The 2012 election may be the first one to be covered primarily by citizen-journalists, though whether that is a good thing is a tough call.
This development is expected, really. By the last presidential election, the mainstream media had deprecated to the point where any real journalism coming out was purely accidental, and the 2008 winner, Barack Obama, escaped the scrutiny that candidates usually get. Thanks in part to the dying press and the babbling electronic media, Americans elected someone with no discernible background. Might as well have chosen The Unknown Candidate, complete with the paper sack over his head.
This news dynamic changed even more — devolved, perhaps — since then, with velocity being the order of the day. Well, that’s always been an issue in news gathering as the media outlet that breaks the story gets the bragging rights. But in 21st Century America that lead time is cut to seconds instead of hours. We now have news as it happens, or more frequently news as it doesn’t happen. Could this be the dynamic that shapes coverage in the 2012 election?
It’s not 2012 yet. It’s not the primary season yet, not even the pre-primaries. But in the pre-pre-primaries we’ve already had enough drama to stock a whole campaign. Try a dozen debates already between Republican candidates, and at least a dozen more to come. It seems every special interest group has a debate or forum of its own, and already some very promising candidates rode the roller coaster:
- Mitt Romney starts with frontrunner status. Herman Cain shows strength in some debates, becomes the one who can beat Obama. Rick Perry sneaks in from the south entrance with strong conservative ties. Sarah Palin bows out early, before she even gets in.
- Cain and Perry propose specific tax plans.
- Perry shows poorly in a debate.
- Cain is the new frontrunner.
- Cain is accused of sexual harassment, which could be anything from grabbing a touchie/feelie to holding a door open for a female coworker. Cain accuses the Perry camp for this, and takes a tumble in the polls.
- Perry has the mother of all brain farts in another debate, something like 40 seconds of dead air time. By rights it should kill his campaign except that the others are trying to kill their own faster, more thoroughly.
- Now Newt Gingrich, who hadn’t been relevant all century, is looking like he could be a front runner, if you can believe that.
Got all that?
Mind you, it’s not even 2012 yet. It’s still the pre-pre-primary.
Between the usual online news suspects and the bloggers, tweeters, user-generated news outlets, and social media dispatches, there shouldn’t be any great mystery about any of the candidates. Not this time.
By the time voters start casting ballots for real in the primaries, we should know everything about everyone running. We’ll know who was born here, we’ll know how each one did in school, and we might even know where each candidate is coming from politically. All will be throughly vetted. The trick, then, is for the thinking voter to separate the news from the nonsense, not likely to be an easy task when citizen-journalists rule public discourse.
Anytime the media is user-driven — or to put it more inelegantly, run by the rabble — there’s always a danger of being overcome by a flood of nonsensical information. It will reflect our society, which is more interested in Dancing With The Stars than real-live flesh-and-blood issues.
It’ll be interesting to see if anyone still cares, or is even awake for the presidential campaign during the primaries and general election, when it counts.