A little less than two weeks ago, many people in the nation were stunned when the U.S. House of Representatives voted not to approve a $700 billion financial bailout package, with many congressmen saying they were carrying out their constituents' wishes.
The bailout had to be passed, a lot of observers had said. Wasn't that obvious?
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Well, I knew there were a lot of people who thought that wasn't so obvious, and it's not because I'm some sort of genius swami or more in touch with the average Joe than a six-pack of PBR.
No, I'll honestly say that insight came from watching Rick Sanchez from 3 to 4 p.m. weekdays on CNN Newsroom.
Sanchez had caught my eye a few months back when CNN was on at my desk and I noticed that Sanchez was heavily referencing posts to his Facebook and Twitter pages. The social media outlets drive a healthy percentage of Sanchez's newscast with ongoing commentary.
For those who don't live their lives online, Facebook and MySpace, which Sanchez also uses, are social media sites that allow members to relay what they are up to and engage in conversations online. Twitter is what is known as micro-blogging, allowing users to "tweet," or share bursts of thought or information in 140 characters or fewer.
On Newsroom, there are days when the social media simply provide interesting chats about what's being covered on the show, sort of like high-tech talking heads at the bottom of the screen as in Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
At other times, though, it gets quite significant, as in the days leading up to that first vote on the bailout.
"I am frankly appalled that, we, (sic) the taxpayers are not able to vote on how our money is being thrown away," a Twitter poster wrote on the Sept. 23 show.
The day before, a tweet read, "It's highly ironic that the same people that scare average Americans about evil socialized medicine are now cheering socialized capitalism."
The social media has had other interesting manifestations, including during Hurricane Ike, when Sanchez was reading Twitter posts from people at or near the center of the storm.
At times, the show has quietly let the comments roll, either putting them on a crawl at the bottom of the screen or just putting them on camera. Last Wednesday, while Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was holding a news conference, Sanchez's Twitter board was showing in a split screen as a sort of running commentary on Paulson's speech. Hint: Not everyone was happy.
Sometimes it can seem like a lot of venting, but to CNN's credit, I have yet to see the news net broadcast an unsubstantiated rumor or scurrilous accusation, and I am sure they get them. Most of the comments are, to a large extent, anonymous, with people using screen names that might not reflect their real names.
Sanchez gets a variety of opinion, which you can see if you look at his Twitter feed or discussion boards on Facebook. Thursday's show concentrated on the role of race in the election, and comments ranged from people accusing Sanchez of bringing race into the election to people praising him for discussing something that was already there.
Who knows where this format might go. Is it just exploiting a new technology that, really, you can already immerse into your life? Or will more broadcasters follow suit and immerse social media into other shows? I'm surprised that we haven't seen more of this in, say, post-debate coverage.
In a 24-hour news world, often dominated by the same ol' talking heads, Sanchez's approach is refreshing, bringing an easily accessible populist voice into the conversation. Sometimes, it even can be quite informative.