The media's coverage of the 2008 presidential race is making me sick. And so I'm joining the media. I'm proud to announce that I'm signing on with the Huffington Post and Off the Bus, a citizen journalism project co-published by Arianna Huffington and Jay Rosen, as a roving correspondent and advisor.
But I'm only going to do this if you--at least a good ten or twenty thousand of you--also take the leap to join the media as citizen journalists along with me. Sign up now, and together let's radically improve the coverage of the 2008 elections by radically out-competing the mainstream media.
Over the past couple of cycles, a revolution has changed the way political campaigns work in this country. But most mainstream political journalists don't have the slightest inkling what it's about--that's because it didn't happen on the campaign bus, but rather out among the voters themselves.
In the 2003-2004 cycle, I was close enough to the top of the Dean and then the Kerry campaigns--and close enough to the "bottom" out in the field--to see just how mind-bogglingly out of touch with reality the mainstream media were in their coverage. The inaccuracies are the greatest around reporting on the "new" aspects of campaigning that involve the Internet, technology, new kinds of voter data and targeting practices, and new kinds of field organizing.
But as I got to know some reporters better, I learned that the problem wasn't willful disregard for the truth, but rather lack of time and resources--and simply poor positioning. The big national reporters are forced by their employers to do almost nothing but chase candidates, all cooped up on the campaign bus (or plane, nowadays) engaging almost exclusively with official campaign spokespeople.
So we're getting off the bus. This project is to empower new kinds of people to write a new kind of news--people who understand the new rules of presidential campaigning because they've helped to create them, people who support both parties or neither, people like you.
You, understand this revolution because you're what's making it happen. You are one of the volunteers making phone calls and knocking on doors in enormous numbers. You are using the Internet to connect with others in your city to make an impact in a million different ways. Or maybe all you did was donate $25 to a campaign once--that makes you one of the small donors who has turned the politics of money on its head starting in 2003.
The way we cover this revolution at Off the Bus will follow a similar pattern. When thousands of us get together to investigate how the campaigns are operating in all of our communities, we can piece together a moving picture of American politics that's more complete than anything the mainstream news has ever been able to consider.
Here's one example, on June 9th, the Obama campaign launched an unprecedented online-organized field operation called "Walk for Change." According to the campaign, 10,000 people gathered at more than 1,000 events, mostly organized by volunteers, to door-knock Democratic primary voters. Nothing on that scale has ever been attempted so early by a campaign. And no presidential campaign has ever attempted a self-organized door knocking operation on a serious scale (face to face voter contact has been shown in studies to be by far the most effective tactic). If the Obama campaign--or any other campaign--finds a way to make this kind of operation work efficiently and effectively, and scales it up to the max as larger waves of volunteers become available closer to the primaries, then we could have a true game changer on our hands in the big primary states that have moved up to February 5th. (Right now the conventional wisdom is that the only way to play in those states is to buy millions of dollars worth of TV and radio ads.)
However, because those events didn't happen on "the bus," the mainstream news barely covered them at all. The New York Times ignored it (there was only a brief mention on a NYTimes blog). WashingtonPost.com only regurgitated a tiny AP clip. Several small newspapers did cover their local Walks for Change, but had no view into the bigger national story. Only the Chiacgo Tribune went into any sort of depth about the national event. They had three reporters in different parts of the country reporting on how specific events went.
But when when you think about it, three is a mighty small sample, isn't it? Is that the best the mainstream media can do? Apparently so. Now, imagine how much better we could do if thousands of us step up to cover this new phenomenon of distributed field organizing events.
And that's just one of many kinds of stories to which we can bring a whole new approach. How much better can we do at analyzing the candidates' health care plans if hundreds of us pitch in--including not only healthcare policy experts but also health care workers, and patients too. How much better could we cover campaign expenditures if thousands of us pick through the FEC reports in a well-organized group effort?
Sure, we'll cover the horse race too. Races are fun! But let's cover it accurately for a change. Remember the unshakable, unbreakable front runner Howard Dean? Media group think followed that horse right over a cliff. And then punished him for their own carelessness by tearing him down as dishonestly as they had built him up. Not only did that journalistic malpractice leave the nation totally disconnected from what was actually happening in the presidential race, but it also viciously distorted the internal dynamics of the presidential campaigns themselves.
Because we're "off the bus," because there are thousands of us, and because we're not interested in restricting ourselves to the mainstream media's master narrative of the race, we'll be able to cover the mechanics of the horse race far more accurately.
But this only works if you sign up today to be a part of this historic project. Maybe you'll become a regular contributor, or maybe you'll just help out once or twice over the course of the whole race--all that's important right now is that you take the first step by signing up to participate.
For my part, I'll be spending nearly all my time on the road in the primary states, the key general election swing states--and a lot of non-swing states too for that matter. I won't be chasing the candidates, I'll be chasing the political revolution the American people are continuing to make in this new campaign cycle. I'll be spending some of my time writing and reporting, and the rest of it helping to recruit and organize other citizen journalists contributing to this project. I'm also going to spend time covering the vast ocean of people and groups who do not participate in the election--and who don't even vote--because in their abstention they are perhaps the most decisive piece of the political puzzle.
I'm hitting the road in about a month. Don't make me feel lonely out there, ok? Sign up to get off the bus today.
Follow Zack Exley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zackexley