New media has knocked on the doors of the White House and the rest of the U.S. government twice in the last week or so, but it looks like no one is answering (so to speak).
First, a partial two minute 45 second video of USDA political appointee Shirley Sherrod giving an NAACP speech was posted by influential blogger (Who some people in the media still claimed not to know? Please. He's like the new Howard Stern.) Andrew Breitbart, which led to a knee-jerk reaction to it, and her subsequent firing. No need to rehash precisely what the video content was. But post-firing, the entire video came out, and as it turns out she was saying precisely the opposite of what the edited video made it seem like she was saying… because it was out of content.
Breitbart is blamed.
Second, the "whistle-blower" site called WikiLeaks has posted what it claims are tens of thousands of authentic Afghanistan war documents. White House national security advisor James Jones "strongly condems" this action and complains that the website did not make efforts to contact the government before posting.
WikiLeaks is blamed.
These examples are not necessarily highly unique, but they are recent and back to back. What's common between them is that (1) someone published information, (2) everyone affected is surprised, (3) the publisher is blamed. What's interesting is that (1) is obvious, (2) is outdated, and (3) does no good.
I don't want to call him out in case he disagrees with this, but a wise Department of Defense person commonly says that the new media environment is "not a fortress to defend, but rather a field to maneuver within." I think he is right. Yet, despite some progress towards "open government" or "government 2.0" and an increased use of and reliance on new forms of media (check out DoD's new Social Media Hub), most leaders seem to not completely grasp its impact on the world around them.
The world has changed. Everyone is a publisher and they do not adhere to journalistic standards and other quaint attitudes and rule sets and guidelines. I am not making a value judgement here about what either Breitbart nor WikiLeaks do or did; however, people in the government – not to mention every other person in the civilized world – need to come to terms with the fact that they will do it and will not stop doing it.
The real question is not how to get back at them, nor how to stop them, nor how to regulate them, nor how to control information better, nor any one of a number of other issues that seem to get debated. Those issues are largely irrelevant because they involve "defending the fortress" of information. The issues that are relevant are those that involve "maneuver within the environment" of constantly published digital information.
The true essence of "open government" is not adopting new tools, nor collaborating better, nor even providing better services to citizens. That's all important. But the true essence of open government is adopting a workplace culture that accepts the changed environment of media and adapts to it.
Getting a Twitter account, a blog, and a Facebook fan page is not the end of the race. It's the starter's pistol. It's not graduation – it's the first day of class.