Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I didn't get much sleep last night and today is packed with day jobness. But I've got a couple of cautionary thoughts about what we've just experienced.

First, the amount of money binged on this election was obscene. I was part of it this time--for me it was overwhelmingly important to help elect Obama. That his campaign raised so much money from so many small donors is a wonder. But all together, the money it takes to do anything in elections--run as a candidate, back a ballot initiative--is pretty awful. And I don't know how sustainable either. There was enough margin in the system--enough loose change in enough pockets--to do it this time. But this time next year? I doubt it.

Look at all the attention paid to raising money. One of Obama's lesser known advisors, Cass Sunstein, is co-author of a book called Nudge, about "choice architecture," which is a fancy name for a particular kind of marketing, which is by definition a confidence game. The Obama campaign was very good at nudging donations from me. And look at all the money spent here in CA on Prop 8--I think it's like 80 million. It looks like the homophobes won, but however it turns out, you can bet the question is going to be on the ballot next time, and even more money will be spent on it. These are millions that could be going for things that have much more direct effects, with multipliers in terms of the good they do. You can educate kids with that. Fill potholes. Prevent some folks from dying in pain because of inadequate health insurance.

Anyway, it's over for me. If my contributions this year suggest to any pols that I can be nudged again, forget it.

Second, this election night proved once again that when it comes to real time information, the blogosphere is totally dependent on the established information media. I see the chortling on Kos etc. about newspapers losing circulation and in danger of going under. But Kos and the Huffington Post etc. have yet to develop more that supplementary sources of information and modes of gathering and delivering it. They depend on the reporting of media organizations: newspaper and television. And that's true beyond such obvious situations as election night. The blogosphere has done a lot in breaking particular stories, and pushing others until the established media pays attention. But without newspapers in particular, the blogosphere would be little more than unverifiable gossip.

The reason is simple: the blogs don't make enough money to support reporters and a news gathering organization. Very few people can make a living directly from the Internet. Those hoary old newspapers still have union jobs. Does Kos? Meanwhile, the people who write for Huffington are just about all sustained by their newspaper, magazine and TV gigs, and the related income streams of books and paid speeches. Even the big players in the blogosphere depend on books, magazine columns and paid speaking engagements.

Plus there are editors. That's a very mixed blessing, and the blogs do have ways of checking people on their information. But that doesn't always work. There were so many diaries on Kos this election season that purported to be first person reports that could just as easily have been fiction.

The Internet was supposed to be a faster source of election news than TV, radio and newspapers. But those sites that aren't part of established media organizations did little but report what the TV said. And usually, long after they said it. The blogosphere has unique potential and fulfills unique functions, but it has a long way to go to be more than amateur in the gathering and disseminating of timely information.

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