There's an increasing sense today that many of our most powerful institutions have become disconnected from the ordinary citizens they are supposed to represent. From questions about the accuracy and bias of the media to concerns over accountability of elected officials and government policy, there is a lack of communication and understanding between these organizations and the people who grant them their power.
Despite these concerns, it seems that the personal publishing phenomenon is having a positive impact on these strained connections. We try to stay away from the more outrageous hyperbole about weblogs being "revolutionary," but the overall trend towards expressiveness and immediacy on the web has already had a noticeable effect.
For example, the Dallas Morning News editorial weblog gives an almost unprecedented public insight into the workings of a well-known daily newspaper. On the site, the board members who shape the opinions reflected on the newspaper's editorial page expose the process and reasoning behind their arguments in a unique new way that simply wouldn't be practical in print. Though it's still clearly a first tentative effort at an unusual new type of openness, being able to see behind the scenes as a publication's identity and voice are shaped is a striking opportunity for readers to be involved in their local newspaper.
Similarly, various outlets ranging from the Boston Globe to Time have commented on the ways ordinary people, organized through tools like Meetup and expressing themselves through weblogs, have already had a significant effect on the upcoming Presidential election here in the United States. Prominent candidates are already actively involved in communicating through weblogs, with more candidates set to join them soon from all over the political spectrum. But more importantly, average voters, even some formerly apathetic citizens, are getting the chance to write their own weblog posts or leave comments on candidate sites and have their thoughts read by the people whom they could potentially put into office.
Will it be a radical change? It's hard to say, and politics and media are two notoriously change-resistant institutions. But there are already signs that some progress, however small, is being made in getting ordinary people engaged again in the systems that influence so much of their lives. And that can only be considered a positive trend.