Saturday, February 05, 2005

How's Your News?

Journalists spend a lot of time worrying about the decline of print journalism. What this really means, of course, is that print is evolving, not dying. In a world where the act of knitting can become hot, hot, hot, it seems premature to declare the death of journalism that you read yourself rather than having someone else read it to you.

One piece of the evolution is the end of objectivity. Chris Anderson describes objectivity as a product of scarcity. If a community has very few sources of information (a paper, a few television channels, a radio station or two) then those sources are obliged to be objective, if only from a business standpoint. In contrast to the U.S., English newspapers have always been national, not local. Papers distinguish themselves by taking sides.

Since news is now a commodity, Anderson suggests that aggregators differentiate themselves in the marketplace not just via opinion and partisanship but through sensibility and worldview. He breaks down the difference like this..."sensibility" would be The New Yorker, Maxim and MTV-if you are this kind of person, you'll like this kind of information. "Worldview" is more like a lens for viewing the world, often expressed as an "-ism"...enviromentalism, libertarianism, etc.

This seems intuitively correct. A mass media produces "Happy Days" while narrowcasting can produce "Straight Eye for the Queer Guy"; why should news be any different? Make a liberal FOX News, an enviromental Rush Limbaugh, etc.

This is a long-ass post but I have one other idea to pass along. Cass Sunstein thinks that all this fragmentation is a bad idea. "For democracy to work, people must be exposed to topics and ideas they would not have chosen in advance." says Sunstein.

The essay is, like everything he writes, sharp and well-reasoned. He ends it with this sentence:

The task for the future is to find ways to ensure that the Internet reduces, and does not increase, the risk of social fragmentation.

Fragmentation: hot or not?


Jason B said...

Fragmentation: Hot.

This reminds me of the Rucker's law of Morphogenesis that I believe I shared with you about a year or more ago. I have it as my wallpaper on my desktop. Excerpted[]: Applying this to the activator-inhibitor patterns in the human brain, if you inhibit new thoughts, you are left with a few highly stimulated patches: obsessions and fixed ideas. If you manage to create new thought associations at about the same rate you inhibit them, you develop creative complexity. And too high a rate of activation leads to unproductive mania. Exercise: apply this notion to spread of good and bad news in society.

To answer your question - if folks continue to hole themselves up into reading only viewpoints that they agree with, we could have a very dastardly situation on our hands. I think it's always a bonus when communities can form in previously unknown territory, like the environmental Limbaughs: I read bulletin board posts at Slate and at FreeRepublic, because there's an even split or favor towards conservative voices in the room. Sometimes it makes me mad; other times, it just reminds me how closeminded and talking-point oriented the lefties are as well. Sometimes the sheer volume of good and bad news can get a little overwhelming to process, but it's worth it to me in the end - battling media-overwhelmed middle-class isolationist American humans is a lot easier than taking on minions of the forces of darkness, as DailyKos would have you believe.

My daily reads: NYTimes, Slate, DailyKos, Brad DeLong, Guardian, MSNBC. Sprinklings of MetaFilter, GoogleNews, Seattle Times, NewsMax, Wonkette and FreeRepublic. If I had time, I'd add al-Jazeera, the WashPost, Instapundit and a few Iraqi blogs.

Lillian said...

First of all, good call on the knitting. A quick search surfaced a local article:

"Trendwise, knitting is hotter than a freshly singed potholder. Celebs like Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker are reportedly slaves to the needles, and one need only Google "knitting blogs" to discover the countless, lengthy yarns people are spinning daily, tracking their wooly endeavors. "Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook" and "Stitch 'N Bitch Nation," two sassy stitching guides written by Bust Magazine co-founder Debbie Stoller, sit comfortably in's top 500, with no signs of being cast off.
It's official: Knitting is not just for grannies anymore."

Pasted from

Pretty daunting future for a girl who doesn't knit...

The Cass Sustren article discusses a tendency to polarization these days that I, ahem, attribute to Pluto in Sag. That configuration metaphorically represents the evolutionary imperative to move from the place of believing that your truth is the be all - end all, to a place where you understand your truth is right for you, specifically, & then respect others ability to have a truth that differs from yours... without freaking out.

Also, the fragmentation argument doesn't take into account that I can now build a web page that pulls in this blog, two others, my netflix queue - among other, non-commercial, community engaging content. Fragmentation is definitely an issue for advertisers, but I don't think that niche experiences, online or off, are by definition, a problem. hmmph.