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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

media changes « Previous | |Next »
June 25, 2006

There is a good article on the current relationship between the mass media and blogs by Jonah Goldberg over at the LA Times. He puts the shrillness of boisterous and partisan blogs into a media context. He says:

For various reasons, the post-World War II generation was unusually trusting of big institutions and elites. It grew up with the first real national media outlets. Following on the heels of radio, TV further united the nation... A handful of media outlets... dictated the terms of the national conversation. This was the era of the "vital center," when the establishment was marked by an astounding level of consensus
He say that this kind of consensus was a historical one. Today we see this consensus breaking down on free-to air television. It is conceivable that within five years free-to-air TV's share will have dropped to 50 per cent of the total market, due to technological change but the long held, deep-seated resentment felt by many viewers about poor programming.

Things were also otherwise before 1945. Goldberg says that if you go back to the nineteenth century we find partisan conflict. Refeering to the US Goldberg says:

In the 19th century, newspapers played a different role from the one we think they're "supposed" to play. Newspapers contributed a sense of community to the boisterous new cities and towns popping up across the country. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the young American democracy thrived on competing "associations" between like-minded citizens. But because these people could never all physically meet, newspapers were essential to American democracy because "newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers."

And the next step:
American newspapers were never as unapologetically and uniformly partisan as European ones were (and still are), but they were still mostly creatures of specific political biases. There were Republican and Democratic newspapers, populist and communist newspapers, union and anti-union newspapers. These publications served as vehicles for partisan education and crusading personalities, in much the same way leading blogs do today.

Goldberg's argument is that blogs currently express this partisan conflict on the edges of the mass media consensus:
Take another look at the most flagrantly partisan websites today: the liberal Daily Kos and its conservative doppelganger, Red State. What you see are media outlets trying to serve the same function as newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A work in progress, they often screw up...There will always be a need for serious, professional news-gathering organizations. But there will also always be a need for the politically committed to form their own communities.

It's probably a good thing that blogs are shrill, boistrous in their partisanship.

However I'm not convinced by Goldberg's argument. Are not newspapers and TV increasingly crusading and partisan? Are there not blogs that provide serious op eds?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:00 PM | | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

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Gary,Our local papers in Perth would have to be the most bias in the country(Not that I read that many)The Sunday Times is so bias I am sure it is printed in Liberal Party H.Q.Every Sunday with out fail the editorial in the Sunday Times launches either into a love fest for the prime miniture or how the Labor Party started the bubonic plague.It is palpable.Half a page every week is dedicated to the rantings of Piers Akerman,say no more,say no more.
Is it any wonder the internet and blogs have taken off like a bondi tram,.The main stream media is scared to death by the internet,they I have no doubt are secretly(unless Im informed different) behind the push to have it censored.Of course this is not just about the plebs educating themselves with another point of veiw, this is about the loss of advertising revenue, as people are tending more to wipe their arse with a news paper rather than read it.Phill.

the liberal Daily Kos and its conservative doppelganger, Red State

They can also quickly raise non-trivial amounts of money. Which is important in US politics.

yes our newspapers are very partisan but they pretend otherwise. I presume the big tabloid shift, in which their stories work right wing memes, is a response to talk radio taking off. Hence the formation of what the Americans call the Right Wing Noise Machine.

The Murdoch conservative op ed writers--Ackerman, Bolt, Devine, Albrechtson---are quite explicit and often vitriolic in their attacks on liberalism. They do see themselves as cultural warriors fighting liberalism. They mostly appeal to their fan base.

Others turn elsewhere---I mostly read my newspapers online. It's less the media being partisan in a party political sense that is a worry, and more the ignorance on public issues shown by the journalists and their lack of concern for, indifference, to helping provide information for citizens.

The sceptical spin about global warming is a classic example of this. "Punditry" used to be based on intelligence, knowledge and reasoning. The blogs are showing that the above pundits are more party shills, than intelligent and consistent conservatives who you'd read even if you disagreed with them.

You are right though. The consensus of the mass media (newspapers and TV networks) as a whole is fragmenting as advertising moves to the internet and those left of centre turn away from reading the tabloid newspapers. You can only swallow so much.

Personal computers give us access to a vast array of streaming video, which can be watched on laptops, mobile phones and hand-held personal organisers.

The rise of podcasting is cementing the idea of storing programs and listening/watching them at a time of the individual consumer's choice.

Blogs are just one part of the shift that is happening across the media landscape, as citizens experiment with different ways to access the information they need.

The ABC should really put a lot of its energy and resources into online material that we can access and read when it is convenient for us.

Kos sure is in the firing line--presumably because of its activist stance?

Goldberg doesn't go that far really in exploring the undercurrent in the period of media transition. His article doesn't explore the growing antagonism to the liberal blogs in the mainstream US newspapers, such as the Washington Post, where David Broder, one of their columnists rejected "liberal bloggers."

Another example comes from the commentary magazines such as the New Republic. Thus Lee Siegel, the magazine's culture writer says:

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere….nightmare of populist crudity….hard fascism with a Microsoft face….fascistic forces….beyond the thuggishness, what I despise about so many blogurus, is the frivolity of their "readers."….The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.

That is anti-blog rage is it not? I have no idea what is fueling it.Is it fear of change? Does the mainstream media in the US reckon that their position is being threatened by the blogosphere? Fear of loss of influence and control, fear of losing readership/viewers which leads to loss of advertisers and revenue.This must make the media barons (publishers and corporate owners) more than a little nervous.

The antagonism surfaces every now and again in Australia's mainstream media in sniping attacks on the "blog amateurs" by the odd media professional.

Kos sure is in the firing line--presumably because of its activist stance?

In my opinion the Domenech/Armstrong scandals that are character assasinations largely mean they have come of age and are opinion makers and influencers.

They are getting taken out of politics in the same way someone seeking public office would.

I am not surprised that Broder is attacking him, as Broder is part of the old opinion makers on the op-ed page. But dailykos gets something like 520,000 views a day; weekday circulation of the WaPo is 750,000.


They are also starting to produce legislation and lobby politicians directly. The likes of Lieberman are lamenting that they are not quite sure who they are supposed to be working with anymore, and he is pining for the old ways of political organisation/lobbying/money-raising that he is used to.

It is amusing IMO, the internet is a disruptive technology and it is disrupting many of the old memes of political organisation and management.

Money and influence remain the same, but the actors and how the money is raised and the influence peddled is different.