Thursday, October 19, 2006


The currency of democracy


My column (Shreveport Times) this week considers the potential impact of alternative online news and commentary in Louisiana. This is worth discussing after the events of last week.

The column begins,

Online forums for discussion of policy and political issues may have reached the proverbial tipping point in Louisiana last week.

Last week’s ethics board dust-up highlights several dynamics:

–First, there’s wonderful irony in the fact that this online storm was caused by an agenda item proposing efforts to try to regulate political speech online.

–Second, these events unfolded quickly. The whole thing was over before print media could catch up. That ethics board agenda item was dead long before a printing press put ink to paper.

–Third, there’s no such thing as local news anymore. Sure, there are events of primary interest to local audiences, but those events and the interpretations thereof are available to anyone with internet access — anywhere.

–Fourth, by creating a website with content that attracts readers, web managers can impact public debate. This shoots a serious hole through the previously-established role of traditional media as gate-keeper, wherein the media determines what stories get told, when and in what context.

–Fifth, as a result of this changed gate-keeper dynamic, public officials find themselves under unaccustomed scrutiny. And those officials are finding it’s harder to explain questionable behavior or to change a vote or to practice Louisiana’s business-as-usual if more of the public is paying attention. Such emphasis on accountability can only mean good things for Louisiana’s future.

–Sixth, even the busiest of Louisiana’s political websites attracts only a small percentage of voters. But if those websites attract people who care about public affairs, are serious about sharing what they know with others, and who have the ability to influence other people in their circle of acquaintances, then the influence of a single website can far exceed what might otherwise be suggested by such small audience numbers.

The bottom line is this:

Recall that Thomas Jefferson once said “information is the currency of democracy.” What’s new for Louisiana is that now there’s just more of that currency in circulation.

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