[originally posted at Red, Green, and Blue on 5.30.2008] A new project sponsored by the Better World Foundation called On Day One is designed to help you do just that. Recently, I was able to ask Mark Leon Goldberg and Travis Moore a few questions about this exciting new project, as well as the Better World Foundation's UN-themed blog called UN Dispatch.
Tim Hurst: What is the Better World Foundation and how did you get involved with the organization?
Mark Leon Goldberg: I should say at the outset that I am not a spokesperson for the Better World Campaign (BWC). I am a consultant to the BWC, which is a sister organization to the United Nations Foundation. But a good description of UNF can be found here. And BWC here.
I am well qualified to speak about how I got involved with them. From 2004 to 2006 I was a writer for the American Prospect magazine, a political monthly here in DC. At the prospect, I wrote about international affairs, specifically the United Nations and other institutions like the International Criminal Court. I've been fascinated with these subjects and have followed these issues closely for a long time. As my stint at the prospect was coming to a close, the United Nations Foundation contacted me and asked if I would help them write UN Dispatch, their new blog about the United Nations and international affairs. I readily accepted.
TH: Perhaps you could explain more about what your mission is at On Day One and the UN Dispatch blog. Who is your target audience?
The target audiences of UN Dispatch and On Day One are slightly different, though there is probably much overlap. UN Dispatch was started to fill what was a void in commentary about the United Nations. In general, when blogs mentioned the UN, the commentary tended to be fairly misinformed. UN Dispatch was founded to try and correct some of the misinformation out there about the UN. Our audience tends to be drawn from the advocacy, think tank, international organization and philanthropic communities.
We are very much part of the on-going foreign policy debate that is forever raging in the political blogosphere. We tend to be slightly wonky, but strive to be accessible to a wider audience. We also aggregate global news in a daily round-up we call "Morning Coffee."
On Day One is slightly different. For a good description of On Day One's history, goals and audience I will turn this over to On Day One's leader, Travis Moore of the Better World Campaign.
Travis Moore: At a staff meeting in about June of 2007, our boss, David, announced that he had an idea for a website that would be all about generating a discussion about how best the U.S. can improve its image and work better with the world. He thought, quite prophetically, that we should call it "On Day One," because the premise of the site would be about ideas that people could submit, vote on and discuss for Day One of the presidents term. So whether that would be closing Guantanamo, upping our Defense budget, shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan or submitting Kyoto for ratification, these would be the things that someone—anyone and everyone, thought the next president should do from the get-go of their term.
After we had the concept nailed down, we spent a bit of time designing the site and conceiving of a strategy, allocating resources in-house, and then launched it a year out from Inauguration Day 2009.
In four months we've had a great response, with over 1300 ideas, 14,000 votes and 900 ideas. The ideas have come from across the map and political spectrum, from Tibet protesters to Grover Norquist, Ginger Spice to Mohammed Yunus, to the wonky think tank types that you can only find in a city like DC. In the meantime, both Mark and another one of our writers, John, have been keeping their ears to the ground about the all the foreign policy ideas floating and have put together a stellar blog within the frame of "ideas for the next president." And we feel like we've got something pretty special here—I've not seen any other site that allows users to interact and engage with each other over the international issues of the day—and we're looking for as many people to get involved as possible.
TH: For those not as conversant in the language of "agenda setting," perhaps you could explain a little more about what it is and how you hope to shape the discussion? How do you hope to use the blog project to help communicate your preferences to the next president?
TM: As we get closer to the election, the goal is to really start to get people thinking about what really are the most important items—from each of our 9 "buckets of issues"—that our 44th President should tackle right away. We'll push people to vote and discuss what they think these issues might be, and then we'll present the next president with our list, as voted on by the public, of the "top nine for '09," with the hopes that he or she will take them into consideration at the start of their term."
TH: In all of my graduate work in political science, I don't ever reading about the role of blogs in shaping the political agenda for the country - this is a completely new phenomenon. Perhaps you could comment on the growing role of social media in politics.
MLG: I think it's undeniable that blogs, or social networking applications like facebook, myspace or stumble upon are becoming important parts of the conversation here in DC and around the country. Blogs have been responsible for uncovering and advancing some major news stories. One of the original political blogs, Talking Points Memo, even won a prestigious Polk Award this year for their coverage of the attorney firing scandals. The editors at TPM were at the receiving end of a White House document dump, turned the documents over to their readers, and came out with some devastating information about how a number of US Attorneys were fired for their supposed disloyalty to the Bush administration.
Social networking sites like facebook, twitter, stumbleupon can also been co-opted to serve political and journalistic ends. News stories have broken through twitter and facebook, in what blogger Steve Clemons describes as facebook reporting. I also seem to recall reading about how an anti-FARC, human rights rally in Bogota was organized through facebook.
In general, the real power of social networking sites stems from the fact that they make it much, much easier for people with similar interests to find each other, and if so inclined, take collective action.
TH: Personally, I like one of your readers' suggestions of installing a vegetable garden at the White House. Of all the submissions to On Day One thus far, do you have a personal favorite?
MLG: I try not to endorse any specific ideas, but what was so in interesting about that particular idea is that it let us at On Day One tap into a large network known as the "Kitchen Gardeners International" which is a group of environmentally conscious foodies that promote the use of local and homegrown food. The idea you reference was even picked up by the New York Times, which ran a feature about the movement and its founder Roger Doiron. Kitchen Gardeners turns out to be a very active, and politically engaged community--precisely the kind of people we are trying to engage through On Day One
TH: As I mentioned before, I think this is a really neat project, and wish you all the best with it. Thanks to both you and Travis for all of your thoughtful answers.
MLG: Thank you, Tim. And I should say I am a fan of Red, Green and Blue and your other sites. The kinds of issues you discuss are precisely the issues we hope On Day One will help propel into the national debate as we enter the depths of this campaign season.