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THE BIERBAUER REPORT

April 10, 2007

CHARLES BIERBAUER

A student dropped by my office this week and introduced me to the Pod Squad. Sarah’s been working with SCETV to “reach out to thousands of first-time voters between now and the election.” The notion—not a bad one—is that by reaching young people online, Sarah and the rest of the Pod Squad can inform and excite them about the 2008 elections. See for yourself at http://www.readytovote.org/

If you’re reading this, you are probably also online and, perhaps, thinking what’s the big deal?”

Politics online is a bigger deal than it’s ever been. It’s now new. I was writing for allpolitics.com at least three presidential cycles ago and have the logo t-shirt to prove it. Candidates caught on that the Internet represented a direct line to potential voters—and contributors, right Howard Dean?

But jump back to our SCHotline home page—just for a moment—and the breadth of the medium is unmistakable. We are your link to the candidates, the parties, government, the media, the archivists, the analysts, the insiders, the bloggers, the political cognoscenti and those who just think they are. SCHotline serves as an aggregator, navigator and originator of news and information on the political scene. Pretty much one-stop shopping where nothing ever goes out of stock.

You can browse or make a beeline to where you want to go. Spend time or waste time. You can mainline the candidates and their policy positions, get the party line, the anti- and oppo- lines that call candidates to task or push them on the defensive, even the old line mainstream media in new virtual surroundings.

What’s taken place in the realm of political information is more than old guys, myself included, learning new tricks. It’s a new learning environment. It’s also everyone’s turf. That brings us to blogs.

Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware. It’s one of the few phrases that linger from high school Latin I, or was it college Econ. 101? Syllogistically (now we’re in Intro to Philosophy), some bloggers are journalists. Some journalists are bloggers. Not all bloggers are journalists.

That’s where you’re on your own in interpreting the merits of all that lies in the blogosphere. Amidst this wealth of information, there is an abundance of inadvertent misinformation and deliberate disinformation. Most web sites are transparent in their purpose and orientation. Some are not. Many declare their political slant. Some obscure theirs.

Even blogging journalists face the dilemma of taking more blatant positions on the Internet than they might in a more nuanced newspaper or television report. Sometimes they are encouraged by editors to be edgier on line.

There’s an ample list of South Carolina websites and blogs at the bottom of our home page. Globally, there are an estimated 14 million blogs, and that was last week’s estimate. Some are enlightening, some amusing, others simply vitriolic. Let the web surfer beware.

Yet here’s the absolute beauty of the convergence of the web and today’s politics. You can be exceptionally well informed about the candidates, their positions, their funding, their families, their quirks and foibles. You never have to actually meet a candidate. In reality, only a small percentage of voters ever did. There is merit, though, in taking in an actual campaign rally and seeing a candidate in action in a way that a YouTube clip cannot accurately convey. We’re getting plenty of opportunities to do so in the runup to South Carolina’s primaries and ought to take advantage of that. After the primaries, we’ll only see them on the tube or on the web.

Those of us who move about on the Internet, whether agilely or haltingly, tend to be enamored of its capacity. We may overlook the far larger numbers who are either unconnected or uninterested. The low and declining percentage of citizens participating in American elections is a concern that precedes the arrival of the Internet. If the newest cohort of voters, and there’s one in our family, is engaged because of the readiness of information available via new media, I’m all for it. Go Pod Squad!

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Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to www.schotline.com.

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