Thursday, September 9, 2010
Your View of Media is Constantly Changing, and it Will Get Right Back to Where it Started. Eventually.
Chances are you hate whatever your definition of "the mainstream media" is. Those chances are, oh, let's start with a baseline of 50/50 and go 10% more toward "hate" for each of the following factors:
1) You stood in line overnight to get an iPad
2) You have a blog that you update at least once weekly
3) You comment on other blogs under a non-real-name handle i.e. "Boba_Fett_53" (okay, this one's worth 20%)
4) You watch Rachel Maddow religiously
5) You watch Glenn Beck religiously
6) You think Sarah Palin is cool
7) You understand what Sarah Palin is saying when she talks about about lipstick and pit bulls (this one worth 51%).
Bottom line, we are a generation-and-a-half removed from Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post and Watergate (look it up, kids!), and the newspaper is no longer your buddy. You don't like it. It's not cool. Boxscores DO look way freakin' cooler on ESPN.com than they do in the newspaper, those comic strips are getting suckier, and you can't understand why a newsroom full of old, fat, white men are overtly concerned with city council meetings. And you can pretty much ditto this newspaper-y sentiment, if not the letter, for whatever else you consider "the mainstream media," be it ABC News, Time, or even the aforementioned ESPN (or "the dreaded four-letter," in the parlance of many). Bottom line, "the mainstream media" just ain't cool, and further, if you hit any of our seven numbered sweet spots up top, it doesn't represent you, your interests, what you care about.
Yet, your craving for news, information, opinion, rumor-mongering and whatever else is seemingly at an all-time high. You're tethered to a "smart phone" where you're checking Facebook every 12 minutes. You refuse to patronize coffee shops without WiFi. And you are right in these feelings and actions. Seriously, you are.
So chances are if you hate that damn mainstream media, and yet your jones is stronger than ever…you're turning to some sorta "alternative" media, in a blog, Facebook, whatever. Also called into question is just what constitutes "news" to YOU at this point. Is it your friend's birthday party? Sure. Good luck getting ABC News to tell you about that, but who cares? You have Facebook.
Now here's the rub: Your friend's birthday is one thing. Sarah Palin is another. And whereas you can get every ding-dang scrap of news, information, opinion, rumor-mongering and whatever else you need on your friend's birthday just fine on your own or from one of those newfangled Facebooks, it's another matter for the Formerly First Alaskan. Yes, there are 72,000 blogs with news and opinion on Ms. Palin, but most all of them STARTED with a nugget or 12 dug up and provided to you (or that blogger) on a silver platter by Your Local Daily Herald, Time, or ABC News. You know—that damn mainstream media you hate so much.
Where we're going here is that you still need some form of Dreaded Mainstream Media (that you hate) to feed Your Beloved Alternative (which you, uh…love, I guess). Why? As with all things in life, follow the money.
And it's Bill James, one of the 10 Smartest People in Our Culture, who helps light the way. James is famous for being the godfather of modern baseball statisticians, but has another passion for that which we call "true crime." He wrote a fairly recent essay about newspapers in which he noted that as printing newspapers became cost-efficient on about 1836 or so, the industry boomed. New papers popped up, and competed with each other, usually grabbing readers with salacious stories of gory crimes. And ya know what? Bereft of tradition, standards, guidance, protocol and an AP Stylebook, in James' words, "Every significant city by 1845 had dozens of little newspapers, which were much closer to blogs than to modern newspapers."
What James is saying is that it was a singular editorial voice that drove these proto-papers. They were heavy on opinion, light on double-checked facts. They tended toward social calendar-type events as well. Seriously. Check out an 1887 newspaper, and you might see an honest-to-Lou-Grant story that reads "Mr. James McLauchlin of Saint Paul and his friend Mr. Brian Zywiec of Inver Grove Heights traveled to the home of Mr. Tim Brennan of Oakdale on Tuesday night, where they enjoyed cocktails and played cribbage before ending the night's visit promptly at 10 p.m." Really. Check out an old newspaper. They printed crazy crap like this all the time.
The 2010 version of the salacious story is TMZ.com. Today's gin rickeys and cribbage is Facebook. Maybe Twitter. We are back where we started. It is 1845 again, but thankfully plumbing works and things smell better.
Again, let's separate the birthday from Sarah Palin. You need that original report, that original reporter, that cameraman, whatever, to tell you what Sarah Palin said so you can second-hand blog (not a pejorative here; just a fact) your opinion. And that costs money. Who flies to Washington to see and report on the speech? Who has that ’spensive video camera? Newspapers. ABC News. It costs money. And your dreaded mainstream media is feeding your alternative and second-hand media, essentially for free. Without a Washington Post and an ABC, most political blogs would blink outta existence for lack of fuel.
I know, I know. The hue and cry at this instant in time in your reading is "But what about the 'citizen journalist?'" Well, let's be frank: There are folks at that Palin speech with memories, iPhones, and maybe even a notebook. So yeah, the ground-up, totally-outside-the-mainstream revolution/evolution is a theoretical possibility…but that's about it. How many of those after-the-fact blogs are fueled by that original, "citizen journalist" report, and how many by what you saw on ABC News? Is it a 99%/1% skew in favor of that dreaded mainstream media? 98%/2%? If it's that massive (likely), does it even matter?
The point, post-all this rambling, is that if you think you hate the mainstream media, you actually love it. And you need it. ’Cause it actually fuels that which you love.
The more-good-news is brought to us again by Mr. James in that same essay. Quoth the sage: "We're back to 1836 now, in a sense; everybody who wants to has his own 'newspaper,' and it's tough to know who is good and who is reliable and who isn't, but the same processes are still running. The blogs will get bigger; the good ones are hiring a second helper and a third and fourth, and we'll spend a century or more sorting things out and re-creating the market. It's hard, but it's not a bad thing. It's a good thing."
So check that, cats and kids: The alternative media will become The New Mainstream Media. We see it happening already. What does TMZ.com aspire to be? A TV show. And it already is.
Your view of media is constantly changing, and it will get right back to where it started. Eventually.
Next: Lying is so prevalent in our culture, that you've come to totally accept it.