On the “New Media” Debate

My friend Jason Kenney set off something of a firestorm over at Bearing Drift today with a post on New Media and the RPV. At issue is Mr. Kenney’s concern, shared by many others, that a “handful of individuals … are positioning themselves as the heralds that will guide Virginia’s Republican activists through the wilds of the Internet and to the great beyond”. Such concerns have escalated in recent days as the Republican Party of Virginia prepares for its annual “Advance”, at which it plans to sponsor a session on “New Media: Blogging, E Campaigns, Websites”. Explains Mr. Kenney:

These concerns are grounded in a lack of new media outreach coming out of the Republican Party of Virginia and leadership throughout the state. If the RPV and others are not interacting with the core Republican new media activists in Virginia how can they hope to hold a seminar that will teach party activists anything about what the new media is and what it can do?

SWAC Girl posted similar concerns last week.

As faithful readers know, this blogger has written and spoken elsewhere on how conservatives can use “new media” effectively. But I’ve been fairly silent on how Republicans can do the same, mostly because I believe that the GOP needs to recover its principles, get a consistent message, and start living in accordance with both before any media efforts, new or not, will bear much fruit.

But since we’re on the subject, here goes:

RPV chairman Jeff Frederick took the time to respond in a comment to Mr. Kenney’s post. If his tone was a little defensive, well, the guy has been under a lot of fire lately.

But Mr. Frederick’s first statement emerges as the “There’s no Soviet presence in Eastern Europe” of his comment:

“As you may know, I rarely read blogs.”

As my friend Doug Mataconis said over at Below the Beltway, “And That, Chairman Frederick, Is The Problem“.

I’m not a huge fan of the term new media. I just don’t think that it captures the essence of the concept for which it stands. The printing press was new once. So what?

I prefer the term social media (although a fair argument can be made that new media is more encompassing). What’s special about blogs, micro-blogs like twitter, social networking sites like facebook, and most everything else that gets lumped under the rubric of “new media” is that it’s interactive. People post something; other people respond; there’s communication; knowledge spreads; ideas are refined. At least that’s the ideal.

But if those who want to lead aren’t engaged, well, then they can’t really lead. The “Here’s our content; you spread it, and otherwise don’t bother me because I’m too important” days are over.

I believe that the interactive aspect of social media is a great strength for the right. As Richard Viguerie observed in America’s Right Turn, talk radio has been a boom for conservatives and a bust for liberals because of its interactivity: Some liberal says something foolish, and a dozen conservatives shoot him down with sound arguments. (Hey, that’s why the lefties want to bring back the ridiculously misnamed “Fairness Doctrine”.) The same is true for social media; conservative arguments will rise to the top because they are the sound arguments.

On the other hand, we do have a social-media vulnerability that’s related to the strength above. It stems from the brevity and speed of social-media interactions. Lefty notions, which are typically rooted in nothing more than simplistic, touchy-feely nonsense, are much easier to sum up in 140 characters (the maximum of any post on twitter). Conservative arguments, which are based on history, reason, facts, and common sense, are much more complex, and thus more difficult to get across briefly and in media where the fast-coming volleys can leave one feeling a little like Tippi Hedren. And this is why simply copying the left’s strategies will never work for us.

I’d love to see more discussion in the center-right Virginia blog community about what can work for us, about how to manage these and other weaknesses and strengths. But, clearly, we’re not there yet.

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3 thoughts on “On the “New Media” Debate

  1. Facebook? Well, I suppose it’s a start, but when was Facebook ever the venue for serious political discussion? How about letting us know when a Facebook account ever broke a major story?

    Facebook’s all fine-and-dandy for social networking, but I would hardly compare it to blogs for political commentary and activism.

    J-Fred, as you call him, would be wise to do some research and pick out 10 blogs (plus or minus) to follow regularly for breaking news and how the grassroots are reacting to RPV “directives.” If he did this, he might just catch a clue about where the base wants this Party to go.

    Of course, if he and his cohorts decide to continue to dismiss the blogs and the importance of their niche (if only to monitor what the average Joe/Jane thinks of things), then J-Fred and the GOP will continue to sink into irrelevance.

    How many years have the Republican “leaders” been ignoring the base? “Small government!” we cry. “Lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and secure borders!” The RNC and RPV don’t seem to have listened – and you see how well that’s worked for them.

    So the issue isn’t so much whether Mr. Frederick is active on the web; it’s whether that activity is actually productive, effective and informative.

    Which it apparently is NOT.

  2. Your whole analysis seems to presume that blogs are the only form of “new media” or “social media”. One can spend all day and night reading blogs, so J-Fred’s reluctance to read them may be well reasoned. But does that necessarily mean that he does not stay active on the web; on e-mail; or on Facebook (for which he has an account and seems to keep up with it)?

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