The role of cell phone text messaging in state legislative advocacy

The use of cellphone text messaging (aka SMS, for short messsage service) in activism contexts has already been well documented by Howard Rheingold, among many others. But most of the celebrated examples have been drawn from the contexts of international national-elections and associated mass protests: the recent elections in Spain, the Phillippines, Korea, etc. A recent AP story noted that newspaper editors are starting to feel threatened by the ability of text messaging to provide instant news, opinion, and rumors far faster than traditional print & television media.

I’ve been thinking a bit about how this technology could best be applied in the context of Northwest environmental activism. Of course there’s the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, but was really an international-scale protest event, rather than a local/regional-scale environmental campaign.

The challenge is that most Northwest environmental issues are neither top-of-mind, a source of mass public outrage or particularly fast-moving. I’m also wondering how cell-phone text messaging could be most effectively used outside of a protest-organizing context. How can it be more of a news & information service?

One thing I’m thinking is that it might be worthwhile to set up an instant messaging network to connect environmental lobbyists in Olympia with each other and with their colleagues back in the main offices in Seattle and elsewhere. While this is not a very “public-facing” kind of application, I think it may be very high-value. Why? Well, critical moments in legislation often happen very quickly, and require quick coordination among a bunch of busy people who are often hard to reach. These people already carry cell phones, but it’s often not practical to provide quick information updates via conversation.

What I imagine is the text-message equivalent of an email listserv… where lobbyists can instantly post quick updates on conversations, deals, etc. to their collleagues. A way to improve our “operational intelligence” if you will. Also, this will help the lobbyists improve communication with their more distant collegauges — Executive Directors, Communications Directors and Field Organizers — back in Seattle and elsewhere.

A service like this would be easy to get going — nearly all of the principles already have cellphones — although some might require upgrades to SMS-capable phones. The only other piece would be to establish a centralized list to manage the updates.

Matching the Scenery

Matching the Scenery: Journalism’s Duty to the American West is an intriguing study from the Wallace Stegner Initiative at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources in Missoula, MT. Written by journalists, for journalists, it paints the broad picture of how western newspapers are failing in their duty to help their readers understand growth, development and the environment, and lays out some recommendations for how they could do better.

Here are their chapter intros:

1 Journalism’s Duty
Daily newspapers in the North American West have an obligation to explain the large-scale changes in population, economy and environment that are transforming the character of the region and its communities.

2 The Tumultuous West
The transformation under way throughout the North American West is unmatched in pace, intensity and sheer magnitude. Keeping up with this phenomenon has become a serious challenge for the West’s daily newspapers.

3 Inadequate Resources
A large majority of Western dailies need to commit greater resources to gathering news about growth, development and the environment.

4 Valuable Veterans
Competent veteran reporters have the skills, experience, news judgment and sources to cover environment issues effectively. Yet at many dailies in the West, high rates of turnover on the beat are accepted as unavoidable.

5 Stale Formulas
Reporters and editors who shape environment news coverage of the vast majority of Western dailies rely too heavily on stale, predictable formulas of storytelling that usually shed more heat than light.

6 Reporting and Bias
A journalist’s personal attitudes should never distort coverage, but neither should readers mistake a reporter’s honest, independent judgment for bias.

7 Profits and Paychecks
Corporate-chain owners of Western newspapers insist on high profit margins. For meeting financial targets, publishers and their corporate bosses reap handsome rewards, but often at the expense of the quality of coverage.

8 Leaving the Family
Corporate chains have bought more than 100 of the West’s 285 dailies since 1994, leaving about 30 still owned by families or independents.

9 Understanding Geographies
At most daily newspapers in the West, coverage of growth, development and the environment should be grounded in deeper understanding of natural traits and conditions of the places that these papers are supposed to serve.

10 Choices for Newsrooms
Daily newspapers in the North American West have the freedom to choose how to allocate people, time, space and other resources to coverage of growth, development and the environment. At most Western dailies, reallocating these resources could result in better coverage.

A well-deserved victory for BC forests

As the people of BC suffer through one of the worst fire seasons on record, we get the good news of a major victory for the forests of BC. The Liberal govern ment of BC has dropped its “Working Forests” proposal that could have opened op ened nearly half of BC’s forests to industrial logging on an unprecdented scale.

The good folks at Western Canada Wilderness Committee provide the skinny:

Under the previous Working Forest proposal (BC Governments Working Forest Discussion Paper, Jan. 2003), the government would have:

  • Rescinded the Provincial Forest. This would have eliminated the Ministry of Forests from most decisions regarding Crown land sell-offs to private real estate developers (ie. streamlined the sell-off of public lands), and also nullified the legislative barrier in the Forest Act which forbids the sale of Crown lands for forestry purposes.

  • Established a Cabinet order in council which would legally designate the Working Forest in the place of the Provincial Forest. This order in council would define the purpose of the Working Forest as to provide landbase certainty for the forestry sector and ensure all landuse decisions included economic assessments of the highest and best use of the land (a proposition that could undermine endangered species and water quality protection in many parts of the province).

  • Establish guaranteed logging zones, known as Timber Targets, through Cabinet orders in councils.

Under the current plan:

  • The Provincial Forest will remain.

  • There will be no Working Forest order in council. ie. it will not have any legal implementation.

  • Timber Targets that arise from regional land-use plans will remain policy. There are no current plans to make them legally-binding through Cabinet orders in councils, although the government reserves the right to implement the Timber Targets in the future.

A couple of thoughts:

1) Like so many “victories” these days, this is a win on defense. But still w orthy of celebrating.

2) The BC Liberals give “liberalism” a bad name. They’re neither liberal, nor p rogressive.

3) Western Canada Wilderness Committee is doing a nice job of publishing news s tories instead of press releases. In fact, most of the lead content on their s ite now consists of bylined news stories, presented in blog-like format.

Environment in the Democratic platform

Even though the Democratic Party platform is pretty much a meaningless formalit y, Amanda Griscom of Grist offer s some insightful analysis about the environment’s role in the platform — and in the just-finished convention.

My favorite bit: Amanda’s neat debunking of William Safire’s claim that the environment got short s hrift in the platform, because the platform doesn’t mention “global warming.”
It’s true — the platform doesn’t talk about global warming — it talks about “climate change.” Apparently Safire doesn’t realize that they’re synonyms — and that environmentalists tend to prefer the latter in any case.

PS… and speaking of the role of energy issues in the political process… som ebody tell the Apollo Alliance folks to updat e their website — the latest “news” is dated April 29th.

Oregonians win DNC video contest

Blue Oregon reports that Oregonians Jefferson Smith and Adam Klugman have won a DNC ad contest. Their ad, America’s Party, is well worth a quick peek. Hopefully it will be on TV screens across the nation soon.

Another post at BlueOregon has some interesting discussion on the ad’s tagline “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” My $0.02 — I think it’s a great framing that “the opposition” ( not “the Right” anymore!) will have a hard time countering.

Poetry in Wartime

The words of the poets used to distill the emotional essence of war. A viscera l film experience: eloquent poetry, a cascade of images, painful and moving sto ries, an extraordinary soundtrack. An exploration of the perverse attraction an d terrible reality of war, the lasting personal and collective damage done by w ar, and how we might imagine and create a world less prone to war.

Poetry in Wartime is a documentary film that “looks a t war through images and the words of poets.” It also happens to be produced b y two friends of mine, Andrew Himes and Jonathan King.

The film will be released in late September, and previewed in libraries across the nation on September 11. They could use your help to get in into as many libraries as possible.

The film team is working in partnership with Voices in Wartime, an online commu nity where you can publish your own writing and images about war and peace.

What is blogging?

Professional journalist-and-blogger Matthew Yglesias offers a few nice observations

about the what blogging is, and who bloggers are. I think it offers conside rable insight into the future of activists-as-bloggers, and more importantly, a n argument for why activists should write blogs.

At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text (and, to som e extent, images) and a set of computer programs that make it easy to present t ext in that way. It’s not a method of doing things. The result, I think, is tha t the phenomenon of the “blogger” has no real future, though the phenomenon of the blog does. At the end of the day, Brad DeLong is an economist, Lawrence Sol um is a legal theorist, I’m a commentator, Jeralyn is a criminal justice expert , Laura Rozen is a national security reporter, etc. These are trades — areas o f competence, whatever — that we can all ply in a variety of media, print, web articles, blogs, academic papers (where appropriate), live or taped radio or t elevision interviews, etc. None of us are “bloggers” except in the sense that w e all write weblogs. But we also talk about this stuff to people and that doesn ‘t make us “talkers,” it’s a thing you do not a thing you are and, increasingly , it will be done by more-or-less the exact same group of people who are produc ing text in other formats.