Monday, March 26

Recognizing Change: Jon Ralston

Jon Ralston is one of the most recognized political analysts in the state of Nevada, particularly in southern Nevada, reaching readers in print, online, and on television. Last Sunday, he made a candid observation about social media, especially in politics, in his Flash Point column header that appeared in the Sunday combined edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun.

"These are embarrassing times for those of us in the MSM. That's mainstream media for those of you not savvy to the acronymic insults hurled our way by bloggers. We sit idly by and watch the bloggers do what we so rarely can: Move political establishment. And now it is on both sides.

First, the Democratic blogosphere types pummeled the Nevada party for partnering with Fox. What was just noise eventually catalyzed action and forced the dissolution of the partnership. Now, on the GOP side, led by activist Chuck Muth, the bloggers have forced the party to reconsider its caucus date, which now may be moving to Jan. 19 to compete with the Democrats. So I guess I should ask the cyber hit men: What's the next big story?"

Indeed. It's very telling when political analysts share observations with some apparent frustration over social media. It's not surprising to me that political bloggers are at the front of the social media pack, but not just because they blog. However, as I've said before, it's not the tool, but who wields it.

Muth wields it pretty well over at Citizen Outreach. Citizen Outreach is self-described as a limited-government public policy organization dedicated to putting the “public” back in public policy. Whereas Muth has always been adept at shaping policy and writing columns for various publications around the state, he has found blogging to be the best place to make a case for everything else. In Nevada, he is not alone.

The reasons are pretty simple. In politics, blogs are becoming especially impactful, primarily because politics has always been a forum where squeaky wheels either get the grease or, in some cases, get greased. Blogs are extremely useful in this quarter because unlike accepting the burden of becoming a print publisher, there is virtually no real overhead (print publications are exceedingly expensive to print and time consuming to publish if you want to do it right).

More and more legislators and elected government officials on every level, for better or worse, are also discovering that blogs can be a great way to keep in contact with their constituants, defend their positions, and perhaps maintain a base against future challenges. (Unfortunately, most will likely get in trouble because they write it themselves with little or no help from consultants, doing little more than penning the groundwork for their next campaign's potential hit pieces. Oh well.)

Regardless, as the MSM, as Ralston calls it, continues to see the influence it has enjoyed in the past erode, some will get grouchy about it. Others will recognize it for what it is: a redefinition of the landscape and the roles people play in them.

The way I see it, social media is suggesting the mainstream media take on new marching orders, asking them to cover the news rather than set it or have an agenda. Or, in other words, maybe traditional media was never meant to move the political establishment, but rather to report that movement. You know, tell the truth and shame the devil. It's an honorable profession, one devoid of stating which party you belong to or whether you personally think more taxes are in order.

Certainly, in some cases, mainstream media took the wrong path somewhere along the line with too few actually acting as political analysts and too many acting like the political activists they were supposed to cover. It seems to me this is precisely why online self-proclaimed media watchdogs such as Media Matters and News Busters broke onto the national scene to begin with, each claiming that media bias is too conservative or too liberal (sometimes both at the same time, depending on the topic).

Labels, labels, everywhere labels. So let's set the record straight. There are no cyber hitmen. There are only political activists with a new tool.

There is rampant media bias, except in rare instances when the truth actually overpowers political leanings (newspapers have been known to aggressively support candidates, but wash their hands of them if any corruption is exposed, preferably before people realize the paper chastising them today helped get them elected last month).

There is little difference between what Ralston did in 1993 when he began publishing the political newsletter "The Ralston Report," except that bloggers have less overhead and don't ask their readers to pay an inflated subscription price.

There really are no "bloggers" beyond those citizens who write online diaries, even though the label is often bandied about with ardent enthusiasm or apparent attempts to discredit (sometimes at the same time). In actuality, there are simply new political activists who never had a voice before, or, as in my case, industry experts who are willing to share their insights or business people who see the natural crossover to employ blogs as a tool not all that dissimilar from politics.

How so? While I maintain it's not for every CEO to have a blog, it does provide an answer to management consultant Laurence Haughton's question over at Recruiting "But what tells you that 'all the talk about how companies need to have a dialogue with customers' is serious talk?"

A few graphs up, I mentioned legislators beginning to use blogs to have contact with their constituants, defend their positions, and perhaps maintain a base against future challenges. Is that so very different from one of several business blog uses: connect with customers, promote products, and build brand loyalty? Unless you're hung up on semantics, not really.



Rich on 3/29/07, 7:36 PM said...

Famous First Words:

This post found its way over to the NoisyRoom.

Terresa Monroe-Hamilton writes there...

"Mr. Becker gets it - hmmm, wonder if he could send NV’s Senator Nolan a note that his dismissal of Nevada Bloglodytes (referencing Nolan’s titling of NV bloggers as troglodytes) may just backfire on him.

Our Blogger Spring Uprising Barbecue was a tremendous success yesterday. Great people, great ideas, great food - monumental political plans … More planned later this spring - the conservative conspiracy takes flight. Heh - monster bloggers of Nevada rule!!!"


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