Sunday, October 17

"New Media Monopoly" — ramblings about new media

from: "New Media Monopoly" Excerpt 1

"During the emergence of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, most of the best regional papers, in the North and the South, would tell me when I dropped in for the traditional 'fill-in' for outside journalists, that there was no serious problem in their 'colored districts.' Yet in city after city there came racial explosions that surprised even the local media.

When I was reporting on structural poverty in the early 1960s, once again in the newsrooms of some of the best papers I was told that there was no significant problem. But a few years later it was clear that not only was there a problem, but it had existed for a long time.

Yet if I asked these same papers about welfare cheaters, low-level political chicanery, or failings of almost any public agency, their libraries were full of clippings.

There was, it appeared, a double standard: sensitive to failures in public bodies, but insensitive to equally important failures in the private sector, particularly in what affects the corporate world. This institutional bias does more than merely protect the corporate system. It robs the public of a chance to understand the real world.

Our picture of reality does not burst upon us in one splendid revelation. It accumulates day by day and year by year in mostly unspectacular fragments from the world scene, produced mainly by the mass media. Our view of the real world is dynamic, cumulative, and self-correcting as long as there is a pattern of even-handedness in deciding which fragments are important. But when one important category of the fragments is filtered out, or included only vaguely, our view of the social-political world is deficient. The ultimate human intelligence-discernment of cause and effect-becomes damaged because it depends on knowledge of events in the order and significance in which they occur. When part of the linkage between cause and effect becomes obscure, the sources of our weakness and of our strength become uncertain. Errors are repeated decade after decade because something is missing in the perceptions by which we guide our social actions.

My personal associations, professional experience, and research tell me that journalists, writers, artists, and producers are, as a body, capable of producing a picture of reality that, among other things, will signal 'weakness in the social order.' But to express this varied picture they must work through mainstream institutions and these institutions must be diverse. As the most important institutions in the production of our view of the real social world-newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books, and movies-increasingly become the property of the most persistent beneficiaries of mass media biases, it seems important to me to write about it."

Thoughts: I just stumbled upon this excerpt from "New Media Monopoly" by Ben Bagdikian. This is a brilliant excerpt from a different perspective, a journalists perspective. Though in my opinion the failure of media to signal "weakness in the social order" is not due the willingness or lack of willingness by journalists. The failure of media is in the architecture of editorial news system itself, the problem is inherent in broadcast systems. Because journalists do strive to "work through mainstream institutions" they invariably bend their bias toward that of their peers. This very strife to reach a wide audience through mainstream media subverts any attempt to be well rounded or unbiased because an individual can't remain unbiased when they're seeking the acceptance of the very peers which they are reporting on. Especially when that bias is supported and cultivated through a very granular process over many, many years of a career.

This repeated process of failure to signal signal 'weakness in the social order' really hits home with the weapons of mass destruction scandal, the Worldcom and Enron scandals, and even the latest scandal with Dan Rather and the forged Coast Guard documents. However, I believe it is not a failure of journalists, I believe it is a failure inherent in broadcast media. In order to have a voice you must belong and in order to belong you must seek acceptance from that which you would voice your opinion about.

By contrast new media of the "broadband" paradigm (many-to-many) allows one to develop a voice without acceptance. Acceptance is secondary. The threshold of acceptance and hence the subversion of that voice is infinitely smaller. Sure this model leads to a tremendous amount of pontification (see hear!) there is a much, much better chance of getting it right. And by much I mean an order of magnitude that is currently pretty much incalculable. I might cite the number of blogs currently online and compare it to the number of newspapers, but this is not about blogs vs. newspapers, it's about bulletin boards, chat rooms, photos, videos, emails, and PDFs sitting on FTP servers. The magnitude of change and the magnitude for the possibility of free and open speech has shifted so radically it will likely take us 100's of years to understand the ramifications. I image that in a millennia, when the next great breakthrough happens, we'll be looking at the architecture of the net and "broadband" media and discussing all it's inherent flaws which will be so obvious then. But let's just hope in the meantime that it will bring infinitely more good than bad.

Oh, one last comment. Ben Bagdikian is an author and journalist. It has been said that all people believe that both the solution and the problem exists within the scope of their work. Perhaps if they didn't they'd be inclined to find another branch of work. That said, I will not begrudge him, but in fact I will instead point out my obsession with IA (information architecture), humane interfaces, and media is what I like to think of as "my work". So, perhaps he may be wrong in thinking the failure for media to signal "weakness in social order" is the fault of journalists, but I may also be wrong in thinking that same problem stems from the failure of the broadcast medium itself.

"It's not in the box, it's in the band." - from (Antitrust ;)

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