Friday, June 22, 2007

Why blogging matters

Last night I posted "What does it mean to be a blogger?" in response to a piece by Jerid of Buckeye State Blog (currently blogging from New Hampshire) entitled "Don't Tell Obama You Blog". Since then, Jerid has described positive interactions with Obama's staff (see his remarks at the end of this post)

Do check out some of the comments in the "Don't tell..." post to see what some of the concerns might be about admitting bloggers to such an event. In particular, one commenter suggested that maybe the candidate wanted to have an open discussion about faith with people who didn't want their opinions broadcast across the universe? maybe they didn't want their pictures taken. maybe they didn't want to be quoted.

Yeah, I can see that. In particular, the thought of some blogger snapping an unflattering picture of me, posting it on the internet, and me not being able to do a dang thing about it. It would be nice to have some assurance that people would have the decency not to do that. Maybe someone can answer this for me--are there any rules for "real" news media with regard to getting consent before publishing someone's image and/or words?

As a blogger, I don't really consider myself to be "press", but the "real" corporate press does have something to do with why I blog, and this goes back long before I was annoyed by the slanted coverage of the Dean campaign.

I used to participate in a program called Parents as Teachers. The program's headquarters were in a building that used to be a public high school, but at that point in time housed a number of continuing education and career and job search prep programs. There was this little resource center room which was childproofed and had books for parents and age-appropriate toys for infants and toddlers. I can't tell you what a blessing it was to have such a place available to me when my kids were that age. I was feeling pretty isolated during the day at home, but the logistics of taking an infant and a toddler out *anywhere* by myself were sometimes daunting enough that they often *did* keep me home.

The program also included (if you desired) home visits from a resource person who specialized in early childhood education. About once a month, she would come by with an activity or two to show us, and would give me a few printed handouts about "what to expect" at a given age. Having taken child development courses, and having devoured plenty of parenting books, I could have gotten by just fine without the handouts. But I really appreciated the social connection, and the reality check that the things I was dealing with really *were* par for the course for a parent of small children.

And one more thing...this program, unlike a lot of programs out there, was not aimed at "high risk" families. Nor was it designed for low income families. It was just a little bit of that "village" that makes raising a child a bit easier, especially for a new parent who didn't live near family or in a neighborhood filled with other young parents that the kids and I could hang out with.

This is where the press comes into the scene. You may have wondered where I was going with all of this, but it was necessary to try to give you a flavor of what sort of program this was, and what it meant to me before moving on to the part about the media.

One day a reporter from a Columbus news station came to the resource center to do a segment on the place. It was clear pretty early on that the reporter had some preconceived notions. I later heard from the woman who did our home visits that he kept asking her questions like, "So, everybody here comes from a broken family?" No, she emphasized, again and again. Nor is everyone here financially needy, or a teenage mother, or...or...or...

It didn't do a bit of good. That evening, Demetrius and I watched our local newscast, and were treated to the image of myself playing with little Son and Daughter in Ohio, accompanied by the voice of the reporter saying something to the effect that "This center is especially important to people from broken homes, who lack good role models for parenting. " Nice.

All of this took place more than 10 years ago, and the specific details are a bit hazy at this point. But I do recall Demetrius voicing his displeasure that his wife and children were portrayed in that sort of light. My response? Well, it didn't bother me right away. I wasn't especially embarrassed or anything like that. But the more I thought about the portrayal, not of me, but of the demographic served by Parents as Teachers, the more I found it offensive. Because the message really seemed to be, "You see this place? This is a special service that is made available to the poor, sad, clueless people who would be lost--LOST, I tell you--without it."

So, on the one hand, the resource center was getting some publicity. And that could have been a good thing. Sometimes there is a resource right in your own back yard that would be a big help if only you were aware that it existed. I loved the idea of making more people aware of that program. Parenting is a job for which most of us get precious little training--people from *all* walks of life, not just "people from broken homes, who lack good role models". But I wonder how many people automatically dismissed the program as something that is only for "those" people. How many people, who *could* have found that center to be a real blessing in those early years as a first-time parent, never even considered looking into it due to way that report was "spun".

I know we can all think of more egregious and damaging examples of media bias. Certainly, the media's complicity in helping Bush sell the invasion of Iraq to the American public was one of the biggies. But more mundane examples, like the one I described above, are significant in their own way. They certainly are capable, for better or worse, of impacting the lives of ordinary people. Back then, blogging the other side of the story was not an option I had available to me. I can't tell you how grateful I am that we now have this medium at our disposal. And that, when we work together, we have the ability to "set the record straight" in ways that can make a real, positive difference for people.