You don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars to document a story that makes a difference. What you need are:
— A willingness to expend some shoe leather
— Inexpensive videocameras like those flooding the market these days, and
— The understanding of how new media has busted the oligopoly of traditional media once known as gatekeepers.
James O’Keefe, Christian Hartsock and Bill Whittle delivered that message to conservatives Saturday morning at the Eagle Forum San Diego Convention. Their overall message is that today you don’t need to wait for the mainstream media to cover the stories you’d like them to cover. Armed with the unlimited reach and publishing power of the Internet and ubiquitous digital videocams, average conservatives can become their own citizen journalists.
(Video of their workshop is farther down in the text, in the middle of my post. But first, a summary of what I got out of it).
O’Keefe said he admired the strategy and tactics of Saul Alinsky, if not the goals of the uber-community organizer.
That strategy stresses looking for “pressure points” that when hit, can’t be ignored, that force a reaction.
“There’s a teacher in New Jersey using the N-word — there has to be a reaction,” O’Keefe said, referring to a sting that even left-leaning sites like Talking Points Memo couldn’t ignore.
“And the other thing is going after the media itself, investigating the media itself, exposing the media itself,” O’Keefe said. “Not only indirectly, we’ve done it directly. And that really scares the establishment. The reason why the NPR story was so big was first of all, because the media is vain. They like to cover themselves . . . We’re going to make a point to investigate the media – guarantee it. You know how they show ‘To Catch a Predator’ to catch a predator? I want a show called ‘To Catch a Journalist.’ ”
One of the most important concepts is to hold your opponents to the same standards they profess to hold themselves. O’Keefe did this in college at Rutgers when he agitated to ban Lucky Charms from campus because the cereal perpetuated racist stereotypes toward the Irish. As a son of the Ould Sod, O’Keefe used his name and the logic of the politically correct left against them.
The beauty of the ploy, said O’Keefe, is that the left had to take his contrived argument seriously. If they rejected it as a prank, the left would have implicitly undermined their own arguments.
In addition, if you’re going to engage in activism, make the activity something people enjoy, not a chore. You’ll get more involvement that way.
And keep in mind that video is far more powerful than words. Why was it that the mass murders and genocide of the Nazis are far more vilified than the even more numerous mass murders of communists from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China?
The answer, Whittle said, is that we have pictures and videos of Nazi atrocities. The communist regimes didn’t leave behind this sort of evidence. Photos and especially video grab the viewer’s attention in a way that thousands of words can’t. Actually watching an ACORN staffer suggest ways to hide money from prostitution is far harder to refute than words to that effect. The same with leftist protesters in Wisconsin suggesting appropriate punishments for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once he’s removed from office:
“You can say the left is biased and racist and all that other stuff; nobody believes you, nobody cares,” “Whittle said. “But when you have leftist union members at a rally calling for the lynching of Clarence Thomas; . . . there’s no way to get around that,” Whittle said.
I’d add that the principle is closely related to the rise of television, which supplanted newspapers as America’s main source of news. But now newspapers and even individuals can do their own videos, of increasingly high quality.
O’Keefe also praised the Alinsky tactic of releasing damaging information a little at a time, so the target is likely to be caught in a sequence of lies.
“If not for that tactic, the truth about Congressman Weiner would never have gotten out,” O’Keefe said.
And now for the videos, which are hosted on YouTube. The links, please:
These high-def videos were taken on a $200 Canon PowerShot SX130IS I bought a few weeks ago. If you want to buy one, please click the link to go to Amazon.com. Your purchase through the link will benefit that most excellent blogger (and friend of Andrew Breitbart & Co.), Patterico.
And even in my unskillful hands, I was able to produce usable video. As I learn more, I’ll be able to do even better. A decade ago, comparable equipment would have cost thousands of dollars. Two decades ago, such equipment would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — if it were available at all.
Legacy media clueless
Although the three were telling conservative activists how to become their own media, as a member of the old media I thought what they said applied to us. We in the MSM can learn from them, if only we’d listen. Politics aside, they’re much more clued in than the MSM in how to efficiently use blogs, YouTube videos and the Army of Davids to pry open stories nobody else wants to touch.
We in the MSM could also produce more powerful stories that would resonate with the public for next to nothing — if we could only embrace new media in all its potentialities instead of trying to fit it into the Procrustean bed of traditional media.
Although technology has advanced immensely in the last two decades, the mentality of newspaper editors and companies has changed much less. New media is still just adopted around the edges, and is not part of the core function of the average journalist. That creates an enormous void that can be exploited by news organizations who are savvy enough to remove the bureaucratic obstacles from high-ranking executives still vested in the ancien regime.
Legacy journalists just don’t seem to get O’Keefe’s message. I give you as evidence a post at the Poynter Institute, an outlet of old media that is trying to teach new media. A post by Steve Myers, supposedly a maven of new media for Poynter, completely misunderstands the point of O’Keefe’s ACORN sting.
“What about the most outrageous element of those ACORN videos: the pimp costume?” Myers writes in a remarkably ignorant statement. The pimp costume, which O’Keefe wore for comic effect in interviews about the sting, but not during the ACORN videos themselves, was just that. It was a prop to emphasize how ridiculous ACORN’s action was.
The most outrageous element was the readiness of ACORN staffers to help cover up prostitution, even when it involved underaged illegal aliens smuggled into the United States to be sex slaves. That Myers can’t spot what’s truly outrageous is all too typical of the shallowness of legacy media, even when backed by an allegedly insightful journalistic think tank like Poynter.
Another example of Myers’ lack of insight was his naive acceptance of a press release from then-Attorney General Jerry Brown decrying O’Keefe’s investigation as an example of partisanship:
“At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O’Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp.”
Oh, yes he did, and the proof is in the quoted statement: The definition of pimps is that they live off the proceeds from prostitution. And Myers didn’t even mention Brown’s party affiliation as a Democrat. So much for the Poynter Institute as a guide to new media. At least Poynter blogger Jim Romenesko is savvy enough to detect the deadly gobbledegook of useless consultants. Does anyone know what “We need better content management tools that are focused on supporting distributed, nonlinear collections of story modules” means?
So even the media types on the left who don’t like O’Keefe’s tactics would profit by studying how they use new media. He, Hartsock and Whittle can teach reporters far more about how to do more with less than any number of stuffy journalism professors or media think tank gurus, who instead of practical lessons in plain English, provide contentless conventional wisdom and gaseous bureaucratese worthy of Dogbert.
DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times.