Reporting On The Shutdown, One Facebook Post At A Time

By Marilyn Geewax

October 1, 2013

Shutting down the government is nothing new; Congress did it 18 years ago, suspending federal operations for three weeks.

History suggests Americans will accept the inconvenience for the duration, and Congress eventually will find a compromise.

But what if history is bunk? What if what we think we know about government shutdowns doesn't apply to this one?

The current shutdown is very different from the Clinton-era event in two important ways.

First, this government disruption stems from a profound policy disagreement: Some conservatives want to defund or delay the nation's new health care law and Democrats object. In 1995, the shutdown was tied to a simple disagreement over dollar amounts — an easier problem to solve if you are trying to meet in the middle.

And second, back in 1995, the story of the shutdown was being told by traditional media outlets. TV news shows, newspapers and magazines sent reporters out to cover the shutdown's impact. The outlets reported whatever could be learned from the reporters they could afford to pay.

But this time, the story is being covered for free by millions of Americans posting photos and comments online. On Facebook pages, people are sharing photos of themselves being turned away from national parks and walking away from empty federal offices.

Parents are using social media to fret about their college-age children getting thrown out of federal internships. Eighth-graders are using texts and Twitter to discuss the cancellation of class trips to Washington.

No government shutdown has ever been covered directly by the people, for the people. In such a radically different media environment, how will this story play out? Will the winners and losers turn out to be quite different from those whom the political experts now expect?

Is history any guide at all when the people writing that history are doing it on smartphones?

Below are just a few of the reports Tell Me More got Tuesday from average Americans. The stories people are telling each other may reshape our political debates in ways yet unimagined.

Here are their voices:

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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