I've been getting more and more interested in the concept of a "Citizen Blogger": a person who actively participates in politics via their weblog. For such a person, weblogging becomes a political act - an 'Uncle Sam Needs You' for the 21st Century. The term has been floating around for a few months now, primarily driven by the big gusts of hot air accompanying the Howard Dean Presidential campaign. It came to my attention when Dave Winer and Lawrence Lessig started to write about it and as I've investigated more, I've found Citizen Blogging to be a promising new direction in the Two-Way Web. In fact, it may just be its killer app.
The journalist blogging fraternity is where all the action is regarding analysis of 'citizen blogging'. An article I thoroughly recommend is Jay Rosen's Nine Story Lines in a New Campaign Narrative (and do read the comments too). One of the key points Rosen makes is that political campaigning is now a "two-way and de-centered world where the tools of communication are coming into public hands. And so politics in the open style is here and there being de-controlled." De-controlled, that's a choice phrase and not all the journo bloggers agree on that point. In another Jay Rosen piece, fellow A-list journo Jeff Jarvis comments:
"I'm now questioning that, operational and recruitment issues aside, the Dean campaign is giving up control or can give up control[...]Headquarters is still wherever the candidate is."
The issue there is about power - isn't that what all politics boils down to? Jeff Jarvis says control (which I equate to power) is still centralised, even though Jay Rosen claims it is "de-centered". We don't know who's right yet - it'll all pan out as the Howard Dean campaign rolls out and the other Presidential candidates join in.
On his own weblog, Jeff Jarvis also posted a response to Lawrence Lessig and Dave Winer. He ostensibly disagrees with their use of the term "citizen blogger":
"That's what the [journalism] Reformation is all about: not that citizens blog but that bloggers do what those in power used to do."
Actually I think we're all on the same page, it's just semantics getting in the way again ;-) Jeff Jarvis' "journalism reformation" is saying pretty much the same thing Dave Winer's Two-Way Web manifesto says: consumers are now producers, readers are now writers. One guy who I always trust to bridge the gap between journalism and web technology is Dan Gillmor and he sums it up beautifully in his recent article:
"The broadcast culture assumes that most of us are "consumers" of mass media. We are merely receptacles for what Hollywood, the music industry and even our local daily newspaper decide we should view, hear or read.
The post-broadcast culture is a democratization of media, and it comes at things from the opposite stance. It says that anyone also can be a creator, not just a consumer. There's a world of difference."
Later on in the comments to Dan's article, Tim O'Reilly emphasizes that even though some bloggers are more equal than others (yes, the power law), people do have opportunities to participate/produce that didn't exist even a few years ago:
"...that's the nature of freedom. You don't get it just once and forever. Entrenched interests do try to stay on top, but new tools do create fresh opportunities."
I have some other lines of thought that I want to pursue on this topic, but I'll leave that for my next post. I do want to add that I hope the concept of "Citizen Blogging" is applicable not just to Americans blogging for Howard Dean, or Wesley Clark, or George Bush, or whoever. Sure, the American President campaign in 2004 is where it's all being invented. And I will be watching very closely from my little spot on the other side of the world (New Zealand). But I hope too that I can use the principles in my country too.
Actually the more I think about it, the more I want to initiate political blogging in New Zealand. A personal aside: a couple of years ago I applied for a few jobs at the New Zealand E-Government Unit, something which I've always had an interest in. I didn't get a job there, only because I didn't have government dept experience - catch-22! I was very disappointed at the time, because I knew I had the skills to do a great job. But I still harbour an ambition to contribute something worthwhile in the service of the public, using my skills in web technology. Perhaps Citizen Blogging is my opportunity. I'll explore some more.