Merlyn on Media

A Week to Remember…

Two major events dominated the news this week: the pounding of the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Isaac exactly seven years after Katrina, and the Republican Convention in Tampa. Hurricanes and conventions are a regular fixture in the American landscape, but this week’s events were very different than their previous iterations… thanks to community-generated media.

In Tampa, the well-scripted Republican gathering had all the drama of drying paint. Long gone are the days of real news emanating from such events… the closest we’ve come is when Sarah Palin wowed the crowd with her ”lipstick on a pig” speech at the ’08 confab. What IS different this time around, both in Tampa and at the upcoming Democratic Convention, is that social media blows the doors off traditional media coverage. In 2008 when Twitter was still in its infancy, bloggers were sparse and tweets were few. Now, all 5,000 attendees at each convention have the opportunity to push out real-time happenings and inside stories not covered by linear television and traditional media.

And who can forget the heartbreaking events of seven years ago this month when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. I will never forget the split-screen of George Bush proclaiming “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie” while residents were clinging to their roofs as floodwaters swirled around them. Lack of specific on-the-ground information cost lives. The lessons learned from that tragedy, and the ability for people to engage with their neighbors and the government, has forever improved the community’s ability to respond to emergencies and provide real-time information.

This week’s events underscore the fact that having digital literacy skills is not just a nice thing for sharing birthday photos or tweeting about your boyfriend… it’s crucial for being a part of your community. EVERY American should be taught how these tools work… in schools, at senior centers, inside libraries… everywhere people can be engaged. Whether it’s being a part of the democratic process or surviving an emergency, social media is now fundamental to our lives. Let’s teach to young & old alike, so no one is left behind.


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Merlyn Reineke

About Merlyn Reineke

Merlyn Reineke is Executive Director of Montgomery Community Media, which provides media training and community-based content by-and-for the residents of Montgomery County.

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