The New Media

This is the longer version of a presentation I made on the New Media. I wasn’t too pleased with how the “debate” turned out. I really would have liked to see a con argument that actually made an argument against the new media itself, and not the ‘net in general (ex. The new media is bad because e-mail makes us less social). We only had four minutes each, so there wasn’t much room for deep debate. I had tried to lay out some premises though:

Resolved: The rise of the new media and the 24/7 news cycle has positively influenced American culture.

New media–Takes both professional and amateur forms; includes blogs, vlogs (video logs), webzines, online versions of newspapers; a product of the internet age

The new media specifically involves news and commentary intentionally produced for a large, public audience. Entertainment and advertising that share the same form as the new media such as TV shows available online or web page ads cannot be considered as part of the new media exactly, but entertainment news and advertising news can be some of the output produced by the new media.

The new media is not synonymous with Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is a much broader term that describes the communication features and informational possibilities that characterize the internet as a whole. Web 2.0 includes chat rooms, personal blogs intended for limited audiences, personal ticker sites (like Twitter), and the majority of networking sites. The new media is a part of the Web 2.0, but it is really just another ecosystem in the internet universe.

In this discussion we also include the hyper pluralism of 24/7 specialized news channels copiously available on television and radio. We will be generous and include the mainstream media outlets that try to mimic the interactive media described in our book as well. In normal contexts however, outside of this debate, the new media exclusively refers to media in its internet-based form (amateur and professional).

 

Here is the outline that I based our four minutes upon:

I. Introduction

The dynamics of the new media and its effect on American culture might be best explained and understood by looking at late 15th century Western Europe. The invention of the Gutenberg press pulled Europe out of the Dark ages and into the Renaissance, radically changing the world and the course of history. Hugh Hewitt makes the connection between the 15th century and today in his book “Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s Changing Your World”, he says:

“Individual reformers had the power to inspire small, local communities, but without the ability to communicate on a meaningful scale with the larger world, the momentum of reform movements was easily crushed by the powers of the day….(Hewitt, 2005, p. 49)

In 1449 Gutenberg amplified the human voice such that it could be heard around the world. He provided the means by which one person could communicate with the masses without the interference of the institutional structures of the day. At last individuals could speak, and none could silence them. (Hewitt, 2005, p. 59)”

Hewitt contends, and we agree, that the New Media has done the exact same thing.

 

II. Body

The new media has transformed American culture, moving it to a purer version of the Greek’s ideal marketplace of free speech, by making expert opinions previously unavailable easily accessible, providing a cheap medium for the voice of the people, acting as a counterbalance to biased traditional media, changing the political landscape, and harnessing the full potential of the information superhighway.

A. More voices, more participation.

The new medium is easy to navigate, cheap to maintain, easy to access, and in its simplest forms, technophobe friendly.

1. Experts Blog

Eugene Volokh is a professor at UCLA law school and specializes in first and second amendment issues as well as the quickly growing area of tech law. Before teaching law, he clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Really sharp guy. He blogs at http://www.TheVolokhConspiracy.com. If I want an expert opinion on, say, the D.C handgun ban, I know I can go to Professor V’s blog and probably find a lengthy, cerebral, and credible post on the topic—for free. Blogs allow experts to publish and share their knowledge at their own discretion—without space constraints, without time restraints, and without editorial setbacks—disseminating this knowledge to the general public. This is a very good thing.

2. Powerful vehicle for the voice of the people.

Blogs and talk radio play an important role as a microphone for the voice of the people. Bloggers welcome comments and talk radio welcomes callers. Popular blogs and talk radio shows can use their base of readers and viewers to promote issues neglected by government and the mainstream media. In turn, those bases of support can use blogs and talk radio to mobilize protests or support for particular issues. Blogs and talk radio can act as microphones for the voice of the people. A perfect example of this is last summer’s immigration bill. The bill which had wide bi-partisan support and the support of the President failed to pass. This was a bill that should have passed logistically, and it would have if it were not for the outcry of thousands of people that outlined their opposition to the bill through blogs and talk radio. Blogs obtained preliminary vote counts (updated hourly almost), and talk radio kept the pressure on Senate Republicans to oppose the bill. The bill failed to pass, a victory only possible through the new media.

 

B. Holding the MSM accountable & standing up to media bias.

According to a 2003 Gallup poll, trust in the media has fallen to a little over than half. In 2003, before the disastrous Rathergate scandal and the horrible coverage of the war, the percentage of Americans that trusted the media either “Not very much” or “Not at all” was 46%. A more recent poll conducted by Sacred Heart University illuminates another common source of animosity towards the media:

“In the current national poll, just 19.6% of those surveyed could say they believe all or most news media reporting. This is down from 27.4% in 2003.”

There are good reasons for distrusting the media. A prime example of the new media not only exposing mainstream media bias, but also holding the MSM accountable for that bias was the Rathergate scandal during the 2004 presidential election. A 60 Minutes report on George W. Bush’s service record attempted to provide evidence showing that he had directly disobeyed orders (Hewitt, 2005, pg. 38). However, within an hour after the airing, bloggers and blog readers were checking the documents provided. It quickly became apparent that the documents shown on 60 minutes were forged. Blogs compiled overwhelming evidence in the form of expert witnesses that virtually proved that the documents were forgeries. Blogs also forced this story unto the main stream media, and within a few months Dan Rather was forced to leave his post at CBS. CBS never produced any real documents, though they still claim that they exist. In a Weekly Standard article chronicling the blogospheres defining role in Rathergate, Jonathan V. Last said:

“Part of what makes bloggers well-suited for the role of fact-checking is that there are so many of them. With millions of people blogging and reading blogs, you’re bound to find a handful of real experts on any given topic, and these experts can coalesce quite easily.”

In the same way that muckraking journalists stood up to big corporations and monopolies in the early 20th century, the new media is now standing up to big media and its biases.

C. Political Possibilities

In 2004, a relatively unknown governor from Vermont invigorated the Democratic Party base. While Howard Dean experienced a magnificent crash and burn, losing the nomination, he did go on to become the DNC chair. His presidential campaign was fueled by the Netroots, the internet form of grass roots. The conservative blogosphere may be more networked, but liberal blog DailyKos averages almost a million visits every day (Truth Laid Bear, 2008). Those readers fueled Deans candidacy and helped power the Democratic take-over of Congress is 2006. Those same netroots also helped Barack Obama fundraise $32 million dollars last month alone, with an unusually high percentage of donations coming from small, first time donors. The new media is changing the way we experience politics. In this regard the MSM is catching on a little: last year CNN hosted two YouTube debates (which experienced mix reviews among bloggers and print journalists alike, but I suspect will become a fixture in American political debate). The new media allows ordinary citizens to participate in public debate on a much larger stage and in a more equal way.

 

III. Conclusion

The new media is here to stay. Claims that the blogosphere has only aggravated the decline of civility are greatly exaggerated. People said the same things about the Gutenberg press (more or less), the muckraking heroes of the Pulitzer and Hearst empires, and television news shows. American culture will adapt to the new media, and in some respects already has. The new media has enriched public debate in America and revolutionized the way we look at information and receive it. It is true though that in this new age of 24/7 news and so many, newly voiced opinions the need to be a critical receiver is even more important than before. In 2004, Powerline blogger and successful lawyer, John Hinderaker said:

“We’re just getting started, but it isn’t hard to see where all of this is heading. What powers the blogosphere is what powers talk radio—the bloggers, sure, but far more important, a core of readers and listeners that is engaged, passionate, and above all, well-informed. It’s the dialogue, the quick response, the almost instantaneous supplementation of information and truth that puts the blogosphere head and shoulders above conventional journalism. You couldn’t do this with, say, neurosurgery. A bunch of amateurs, no matter how smart and enthusiastic, could never outperform professional neurosurgeons. But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What can they do that we can’t? Nothing. Generally speaking, they don’t know any more about primary data and raw sources of information than we do–often less. Their general knowledge is often inadequate. Their superior resources should allow them to carry out investigations far beyond what we amateurs can do. But the reality is that the mainstream media rarely use those resources. Too many journalists are bored, biased and lazy. And we bloggers are not dependent on our own resources or those of a few amateurs. We can get information from tens of thousands of individuals, many of whom have exactly the knowledge that journalists could (but usually don’t) expend great effort to track down–to take just one recent example, the passability of the Mekong River at the Vietnam/Cambodian border during the late 1960s.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to the CBS YouTube debates. Stupid mistake, don’t know how it happened.

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