3.4: Federalism in the Information Age
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- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the media in covering federalism?
- How are some public officials in the federal system able to use the media to advance their political agendas?
- What effects could the new media have on people’s knowledge of and commitment to federalism?
National News Outlets
Local News Outlets
From National to Local
From Local to National
State News and State Politics
New Media and Federalism
- How do the perspectives of the national and local media differ? Why is there relatively little coverage of state politics in the national and local media?
- Do you get any of your news from new media? How does such news differ from the news you get from the traditional media?
As Hamilton predicted in Federalist No. 28, if the people are frustrated at one level of government, they can make their voice heard and win policy battles at another. Federalism looks like a daunting obstacle course, yet it opens up a vast array of opportunities for political action.
Michael Barker did not set out to push the Louisiana state legislature for a new law. In 2003, Barker, a seventeen-year-old high school junior from the town of Jena, had wondered if his school district might save money on computer equipment by making smarter purchases. He sent four letters to the LaSalle Parish School Board requesting information about computer expenditures. He was rebuffed by the superintendent of schools, who notified him that a state law allowed public officials to deny requests for public records from anyone under the age of eighteen.
Barker did not understand why minors—including student journalists—had no right to access public information. Stymied locally, he aimed at the state government. He conducted an Internet search and discovered a statewide nonprofit organization, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), that promotes public access. Barker contacted PAR, which helped him develop a strategy to research the issue thoroughly and contact Jena’s state representative, Democrat Thomas Wright. Wright agreed to introduce House Bill 492 to strike the “age of majority” provision from the books. Barker testified in the state capital of Baton Rouge at legislative hearings on behalf of the bill, saying, “Our education system strives daily to improve upon people’s involvement in the democratic process. This bill would allow young people all over the state of Louisiana to be involved with the day-to-day operations of our state government.”
But Barker’s crusade had just begun. A state senator who had a personal beef with Representative Wright tried to block passage of the bill. Barker contacted a newspaper reporter who wrote a story about the controversy. The ensuing media spotlight caused the opposition to back down. After the bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Kathleen Blanco, Barker set up a website to share his experiences and to provide advice to young people who want to influence government.