Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Governmental Access For Bloggers Can Help Change the Conversation and the Agenda
by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA
Tue Oct 17, 2006 at 08:56:02 PM PDT
Today, one of my staff members informed me that he had learned that a National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) staff member was preparing an article for the NCSL's monthly magazine on the issue of governmental access for bloggers and he wanted to know if I would be interested in commenting for that article. "YES!" I wrote on the memo he had sent me.
If there are going to be real changes in public policy, there are going to have be real changes in what constitutes news and who helps define what is news.
Today, for example, in a debate about zoning powers to regulate gambling casinos in Philadelphia, I spoke in favor of municipal zoning regulation of Philadelphia casinos early in the debate and introduced an amendment late in the debate to take out language stripping the Philadelphia zoning board of power to regulate casinos. All too many reporters in state capitols around the nation and in Washington function as conservative and/or Republican talking heads, trying mightily to create the widespread belief that Democratic goals are impractical and incapable of realization and that Democrats and civil servants themselves are inherently untrustworthy.
Every Democrat voting in the House and a few Republicans voted to consider my amendment, but the Republican majority was united enought ot stop it from being considered nevertheless.
An inexperienced person might be confident that I had done something newsworthy. After 33 years in the legislature, I have no such confidence. Reporting my efforts--and the efforts of all Democrats in Philadelphia--to represent the interest of Philadelphians does not fit into the theme of public sector irresponsibility, corruption, and apathy that all too much of the Philadelphia media wants to advance. My activities will likely either be totally ignored or greatly downplayed with the excuse that they are insignificant because they were unsuccessful.
Consistently not reporting or underreporting unsuccessful legislative initiatives deprives the public of knowledge as to what decisions are being made and who is making them. It falsely conveys that government is a monolithic entity closed to public input when in fact government is a divserse entity capable of being influenced for the public good.
The ultimate sin for a reporter to commit in today's world of cynical journalism all too often seems to be to allow information about the possibilty of positive change to be spread among the public.
Those in government who want to change the world need to change who decides what news is. We need to reach out to bloggers and get them to cover what goes on in our bailwicks whenever possible. We need to reach out to the union press, the college press, the neighborhood press, the association press to create a new journalism of hope and possibility to compete with and coexist with the dominant journalism of cynicism and despair.
Bloggers themselves need to challenge the definition of what news is. Merely taking newspaper articles and commenting on them in a positive light can only add to the influence of the mainstream media. Unless one considers oneself to be auditioning for a job as a professional journalist, one should not be aping the journalistic definitions of what news is. The existing definitions of news downplay the grassroots and the netroots and have the practical effect of ratifying and reifying the status quo.
Bloggers need to ask different sets of questions. They should be asking how public policies affect the average citizen. They should be asking why many citizen positions are ignored. They should be asking who benefits from various public policy proposals. They should be searching out differences within governmental hierarchies and letting the public know the significance of internal debates.
I would love it if we had so many progressive bloggers in Pennsylvania that we could regularly have a presence of progressive bloggers in the state capitol. We are far from being there yet. Nor do blogs generate enough money to pay for a full-time presence either individually or in a blogger pool.
But a physical presence can be overrated. The muckraker I.F. Stone--whose I.F. Stone's Weekly was a classic in getting the true story out year after year--ignored personal contacts with politicians and concentrated on distilling public governmental documents. He was incorruptable in part because he distant from the personalities involved.
Fact-based bloggers can emulate Stone,who, I am proud to brag,is the greatest journalist who ever lived in my legislative district. Documents may be more often be useful than articles. And articles should be distilled for key facts as was Stone's trademark and carefully scrutinized as to what message they are seeking to convey and what the political significance of that message is.
Governmental officials should be reaching out to the blogging communities and other sources of news outside the mainstream media by giving them the ability to help redefine what news has been made and what the definition of news is. Conference calls for bloggers and meeting with bloggers are good tools to help get the messages out in a world in which blogging is generally an avocation or a mission rather than a career.
Suppose a blogger is able to attend press conferences, public speeches, and the like? I think the general policy should be to allow this access. Getting bigger rooms if necessary is a far better solution than denying access if a lot of bloggers are suddenly available. Any standards for giving bloggers press priviliges should apply to bloggers across the board, so that we do not wind up with a conservative media just getting echo chamber reinforcement from conservative bloggers.
In recent years, conservative bloggers have been far more unified and more on message than progressive bloggers. Progressives clearly value independent thinking more than being a cog in a public relations machine. This creativity and receptivity to new ideas offers the demonstrated and continuing possibility of making real contributions to the public conversation that is democracy.
Bloggers are here to stay for the forseeable future. By helping them help define agendas for public policy, public officials and citizen leaders are giving previously ignored public concerns and interests a chance to edge out of oblivion and into the center arenas of decisionmaking.



The netroots have some work to do to win over leaders of the grassroots. Meeting in Nashville on August 17, 2006, the National Conference of State Legislatures narrowly passed a resolution reported by its committee of Communications and Information Technology opposing net neutrality.

Cable companies and other businesses clearly favoring the development of a two-tier Internet had obviously lobbied the committee and other members. There had been no similar effort by netroots proponents of network neutrality to lobby the state legislators from the vast majority of states who were in attendance.

August 17, 2006

The demographic reason for the August 17, 2006 passage of a resolution by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), meeting in Nashville, opposing federal net neutrality legislation was missing from my diary entry yesterday, but it is obvious with 20/20 hindsight: younger legislators were dramatically underrepresented at the annual NCSL conference, as they almost always are.

Younger state legislators are less likely to attend NCSL events for a variety of reasons: they are newer to their legislative seats, so they need to spend more time campaigning; because they are newer, they have fewer institutional responsibilities, so they find the NCSL policy-oriented debates less interesting; they are more likely to have young children at home, so going to NCSL is more burdensome; they have less seniority, so their legislative leadership prefers to send others when there is more interest in attending than slots available due to budgetary limitations.

August 19, 2006


We need an increase in media diversity. We must bring back the fairness doctrine, reverse the concentration of ownership, and get a Democratic majority on the FCC before they have a chance to reduce Internet access to the property of major corporations.

December 21, 2003


We have a governmental influence peddling all around us, especially at the federal level. The last people we should be attempting to regulate are bloggers. The rise of bloggers is a hopeful sign of the rise of an evergrowing group of thoughtful Americans, and it should be encouraged wherever possible.Those who fear bloggers are a far bigger threat to American democracy than bloggers are. Bloggers are a 21st century check and balance to potential governmental abuses, and should receive the same protections as professional journalists.

June 29, 2005



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