New Media, New Politics?

Quotes that my dissertation cannot afford for me to lose....

Jul 31
“This is not to say that Cronkite was himself the problem; he was my hero when I was growing up, and a man remarkably willing to speak unpleasant truths. But he too operated in a world of assumed consensus, a world where, at 6 pm, the full range of choice about televised news came down to which of the three white men would present the news in English. That world, comforting as it was to people who look like me, masked the actual diversity of the American experience.
(It was comforting to me and mine in part because it masked that diversity.) And that mask is gone. So at least part of the story of disassembling the large, stable publics held together by 20th century news media is the undoing of economics of scale that meant large publics were the most valuable ones, while reaching smaller, more geographically dispersed publics was usually too expensive. This doesn’t mean that the large media outlets won’t continue to have large audiences, just that they’ve got a lot of competition from outside the world of Trow, and of Cronkite, and of me.”
Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » From Walter Cronkite to Tiger Beatdown (Clay Shirky)

“the bundle that is the newspaper doesn’t make any sense. Box scores and soup recipes and Mark Sanford’s political woes and IBM’s closing price and a review of Taylor Swift’s new album don’t actually have any coherent rationale for being delivered together. All of those things went into the paper because print and distribution costs meant that the publisher added whatever content would cost marginally less than it would generate in display ads, a calculation that had nothing to do with coherence of bundled content and everything to do with industrial economics. Which economics do not translate to the web.” Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » The Newspaper Bundle Doesn’t Make Sense (Clay Shirky)

“Technology is working deep changes in the way people discover, discuss and come to understand public events. Social processing of this information is moving from the family room and the dinner table onto networks. Information power is shifting from centers and institutions to edges and individuals. Anyone can be a publisher and maybe even a journalist at that moment when Flight 1549 crash lands into the Hudson River. Discovery moves from the newsstand to Twitter. Random-access linking disintegrates the old products. News sources bypass the old channels. Publics coalesce around experts rather than conveyors of expertise.” Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » Abandon Old Strategies to Survive in a New Era

It is a bewitching thought the public will assemble itself. The idea is analogous to the perfect free market, and there is no question that by drastically reducing transaction costs, electronic communication and exchange have created new possibilities for both markets and publics. But law and therefore politics, as well as the unequal distribution of resources in society, shape the kind of markets and publics that develop. The contrasting fortunes of niche and public-service journalism illustrate that point. Those who follow trade publications can afford to pay top prices, and they can also usually write off their subscriptions as a business expense, whereas most subscribers to daily newspapers and political magazines bear the full price. Public policy in the United States didn’t always put the public press at a relative disadvantage. Beginning in the 1790s, when most papers were partisan, Congress subsidized their development through postal policy. The postal rates for sending newspapers through the mail were set below cost, and editors could exchange copies with one another at no charge. Congress also refrained from taxing newspapers, a legacy of colonial opposition to Britain’s Stamp Act. These postal and tax policies — unlike the subsidies that the president and other officials gave their own party papers through printing contracts and government advertising — benefited newspapers across the board. In the language of modern First Amendment law, the postal subsidies were “viewpoint-neutral.” As Madison and other founders envisaged, they didn’t just promote newspapers; they also helped to knit together the young republic and sustain its political life. By the Civil War, newspapers had gained a firm footing in the market, and as advertising grew, more papers became wholly independent of the patronage of political parties. Until recently, that framework — commercial and nonpartisan — has been the norm not just for newspapers, but for the broadcast news media that developed in the twentieth century.

Now that pattern has begun to change. On radio, original reporting has virtually disappeared from commercial stations, and a split pattern has emerged. Public radio has become the last refuge of journalism on the dial, while commercially sponsored talk radio is intensely ideological. On television, the decline of network news and the rise of cable have brought a shift toward a fiercely partisan journalism, and on the Internet as well, ideologically oriented news sites on both the right and the left have assumed a central role.

Partisan journalism has a legitimate role to play in news and public controversy. When the press was partisan in the early nineteenth century, the United States had a vibrant democratic life, and the return of partisanship to the news may be stimulating more interest in politics today. After decades of falling political participation, voter turnout increased sharply in 2004 and 2008. Though widely bemoaned, the partisan edge of contemporary politics and journalism may well have contributed to that upturn.

But while partisan journalism has a legitimate place, we also need sources of reported news that can be widely trusted. The Internet allows access to a diversity of opinion, but it hasn’t yet provided the economic basis for financing the professional reporting of news on anything like the scale of newspapers. This problem is especially acute at the state and local level because of the difficulty of aggregating a large enough public and thereby generating sufficient revenue from advertising, charges to readers, syndication, or some combination of sources.

Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » The Public May Need to Subsidize Itself (Paul Starr)

“Like driving, journalism is not a profession — no degree or certification is required to practice it, and training often comes after hiring — and it is increasingly being transformed into an activity, open to all, sometimes done well, sometimes badly, but at a volume that simply cannot be supported by a small group of full-time workers. The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation, some of which will be done by professionals, some by amateurs, some by crowds, and some by machines. This will not replace the older forms journalism, but then nothing else will either; both preservation and simple replacement are off the table. The change we’re living through isn’t an upgrade, it’s a upheaval, and it will be decades before anyone can really sort out the value of what’s been lost versus what’s been gained. In the meantime, the changes in self-assembling publics and new models of subsidy will drive journalistic experimentation in ways that surprise us all.” Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » Not an Upgrade — an Upheaval

“The logic of the Internet, a medium that is natively good at helping groups communicate at vanishingly low cost, is that the act of forming a public has become something the public is increasingly doing for itself, rather than needing to wait for a publication (note the root) to do it for them. More publics will form, they will be smaller, shorter-lived, and less geographically contiguous, and they will overlap more than the previous era’s larger, more rooted, more stable publics.” Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » Not an Upgrade — an Upheaval

“As Paul Starr, the great sociologist of media, has often noted, journalism isn’t just about uncovering facts and framing stories; it’s also about assembling a public to read and react to those stories. A public is not merely an audience. For a TV show with an audience of a million, no one cares whether it’s the same million every week — head count rules. A public, by contrast, is a group of people who not only know things, but know other members of the public know those things as well. Both persistence and synchrony matter, because journalism is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness.” Cato Unbound  » Blog Archive  » Not an Upgrade — an Upheaval (Clay Shirky)

The study — Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle, by Jure Leskovec, Lars Backstron and Jon Kleinberg — is fascinating work; though I’m not qualified to assess its math, I found it careful and thoughtful in its approach to the subject. But before its core finding coalesces into a hardened soundbite — “pros beat bloggers by 2.5 hours!” — I want to offer some cautions and raise some red flags….

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As for that 2.5-hour lag: since the study focuses on quotations as a sort of genetic marker for ongoing news threads in election coverage, of course the traditional media are going to have the jump on bloggers. They’re following the politicians around with microphones and notebooks. The study did find that, 3.5 percent of the time, phrases are injected into the news cycle first by blogs and then picked up by traditional news outlets. It’s certainly possible that this pattern would be found to apply outside of election news, and with a wider set of stories than those defined by political quotations. But we don’t know that. Another limitation of the study: It misses the interplay between both traditional media and blogs on the one hand, and the two other vast channels through which soundbites propagate, cable news outlets and social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Finally, the study relies on Google News to draw a boundary between the news media and blogs. A site that appears in Google News is considered media; everything else is a blog. While this approach is convenient, it ends up slicing off some of the top layer of the blogosphere in arbitrary ways: for instance, Gawker and Daily Kos end up as “media” rather than blogs, but Talking Points Memo is a blog.

Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard  » Blog Archive  » Newsies beat bloggers? Some caveats on memetracker study

“Politico is like an old newswire, except that it is more specialized, and focused, and fast—and it has faces. And, more important, it’s free—and, unlike the teeth-gnashing old-line news companies, it has no plans or desire to charge (it will benefit from other organizations’ charging, and, accordingly, undermine them). Politico is retailing the news to everyone else in the hopes that this publicity and public profile redound to its own position as the choicest destination for political news.” Michael Wolff on Politico | vanityfair.com

“Allen arrives at the Politico office most mornings by 4:30. Over the next two hours what he does is digest all the known information that might impact that morning in Washington politics. What’s more, everybody who affects Washington politics knows that Allen is up at 4:30 assembling Politico’s “Playbook,” the daily report that everybody in Washington politics and media will consult before beginning his or her day. Hence, they feed him any information that they want to feed other people before they begin their Washington morning. Allen’s the perfect and ultimate conduit. He is the news.
It is often entirely undifferentiated news. The minor mixed with the game-changing. Since Allen is as close as you can get to real time itself, there is almost no filter. Since his goal is as close to 100 percent detail as possible, there is almost no distinction between the ordinary and the noteworthy. So, in that sense, he isn’t the news. Indeed, what he gathers is not really news. Instead, it’s something near the totality of available information.”
Michael Wolff on Politico | vanityfair.com

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