Online Political Coverage: Communities Matter More than Elections

View of downtown L.A. from my hotel window. This town looks better at night.

I’m in Los Angeles right now, where on Thursday I’ll be giving a session at a Knight New Media Center seminar on Election ’08: Covering Politics in Cyberspace.

My session is called: "Tools of Engagement:  It’s a Conversation, Stupid." No, I didn’t come up with that title, but I really like it. My audience will be a mix of journalists, online-media pros, geeks, and political experts. I hope they’re ready to talk, because I don’t really do lectures; I start conversations.

I’ll admit, in my journalistic work I’ve generally avoided covering elections — for good reason. Generally, the way most news orgs handle that assignment bugs the hell out of me.  The press conferences, the pundits, the posturing, the race metaphors… in all that, communities, issues, and the real workings of government tend to get pushed into the background. It feels fake and even counterproductive to me. I’m tired of it, and for the most part I tune it out.

That’s not to say I tune out politics. On the contrary, I follow certain aspects of politics very closely: local, state, national, and international. And I do note how elections affect the politics that interest or affect me. However, I don’t believe elections should garner the lion’s share of political coverage.

It seems to me that the best political coverage is ongoing, not cyclical. Ideally, coverage of elections or other political events should support and enhance the public conversation about issues and communities.

To accomplish this with online political coverage, I think we need to get our priorities straight. Here are some thoughts on how we might do that, so we might collectively avoid turning the 2008 election season into a complete three-ring circus…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE, and comment if you like, over at my other blog The Right Conversation