The Press on Government Institutions
Complaining about the press is about as old as the press itself. Goodness knows that there is a bad history of the government trying to either shut the press out entirely or intimidate them to publish pro-government reports. Neither is good, and I’d rather what we have to nothing at all. Having said all that, allow me to rant for a few paragraphs about how inane reporting has become on the topic of government institutions.
What do I mean by government institutions? I guess what I mean is process stories. Conventional wisdom says that the news reading public isn’t interested in process stories, they either want to hear about entertaining politics or impacting policy. So, a story about the mechanics of Senate procedure tends to be reduced to a vague allusion about arcane rules. It’s banal and useless… but thankfully it was rare.
Two stories have recently come across my RSS feed reader that make me wonder if we are entering into a new era where the press tries to write more process stories, but fails miserably.
First, the U.S. Senate. This is a tricky institution with lots of history and complications. The Majority Leader is said to need skills in the herding of stray cats. Thus, when the Majority Leader calls a press briefing and says something like “It’s very clear they’ve made a decision they want President Obama to fail,” the chances he is going to say who they are essentially nil. Thus it’s not news when “…asked to name specific Senate Republicans who wanted Obama to fail, Reid would only say a ‘number of Republicans.’” But that didn’t stop the Politico from summarizing the article as:
Reid: Senate GOP wants Obama to fail. When asked for names, Reid would only say a “number of Republicans.”
The second was a dreary piece in Monday’s Washington Post about the White House New Media team. A personal friend of mine works for said team, she’s a smart lady who knows what she is doing and has realistic expectations for the world around her. I find it most unlikely she “acknowledge[s] being caught off guard by the strictures of government bureaucracy.” These people are far more tech-savvy than the person writing the story, they know what’s possible, they know what’s practical, and they know what failure looks like.
Launching a site as widely followed and as heavily scrutinized was whitehouse.gov and recovery.gov is hard under the best of circumstances, even more so when you have less than two months between the election and the inauguration, and damn near impossible when you aren’t handed the keys to the castle until the day you are expected to launch.
Which is why the press is simply making mountains out of molehills when it drums up controversy over the allowed comment length or that some YouTube videos have only 25,000 views (I wish my videos had that many views!). Technology isn’t easy, nor is governing… to imply that combining the two in ways never done before should be easy, and that the Obama team is failing to live up to those expectations, is simply creating controversy where none previously existed.
I am the constituent these technologies are for. I am the tech-savvy 20-something who wants to see technology keep my government accessible, transparent, and accountable. I am the ultimate arbiter of success. By any objective standard the White House New Media Team has done extraordinary work in a short time… and just as economists are standing up against the Press’ doom and gloom denouncement that Obama has already failed to save the economy, so too shall technologists come to the President’s aid and say, “keep up the good work, you’re doing fine.”