Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sherrod, Wikileaks, and a New Kind of Hill Staffer: The Unpredictable Future of Media

How's this for a sign of the times: an unspecified Republican U.S. Senate office has posted a vacancy for "New Media Director." Usually new/online media falls under the purview of the press staff, but, as far as I know, this is the first explicitly-purposed staff position for new and social networking in a Capitol Hill office. I welcome your comments and insight on this trend.

In other media-related news, the Pew Research Center has compiled a chronological play-by-play of media events during last week's Shirley Sherrod scandal. Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department staffer, found herself under ferocious media scrutiny after having been shown on video allegedly admitting that she denied Ag Dept services to a white farmer because of his race. Her words were posted in a misleading edited video on the biggovernment.com website. Investigations eventually
discovered the clip to be a hoax, with a later story suggesting an excerpt taken wildly out of context and edited so as to deliberately mislead news followers. Sherrod was fired, exonerated and re-hired elsewhere in approximately 48 hours.

The event sparked a furious storm of coverage over the facts and, later, a more calm national reflection on the power and speed at which internet-based reporting has shown itself able to derail the more staid world of Washington power politics.

What's most interesting about this ordeal is the gut-jarring impact that the blogosphere has had on Washington's policy circles. The sheer speed at which Sherrod was condemned and then cleared stands as a poignant example of how bloggers and media can harness the speed and vitality of independent blogs and forums -- and the mushroom effect that these can spark once a story (or scandal) hits TV and print outlets. Its repercussions are sure to be felt and discussed well after the dust of the Sherrod story has settled.

Add this to the ongoing Wikileaks controversy -- over highly sensitive US military documents on the war in Afghanistan leaked online -- and you get a foundation-shaking debate on the very "future of journalism." To say nothing of the growing partisanship of, in particular, major TV networks -- whether or not race is involved.

On the transatlantic side of things, the Sherrod affair has taken a backseat to most other European stories. Check out this coverage anyway from France and Switzerland, both in French. The Economist puts things back into big-picture perspective, dubbing the row a US-specific "family affair" with slim potential for greater ripples across the Pond.

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