Mainstream media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign so far has been mostly cynical and vacuous. Nine out of ten campaign stories ignore policy and focus instead on electoral tactics and the horse race, according a recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. It is disturbing to consider that most voters learn about candidates either from this shallow coverage or from nationally televised debates. (The first presidential debate of 2004 drew 63 million viewers.)
Yet now the netroots–that amorphous collection of bloggers, political operatives and web activists–is trying to transcend politics as usual by pushing candidates and reporters to focus on the issues.
At the second annual YearlyKos Convention in Chicago the first week of August, web activists plan to explore new ways to communicate voter concerns to Democratic presidential candidates. The convention’s Presidential Leadership Forum–the first candidate gathering for the netroots–seeks to provide an alternative to mainstream media’s “gotcha” questions and horse-race coverage. Instead, the plan calls for a thoughtful, inclusive discussion that draws its topics and questions from citizens and activists, voters and nonvoters. Forum moderators will be Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine and Joan McCarter of Daily Kos; blogger and NYU professor Jeffrey Feldman will ask questions submitted by the public. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd have all confirmed that they will participate in the two-hour discussion, which will be followed by separate, unstructured meetings with activists attending the convention. The process is designed to spark a thoughtful national discussion that results in a more reflective, substantive and participatory candidate forum.
You can begin the conversation now by suggesting questions, issues, ideas and criticism via this short web form. Bloggers writing original entries are asked to use the tag YKForum07. People interested in launching viral campaigns may float their issues to the top of the forum agenda by posting on blogs or encouraging friends on social networking sites to submit similar questions or topics.
We are serving on an all-volunteer advisory committee of bloggers, grassroots activists and a few former presidential candidates. Members of the committee are now reaching out to voters and activists to discuss ideas and issues that the forum should consider. (More on that below.)
The candidates, who often talk about participating in “national conversations,” are now invited to actually have one. We think politicians who eagerly embrace the online discussions in the days leading up to the convention, such as responding to questions and suggesting topics, will enrich the dialogue and enhance their own credibility as leaders who respect the Internet’s participatory culture.