Column: Blogging the 2010 elections

Published on May 5, 2009

Second-class nation. The decision by the giant GMA network and long-time blocktimer Solar Sports to delay the telecast of Manny Pacquiao’s Las Vegas fights to accommodate innumerable ads is creating a second class of TV viewers: those who cannot afford to watch pay-per-view TV or do not wish or know how to follow a boxing match on AM radio. Think about it: several million Filipinos saw or heard Ricky Hatton fall a third and final time just before noon last Sunday. The rest of the nation saw the perfectly leveraged left hook which knocked Hatton out even before he hit the canvas when it was already almost three in the afternoon.

I’ve read a statement from GMA, placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of Solar Sports. While it is true that Solar earns through the advertising, GMA cannot be entirely blameless; it sets the rate which Solar must pay.

Pacquiao’s many fans deserve to watch his fights live. Solar can make it happen by dramatically raising its ad rates and drastically reducing the number of advertisers. A company that picks up the entire tab—a San Miguel, say, or a PLDT, ponying up about as much as it does for an Olympic sponsorship—will reap a nation’s gratitude.* * *

A friend was tempted to turn Pacquiao’s demolition of Hatton, which was obsessively documented and discussed in the various social networks that now connect and color our discrete lives, into a metaphor for another knockout: “new media’s” victory over “old media.”

I cannot accept this reading, in part because so-called old media, especially radio and cable TV, worked well enough. (DzBB did a yeoman’s job.) It is true that the news of the knockout (strictly speaking, it was a technical knockout, because referee Ken Bayless stopped the fight as soon as Hatton fell, with one second left in the second round) flashed through the social networks instantly. (I liked one friend’s witty status update on Facebook, which riffed on Pacquiao’s self-deprecatingly twangy Vitwater ad: “Bitin, you know.”)

But just like the Twitter smackdown between Ashton Kutcher and CNN, I don’t see the Pacquiao-Hatton fight as a test case of new media’s prowess—not when old media was so much a part of (telling) the story.

* * *

I regret to say illness made me miss last week’s National Press Forum. I had been tasked to talk on the use of blogs for election coverage. An exciting topic, and inexhaustible. I have written up a small part of my presentation, which was meant to stimulate discussion on what news organizations ought to do, into what passes for prose:

“Blogging the ballot” is code for the use of “new media” in election coverage. In other words, I take “blogging” in the context of the forum to mean, not just blogs, but micro-blogging services like Twitter and social networks like MySpace, as well as relatively old new media like texting.

The wild success of the digital side of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign immediately gives media a sense of possibility: imagine, six million “friends” on Facebook! (Go ahead, Google “Obama on Facebook.”) At the same time, it imposes a sense of limits. The possibilities are open, not only to journalists and engaged citizens, but to politicians and PR practitioners too.

Hence, the basic principle I propose. News organizations must vet election blogs (and again I hasten to add that, for our purposes, this bland word covers a wide range of digital activities, including Plurk updates and Google maps). Before you cut off my head, allow me to explain. I emphatically do not mean that politically active citizens must first seek permission from news orgs before posting election blogs; I certainly do not mean that citizens’ election blogs need the imprimatur of news orgs to be considered valid or legitimate. I only mean that, if news organizations are to do their job now and in 2010, they must regularly scan the environment, measure the election blogs for consistency and reliability—and then spread the word, online and off. This kind of service will help a news org’s audience make better sense of the information available online. (Nothing prevents news orgs from sponsoring their own blogs, of course, whether these are kept by in-house journalists or outside experts.)

What can blogs do? They can deepen the context.

In 2007, for instance, Nagueño blogger Willy Prilles posted this link—http://www.tinig.com/v17/v17cs.html—to an analysis of the “five major political camps” in Camarines Sur politics. The Tinig feature is the kind of local information difficult to find on a regular basis in the national media; news orgs must harness like sources to make similar stories both possible and available to a greater public. The other week, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez suggested that he was unbeatable in Iloilo politics; a good local blog should be able to help explain Gonzalez’s gumption.

Blogs can also crunch the numbers. The now-classic template for this utility is Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, which collates US political statistics and survey results—and offers readings and predictions. This kind of blog will be especially helpful with local surveys, which do not appear in national media but sometimes carry national implications.

Not least, blogs can monitor the count, once it is underway. Ideally, a nationwide news organization in 2010 should be able to rely on a corps of election correspondents who will cover local elections by blogging, posting updates after precincts and polling centers tally the votes, flagging trouble spots, tracking the progress of the election cycle. The limits are real, but the possibilities are endless.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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