Notes From the 2008 Personal Democracy Forum (Day 1)

I’ve started to post raw notes from events I attend. For more information, see the Notes Policy.

I’d like to add that I’ve recently found a highly cogent rationale/alabi for posting this raw, sloppy, first-draft-of-history note-taking in Clay Shirky’s notion of “first publish, then sort”.See? Its not just that I can’t be bothered to edit…it’s the 21st century way!

080623 Personal Democracy Forum

  • EE missed her plane so we’ll have to rejigger the schedule
  • Huff
  • Clay
  • Internet Directors

Hill Clinton Comedienne

  • Taped and not that funny

Chuck DeFeo –

  • Bush/Cheney strategist
  • Is this new media helping us do anything new, or is it old wine in new bottles
  • 1765 john adams made his entrance into political life; a dissertation on the struggle for power: are we shaking off a king? who has the power? those in power regularly try to expand the limits of their power but “none of the means of information are treated with more tenderness than the press—-that it should be easy and cheap and safe for any person to communicate their thoughts to the public “
  • that’s a blogger ideal
  • power struggles are struggles about ideas and framing
  • after that revolution we had a consolidation of media: 3 networks, a few papers, etc.
  • but it wasn’t until today that we’re really able to fill that ideal
  • “we’re truly seeing the democratization of the 4th estate”
  • we know one to many (broadcast), we know one-to-one (phone), but many-to-many is new
  • got into politics in 1996, we were interested in TV, but in retrospect we never should have
  • over the 48 yrs of televised politics & campaigns, participation has declined
  • got out of college, wanted to go to DC because that’s where the debate bat Ideas is. That’s no longer the case.
  • in the 1960s we had mass communication for the first time, but we lost interactivity
  • We’re pretty engaged in this country right now
  • Has the truth been lost in the process?
  • the ability for a limited few to control what everyone thinks is over

Arianna Huffington – HuffPo

  • We did the 2000 shadow convention to deal with
    • fundraising
    • poverty
    • war on drugs
  • still need to deal with them
  • [OT rant about multitasking]
  • definitely now bottles
  • its a mixture of wine
  • there’s a lot of old media that’s good: accuracy, fact checking, ferreting out the truth; we can never give that up for any reason, especially partisanship. Truth comes first
  • the problem is that the media is doing its best to be “even”, even when the two sides don’t have equal value. We wasted years debating Global Warming in that way.
  • the major problem of media is the illusion of neutrality instead of ferreting out the truth
  • new media; transparency, accountability, and community are what we bring
  • its better to announce yr allegiances than strive for objectivity and then get info from favored “anonymous sources”
  • “lou dobbs is supposed to be a journalist?” – laugh line
  • “its not enough to tell a good story and tell the truth once; we need to follow it”
  • “we need the OCD of the new media to complement the ADD of the old media”
  • no accountability: Bill Kristol on the NYT after the war? Come on!
  • there’s a lot of energy at HuffPo towards community, behind anonymity is some really vile trolling
  • an example of what can go wrong: human nature can go wrong. We may sell our objectivity for an all-access pass. Woodward is a great example: he went from the kind of journalism that brought down a president to the kind of journalism that allowed a president to sell a war
  • unprecedented access, completely missed the story
  • “dumb blonde” of journalism: awed by access to power
  • when the conventional wisdom moved on, Woodward accounted for it by saying “Bush changed.” If we know one thing, its that Bush doesn’t change.
  • the pretense that old media is representing facts and there’s no opinion involved
  • new media must resolve to never sell independence for access
  • transparency, accountability, and community

Panel: Chuck & Arianna

  • Micah: what’s an example of new media getting it right? Doing it better?
  • CD: people on the ground being distributed widely.
  • AH: we have watches on people for the sake of accountability: The Lou Dobbs Watch, Dana Perino Watch, Glenn Beck Watch. We can get over there to put the spotlight on them. In the meantime, the reporting team has been breaking stories, eg Lieberman breaking 527 rules, we broke FL and MI. We are more and more doing the things newspapers do. New tagline is “internet newspaper”: we’re launching new (non-political) verticals. We love talking to people who disagree with us.


  • Q: What will keep the blogs from becoming the next radio & becoming partisan yes-men preaching to the choir?
  • CD: My Dad says “why are people so polarized?” Its because no one can tell what the facts are. Arianna and I disagree on things. Newspapers are said to be the 1st draft of history.
  • AH: No way. The right used to accuse the Left of being relativists. Now that’s turned. I’m saying we DO know things. Remember the benchmarks before the surge in Iraq. It’s a FACT that they haven’t been met. I was being asked “can new media be credible?” What, the old system is credible? We have an obligation to adopt the best practices of accountability and then let the chips fall where they may. We cannot simply protect those we favor.
  • CD: when you say “these are the facts”, its the old-media broadcast model. If you talk about Global Warming its ok to say “more people believe Gore than Inhofe”.
  • AH: I’m saying that if you give equal weight to Gore and Inhoffe, yr not doing yr job as a journalist. The major problem of modern journalism is that splitting the diff is accepted as legit
  • Q: Do you see the new media as fostering a global public sphere?
  • CD: in america “revolution” always seems to have a positive connotation, but we’re not there yet
  • AH: what’s happening with FaceBook and bloggers is amazing. I see a longing for america to be part of the world again; whenever Obamas’ on the cover of a mag, circulation goes up.
  • I’m greek; watch out for Trojan horses

Clay Shirky

  • Here Comes Everybody in 5 words: “Group action just got easier”
  • Politics is not governance
  • Belarussian flashmob ice-cream-eating example
  • the problem of a group eating ice cream isn’t the ice cream, its the group
  • the gov’t couldn’t stop the Livejournal “conspiracy”;
  • we love these stories: 40k kid walkout in CA, FB protests on HSBC and Fair Copyright for Canada
  • here’s the thing though: most of the stories we have of real-world collective action are “stop-action” stories: make an action stop. A protest
  • so where’s the construction?
  • custom lego mini-figs,
  • homeschooling: they made
  • tax almanac wiki
  • the amount of starting and sustaining energy on the wed is astounding. this is not a medium that’s only good for protest
  • so maybe collective action is harder? sure, it is. “Collective Action” means “everyone stands or falls together”, but even then we have examples of people coming together. Barn-raising is the canonical example. And that’s not for commercial gain. So why do it? it cowrs in communities in which everyone owes each other favors. You need density and continuity. They don’t happen in large fast-moving groups (eg, the internet)
  • a xerox printer with closed-source proprietary drivers started Stallman on the path to founding the Free Software Foundation
  • it inverts the purpose of traditional legal licensing mechanisms (which usually restrict freedom) to instead increase the freedom of the users
  • maybe that’s what’s missing from collective action?
  • what would licensing look like?
  • democracy design workshop: “the virtual company project” is a way to remove the problems with a corporation.
    * – in VT you can do virtual coprs!
  • community interest companies: take the bug out of for-profit companies that want to have public-service goals. THis lets you put social goals at the heart of the enterprise
  • meetup alliance: take meetup groups and associate them at a regional or national level. Attempt to take individual action and raise the level at which it operates.
  • momtown, atheist alliance, etc may be able to effect action rather than merely lobby for it. Imagine Linus LOBBYING M$for a good operating system. Imagine Jimmy Wales protesting outside of Brittanitca until he got a good free encyclopedia. No way. Sometimes you have to build things.
  • how do we get that energy?

1550 BRian Lehrer

  • moving from the least open media environment in history (broadcast) to the most open environment
  • from my privileged position I want to be someone who helps usher in the new era rather than blocking it
  • news is more than just infotainment but to play a role in the democracy
  • help individuals take action via media
  • The CUNY TV show is web video for people who don’t necessarily get the web
  • crowd-sourcing:
    • SUV concentration per neighborhood,
    • price of milk per neighborhood,
    • viewers parse through 11k pages of Hill Clinton’s First Lady schedule
    • suggesting weekend street closings

Jay Rosen

  • early in the rise of Semi-pro journalism but late in the decline of old press
  • the old media (“tribe”) saw the web in 1996 as a place to repurpose content. this did some long-term damage to the old tribe
  • the web is shared bw pro and am. this is ok because freedom of the press is shared
  • pro and am don’t conflict. they’re complementary
  • the hybrid form will be the most powerful
  • but to make these hybrids work, we need to find a new way of working
  • Off The Bus is a way to make that happen
  • what Huffington Post did for editorial, OTB wants to do for the campaign press
  • Expand the press:

Mayhill Fowler

  • Cox said “Obama supporters gave their email addys to get into events”, and then later they had to go to the local Obama office. THis started from non-connected septuagenarians. Important small tweak to get people much more involved.
  • when I report, I audio record NAD take notes AND crack jokes with the locals AND blackberry w the editors
  • “I cover the campaign from the POV of the voter”
  • as part of the non-traveling press I try to get access
  • half of what I do is talk my way past deputies to park in the press lot, trying to access
  • OTB will be seen as the Woodstock summer
  • then I went to IA and never came back

Amy Holmes (young conservative from Bill Mahrer)

  • “macaca” is the first word that comes to mind
  • “internet can be a knife in an alley”
  • we saw the internet could be a tool and a weapon
  • also showed how new media can be part of the herd mentality. Eg: “hillary and the math”
  • Obama’s “Fight the Smears”: rumors spread
  • hillary-supporter posts unsubstantiated rumor of Michelle Obama’s racial slur
  • the internet can be dangerous
  • BL: Meg’s two scoops 1. obama’s “bitter” remark. How did you get access?
  • MF: I’m an Obama supporter who’d donated $2300. Called up, got put on the list, recorded it (bc I record everything)
  • BL: what are the ethics of primary scoops?
  • MF: they may have assumed I’d put the campaign before the story, but I put the story first
  • JR: i think its a bad idea to respond to people who say “citizen journalists don’ have ethics.” That’s a slur, not a Q. Second: Obama’s people said the fundraiser was “closed to the press, but not off the record”. THey also say that they assume all these things are recorded. They’re adjusting to the fact that the tools that used tho be monopolized by the media are now in the public. The Obama campaign is agile enough to separate “closed to the press” from “off the record”. From my POV the “ethic” on trial is whether people have the right to report their experience as citizens, during this campaign. The reason we have these arguments is that the powers of the press have been given to the people, and damn it, we’re going to use them.
  • AH: this is a new reality: what you say WILL be recorded, and sometimes context will be lost. When people are thinking out loud or offhand, they misspeak.
  • JR: also, the politico stole MF’s story, fed it to Drudge, and that’s how it got started. Who’s the ethically impoverished one now?
  • BL: I finally read the MF article and was sad that the context of the essay had gotten lost. It was a beautiful call for understanding each other and humility.
  • Jeff Jarvis: I hear journalists talking about their rules, which are really ways to keep people in the club. We shouldn’t have these rules. We shouldn’t have trades for access. BUt our sources shouldn’t trust us to keep their interests in mind. They shouldn’t us to do anything other than get it accurate. What we want is openness. We should be blowing open the off-the-record bit.
  • JR: through history, this is a cycle. A closed world opens up to the prying eyes of a new press. THe people inside fight it at first. Then they learn its hard to fight it, so they shift to “come on in, we’ll show you how it really is”. This is what yr talking about. The bargain is that you get domesticated. The white house press corps was on the street before Teddy Roosevelt, interviewing people as they left. Access DOES give you goods, but it affects yr ability to tell the truth stories. If you can get INTO the event WITHOUT compromise (like MF) she’s EXTENDING the press. The pro press should be cheering this expansion.
  • MF: we needed: collaborative journalism and a fresh photographer, right out of school, not taking the same photos over and over. The traveling press got stuck in the narrative of “Obama cant bowl” and that got magnified into the mainstream media and that became the story of the bus tour. But I was there, I was on the ground, and the bowling town LOVED Obama.
  • Q: I’m robert Cox from the Media Bloggers Association. We were working to accredit bloggers for the scooter libby trial, and then have it go up through the AP. IN the media room, the reporters said “so where are the bloggers?” and then went on to discuss terms: Any jokes in the media room were to be off the record.
  • JR: every professional group has an ethic, and the traveling press especially becomes part of a club. Its not that journalists are inclined to groupthink. Its that in a competitive environment, everyone is terrified. The group mentality prevents outliers. And to stay sane, there needs to be a backstage, and that’s what they do.
  • AH: As a public name, I’d be pissed if I couldn’t chitchat in the green room with my debate opponent.
    [Argument over whether the US Court press room is a public space or not]
  • RC: some of the folks in the media room were witnesses in the case too
  • Matt Sheffield: is part of this conflict that we’re learning that journalism is sausage-making?
  • MF: when I joined the circus, I was fascinated by the traveling press, but i wouldn’t blog the green room. The traveling press always gets in last, tired, grumpy, they need some downtime and that’s their downtime. I’m getting to be there too. I was at the Obama victory rally, sitting next to a blogger, and when I looked at his blogging the next day half the story was about Obama and half was about me. We need to have that code of the road
  • AH: and let’s not pretend that everything’s true. there’s a lot of garbage out there.
    [JR on open and closed systems]

1722 Rashej & E. Edwards

  • EE: “I’m on the internet a lot, but I still spell the word “are” A-R-E, not “r”.”
  • AR: we had the political internet directors here today […]
  • EE: we don’t have internet true-believers for candidates…yet
  • AR: how much strife is there between the old guard and the new guard? what about the AManda Markoff episode?
  • EE: I’m net everywhere in the campaign, so I don’t know. But we knew that the internet world be a good way to reach the people that John wanted to talk to, but that’s not going to get everyone, so we knew we needed to get into the MSM too. You need to partner w the MSM otherwise yr feeding from the same pond. We wanted our bloggers because they speak their mind, but we didn’t vet well enough and we handed a weapon to the Freeper crowd.
  • AR: speaking of arming yr enemies: how do you feel about Obama opting out of public financing?
  • EE: Meh [launches into attack on McCain’s flip-flopping]
  • AR: Obama also has an unprecedented list. Think’s he’ll use it (for anything other than fundraising)?
  • EE: I hope so, but history says most don’t
  • AR: what advice would you give the next president for the first 100 days?
  • EE: we’re moving to a time where we have transparencies . Every dep’t or agency should have a plan to provide public information, with insiders as well as ombudsmen. Information trickles out of the government, it needs to be a more regularized process.
  • AR: The internet is the only organism we know that has a memory older than itself. Could this possible make it optimal for politicians to tell the truth?
  • EE: I hope so. Politicians aren’t easy to train; we had Elliot Spitzer after Bill Clinton. Maybe with a generation that’s more used to having every minute of their lives reported.
  • AR: I heard Obama publicly stated he wanted you to help w healthcare, which was a surprise to you. Story?
  • EE: I’m delighted to have input.
  • AR: JRE endorsed Obama, but you haven’t. How do you feel about him? What advice would you give?
  • EE: I told HRC that I would stay out, and I kept my word. Now I’ll be working and doing whatever I can to elect BO. He’s ahead, but I lived through 2004 and I know its not over til its over. We can’t take anything for granted.
  • AR: from yr lips to BO’s ears. And there’re so many bloggers here, its public.
  • EE: oh, all the campaigns say that
  • Audience Q&A
  • Q: what about yr list?
  • A: we’re tied up in the audit now, but in the next months we want to get moving
  • Q: JRE started his campaign in NOLA. How can we refocus on NOLA?
  • EE: JRE ended the campaign there too.
  • AJ: Facebook? Myspace?
  • EE: its hard to have a presence if there’s any celebrity at all. My daughter has a public profile for people who found “JRE’s daughter” and a private real one
  • Q: people are so stressed, how do we get them involved in governance?
  • EE: we need to find new ways to engage people. Video town halls, so even if you can’t see yr Q asked, you can catch it later
  • AR: echo chamber?
  • EE: […] JRE walks in
  • JRE: I just walked in!
  • AR: do you think the internet was effectively used in yr campaign & do you think it’ll change 2008?
  • JRE: no doubt the internet makes a big diff. Its the only reason BO isn’t taking public funding, which gives him a HUGE advantage over Bush—I mean, McCain. [huge applause]

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