Back in the 1970s, when I was a student at the Ohio State University School of Journalism, there was a lot of talk about the “new journalism.” At that time, “new journalism” referred to writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson who wrote from uniquely personal perspectives and, in the case of Dr. Gonzo, was an integral actor in his articles. Their pieces were characterized by strong, colorful language, ample irony and humor, and a willingness to express their own opinions about what they were experiencing. Two of my favorite books ever — The Right Stuff and Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 — were written by these larger than life personalities.
In the past 10 days we have seen a confirmation of the extraordinary power of the newest form of “new journalism,” through the hidden camera videos exposing the rank practices and activities of ACORN employees in offices across the country. As new, ever more shocking videos are posted to websites, we have seen the Census Bureau cut its ties to ACORN and, today, the House of Representatives vote to cut off all federal funding for ACORN.
What is amazing about this story is that two young people — aged 25 and 20 — armed only with a hidden camera, an idea, and a willingness to take a few risks — have brought low a well-funded organization that was strongly supported by many politicians. Their videos were posted on a few websites and went “viral.” No established news media outlets were involved; indeed, the networks and large newspapers largely were oblivious to the story. Average Americans, however, were not oblivious. They saw the videos on the internet and were stunned by them. Their disgust was quickly communicated to their elected representatives, who did not even attempt to defend ACORN or slow efforts to strip ACORN of government funding. It is an amazing example of how, in some ways at least, the internet has changed the world.
What does it mean? It means Americans no longer are solely dependent on established members of the news media for information. It means that individuals are far more empowered than they were before the internet made it possible for an average citizen to communicate to millions of total strangers with a few strokes of a keyboard. And finally, it means that organizations like ACORN will have to be mindful the next time a self-proclaimed pimp and prostitute walk into their offices seeking aid and advice.