News Consumption in a “Lean Forward” Environment

Patrick Hynes
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Posted: Feb 10, 2007 12:01 AM
News Consumption in a “Lean Forward” Environment

Whenever I give a speech (or get started on a rant) I explain the power of the New Media this way: Consuming news in the Old Media environment is a “lean back” experience while consuming news in the New Media environment is a “lean forward” experience. Think about the old days when your grandpa used to read the newspaper on the La-Z-Boy. His bifocals would be halfway down his nose, he’d stare at the same page for what seemed like hours and pretty soon you’d see the newspaper collapsing to his lap. And that’s when the snoring would begin.

Has anyone ever fallen asleep surfing blogs? I doubt it. That’s because news consumption in this modern era is no longer a passive activity. When we read blogs or New Media news portals like Townhall.com we are “leaning forward.” And increasingly, we are taking action on what we read.

There are two recent examples of this.

The first is "The Pledge" advocated strongly by Townhall.com’s own Hugh Hewitt. Hewitt and others asked conservative cyber activists to pledge the following:

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

Almost 33,000 people signed “The Pledge” in short order. There probably are no millionaire fat cats from K-Street on the list of pledge signers, so the NRSC would no doubt still have plenty of money to fund their campaigns. But depriving the GOP of financial resources was almost beside the point of this exercise (though 30,000 contributions at fifty bucks a pop yields a million-and-a-half dollars; not a shabby payday for doing the right thing). The real goal was symbolically to pull fence-sitting Republicans in the Senate toward supporting President Bush’s plan for victory in Iraq.

Beyond the sheer number of signatories, was “The Pledge” campaign a success? It’s difficult to determine why senators do what they do, but Hewitt is satisfied with the result (so far).

The second example of activist news consumption involves the dustup surrounding former-Sen. John Edwards’ hiring of two women to blog officially for his campaign. It seems these two women have a history of writing edgy stuff on their blogs. Some of their stuff was so edgy that Catholic League head William Donohue lashed out at Edwards because he believes the women’s writings to be anti-Catholic.

That’s pretty much when all heck broke loose.

I must confess I paid very little attention to the controversy until, well, until I got dragged into it. And dragged into it I was. In an apparent attempt to create a morally equivalent scenario, blogger and author Glenn Greenwald ran a post on his blog essentially saying I’m just as bad as the two Edwards bloggers (which, by the way, he doesn’t think are bad at all; figure that one out). Soon Media Matters, the leftwing media watchdog group, piled on and before long almost two thousand left-of-center activists had e-mailed a form letter to the producers of the Old Media to say, basically, that I am a horrible person.

I was an ironic target because, as I said, I never even followed the Edwards bloggers controversy, let alone write about it. Moreover, my most recent posts about John Edwards on my blog have been flattering to his campaign efforts and progress. And when Glenn Greenwald was under fire for his alleged “sock puppet” scandal not long ago, I stayed completely away from it all.

Nevertheless, the campaign was a success. Three reporters called me to discuss the Edwards-isn’t-going-to-fire-his-bloggers story. Of course, I politely told these journalists I have no comment on the whole thing and am not really all that interested in it, but as one reporter told me, they needed to call me because I had “been dragged into it.” The general consensus among my right-of-center blog colleagues, however, is that the comparison was inapt. (Disclosure: I have, and will continue, I’m sure, to say dumb things on occasion)

These progressive activists, like the conservative activists who signed “The Pledge” were certainly “leaning forward” at their computers rather than “leaning back” and reading their newspapers. And while I was a victim of some of this “lean forward” activism (and an unfair one, I feel), I think the phenomenon itself is great for democracy.