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

newspapers: decline and influence « Previous | |Next »
June 23, 2011

Roy Greenslade has a good summary of the commercial woes that the newspaper industry is confronting at present due to the emergence of the internet. Given this decline we can ask does this mean that they will lose their political influence? The mainstream media certainly have lost their credibility amongst the digital publics.

On the print media's commercial woes Greenslade says:

Amid the worst economic downturn in recent history, advertising revenue is drying up. Classified advertising, once the bedrock for local weeklies, has largely migrated to internet sites that provide a free service...Meanwhile, the slow, relentless decline in circulations continues quarter upon quarter. That has had two effects: it has reduced income and it has decreased the likelihood of attracting advertisers or, at least, any that are willing to pay anything but a heavily discounted price for space.e result has been a whole range of cutbacks by companies desperate to save themselves from ruin in the hope of an eventual change of economic fortunes. Company pensions have all but vanished. Staffing has been pared back. Outsourcing has become familiar. Small offices are being closed in favour of larger, centralised "hubs".

As we have seen in a previous post The Guardian's response to this state of affairs has been to take the digital option. That major transformation involves building an audience and a secure advertising base, and it means developing skills in digital development as opposed to journalism.

The media constitute an important power in their own right and they are also intimately connected to other kinds of power, whether political, economic or social and in a liberal democracy the ability to shape public opinion is fundamental to power.

On the political influence of the media Greenslade says:

The material that appears most often in the main current affairs programmes on TV and radio, plus radio phone-in shows, is almost always based on follow-ups to stories in the national press. In such a way, papers still command the nation's central political narrative.This activity is hugely influential in the periods between elections, and much more important than the immediate pre-election calls for people to vote one way or another.The newspapers' daily drip-drip-drip of stories and commentaries - whether positive or negative - do influence the electorate, including those people who never read the papers. The repetition, and the influence over other media, are the key to creating a broad consensus.

If the slant of a newspaper comes from its audience (eg., The Australian is situated in the right of the centre in the marketplace) and it is the TV platform for news delivery which consumers now rely on most, then how much TV news is influenced by the national newspapers? Do they do what Greenslade says follow the agenda of The Australian?

A starting point here is that what we have are the talking heads on the various programs of the 24-hour news channels. As Malcolm Farnsworth points out in this media world the same faces dominate and their opinions are duplicated within and beyond their networks and organisations:

Whereas subscription television and new digital channels could be providing great diversity of programming, for the most part we get cheaply produced and predictable panel discussions with a movable but narrow cast of characters. Instead of providing platforms for divergent views and new voices, we mainly get journalists talking to journalists, lobbyists and pollsters touting their wares, and formats designed to encourage politicians to shout at each other...this week's nonsense coverage of The Anniversary serves to highlight how the plethora of programs devoted to news and politics generally remain stuck in a stultifyingly narrow frame of mind, dedicated more to covering politics as entertainment, eschewing depth for the day-to-day Punch and Judy show.

It is a very insular world--one big feedback loop in which the politicians and the media essentially fed mythology to themselves and to each other. The content inside the feedback loop has very little connection to thge everyday world in which citizens live.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:02 AM |