Blogs vs. Mainstream Media
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, April 29, 2006
The Economist devotes its latest survey (reproduced in full here) to “New Media”—blogs, wikis, podcasts—and reaches this, among several hopeful (or dire, depending on where you stand) conclusions: “ The mainstream media are in a good position to get things wrong.” It’s a quote by David Weinberger, the blogger’s blogger. Case in point: “many people in the traditional media,” the Economist’s Andreas Kluth writes, “are pessimistic about the rise of a participatory culture, either because they believe it threatens the business model that they have grown used to, or because they feel it threatens public discourse, civility and even democracy.” It’d be silly to deny the torrential excesses of bad manners online, but just as silly to consider it any more or less torrential than the tenor of manners on the average city street. It’s more relevant to ask: who appointed the mainstream media the Praetorian Guard of manners online? But these media are being outrun by a corrective (and a collective) they’ve yet to grasp.
The trouble with mainstream media of late is an excess of civility, and pseudo-civility at that. It’s the civility of the Old South, where form and manners matter to the exclusion of content and purpose, where class, and classism, seem to have become of greater value than the pursuit of truth, let alone truth “without fear or favor”—class-busting truths among them. The resulting slavery of information in the hands of a few Barry Diller-like “moguls” has given us a mass media diverse in appearance only. Look at cover story after cover story in Newsweek, Time, USNews & World Report, where it’s as if colons, fat and narcissism are the three branches of government; look at Business Week, a Wall Street cheerleader that wouldn’t know morality from Donald Trump’s lip-addled ass; look at the wealth and celebrity porn of Vanity Fair, the sleeping-pill centrism of The Atlantic, the (with apologies to Laura) headless-chicken identity of The New Republic. Should I get on with the dailies? The Times, the Post, the Journal, even USA Today—they all have their brilliant corners, their Orion-like reporters who manage to be the paper’s (and our fibrillating democracy’s) saving grace. But they’re minorities on their own turfs. Our media in general are catastrophically bland, segregated, dull, predictable, all of which would still be tolerable if they weren’t what a “free press” should never be: the courtesan of the establishment.
No wonder then that blogs, among others, are picking up the slack, providing the subversion the media themselves no longer provide. Sure it’s messy, hard to define, wanting in quality here and there—and remarkable for its quality here and there: have a look at the blogroll to the left, for starters. I have to agree with Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future that we’re probably on the verge of a “Cambrian explosion” of creativity. At any rate, have a read: The Economist’s survey is mostly pay-per-view, but not at the Notebooks.