Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Transparent Inauguration

Volumes have been written about the recent Inauguration of President Obama. One of the concepts I've maintained for some time (and I know I'm not the only one) is that whatever else he may be, Obama is the first 21st Century president. He's not only comfortable with tech, he understands its concepts and how to use it.

So it was only fitting that the coverage of his inauguration should also move into the 21st Century as well -- although there's still plenty of holdover from the old way of doing things.

In times past, most people would have watched the event on TV, or listened to it on the radio. Internet coverage was certainly available for Bush's second inaugural, but I didn't find it especially compelling or convenient.

This time, however, it was.

And what I found most important about it was how it illustrated one of Obama's main themes: transparency. I had to work Tuesday, so I watched the CNN/Facebook stream. But I found the Twitter feeds of even greater interest. Instead of having some reporter telling me what the crowd was feeling, I was reading comments from the crowd (served in convenient 140-character chunks). I could judge for myself what the mood of the crowd was. I didn't need a third-party intermediary (the talking heads) telling me what I was witnessing.

I also sampled coverage from various international sources, such as the BBC and Aljazeera. Reading different perspectives helped me examine my own. And those views were blended into the mix with the first-person narratives of Twitter, and the impartial coverage of C-Span.

I tried watching the mainstream media ball coverages in the evening but quickly became frustrated. No matter which cable or network channel I flipped to, I got the same thing: reporters and pundits in the studios talking and/or interviewing the reporters on the scene for their impressions. All the while the event was unfolding in the background, but I actually saw very little of it -- the cameras remained tightly focussed on the reporters, and commercial breaks occurred right on schedule.

Used properly, the Internet can be a great resource for primary sources. I didn't need Katie Couric's anecdotes, or Brit Hume's snarky comments, or Anderson Cooper's pronouncements to help me make sense of what was going on. I had access to all the same basic sources they were using, and I could simply judge for myself.

Most people don't make good windows -- they're difficult to see through. So to get true transparency, I had to move the talking heads out of the picture.

It was not hard to do.

- Ralph

Day 210 of the WJMA Web Watch. (These guys are the antithesis of transparency. Who knows what goes on behind that placeholder page?)

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