts since the middle of last October), and me in this blog entry.

While none of the three people who covered the forum could be considered a "professional" journalist (God knows that *I'm* not making any money at this :) ), each is local, active, and knows enough and cares enough about what is going on in their community to share it with others.

Each of us brought a particular viewpoint to the proceedings, watching and evaluating them through a partisan filter, but still presented a factual recounting of the events there.

And therein lies the light at the end of Sirota's dark tunnel of corporatized homogeneity.

Where the MSM has all but abandoned reporting on local people and events, the core activity that helped it grow and become strong enough financially to attract speculators (who have forced too many real journalists out of the industry), average folks have stepped in to fill the void.

Here in Arizona, Tucson, led by Tedski at R-Cubed, already has a thriving regional blogosphere, while the the metro Phoenix-based corps of citizen journalists is growing in both quantity and quality.

Aside from this blog covering Scottsdale and Tempe (and to a lesser extent, Mesa), blogs like Mesa Issues and Scottsdale Activist cover the going-on in their namesake cities, through a partisan filter* to be sure, but there's no denying how heavily they're involved with or how much they care for their communities. While they (and I) publish a large quantity of commentary on many issues, we also cover events in our communities and the people involved with those events.

* - OK, "partisan filter' is putting it tactfully, especially regarding Scottsdale Activist. Some weeks, a reader needs an industrial sifter to cut through all of the invective there. Still, there are usually some interesting little nuggents of info available to those who are patient enough and perceptive enough to find them.

To be fair, I have to say that the East Valley Tribune is at least trying. They may have blown off Thursday's forum, but one or more of their writers usually show up at things like city council meetings and the like. However, over at the AZ Republic, they don't seem to understand that people don't want to buy the regurgitated pap that they are selling just because it generates the most profit for Gannett.

Yes, as Sirota noted, people want to read, hear, and talk about the contest for the presidency.

However, most people understand (even if they don't put it into words) that school boards, city councils, and even state legislatures have a far more direct impact on their lives than a president ever will.

And they want to read, hear, and talk about those offices, too.


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