Media & PublicsO.O.P.S.

Blogging Politics

Democratizing the news in the era of digital media

Political events in America over the past year have shifted our focus to a series of transformations in the production of news content and the distribution of that content across contemporary media platforms. David Tewksbury and Jason Rittenberg’s News on the Internet: Information and Citizenship in the 21st Century (2014) discusses the effects that the development of digital media has had on the accessibility, amount, and quality of information now available to the public. The biggest shift brought about by digital media is that the creation of news is often no longer in the hands of the news professionals but has been “democratized” throughout the Internet. This means that private citizens, once identified as mere audiences of the old media, have become more involved in “adding to the volume and diversity of news online.”

This democratization, however, has also created significant changes in various aspects of journalistic practice. First of all, it has undermined the capacity for readers to recognize what is relevant or irrelevant information, up to the point where the latter category can be identified as news. Second of all, it has accelerated segmentation of the news audience. Due to an enhanced interaction of newsmakers with the public and increased collaboration in the creation and distribution of news content online, there is no longer a “mass audience” but multiple, specific types of audience. Moreover, the authority of journalism itself is under siege, since traditional styles of reporting can be challenged by the contributions of “bloggers” or postings by private citizens’ on social media. Ultimately, perhaps, what audiences want to know is “whether blogs can supplant traditional media as a gatekeeper.”

This is also one of the arguments presented in Michael Munger’s “Blogging and Political Information: Truth or Truthiness?” Drawing on a word famously coined by comedian Steven Colbert, Munger distinguishes between “truth” and “truthiness,” the latter meaning “facts or concepts one only wishes or believes were true.” He argues that this distinction should become a crucial focus for contemporary journalism due to the fact that “we depend on truth, not truthiness, as a basis for political discourse. Yet, according to Munger, social media is part of the problem since the creation of elite political blogs has become a portal for aggressive fiction that attracts the attention of news reporters and political leaders.[1]

Oliver Darcy further analyzes the influence of political blogs on civic life in his portrait of Matt Drudge, “The Man Who Could have stopped Donald Trump.” According to Darcy, Drudge who is the founder and operator of The Drudge Report, could have prevented Donald Trump’s election due to his ability to attract and persuade conservative readers. Darcy proposes that Drudge was, in fact, a major force behind the Trump victory. He writes: “Since its inception in 1996, The Drudge Report has been a home to conservatives who feel disenfranchised by traditional media.” In 2016 “Drudge made it known that he was assigning only pro-Trump stories. The message sent to journalists was simple: `If you want Drudge traffic, then cover the news through a pro-Trump lens.’”[2]

Journalist Lauren Collins promotes a more positive view of the influence of political blogs in her New Yorker article “The Oracle: The Many Lives of Arianna Huffington.” Collins reveals that Huffington’s ambition, attractive personality and remarkable intelligence led her to seek a life of public service, which ultimately led to her becoming the co-founder of The Huffington Post, one of the most renowned web publications in the world. Optimistically described as a “connector,” Huffington’s success relied not only on her public recognition but also mainly in her ability to share her shrewd networking with the public.[3]

What all these readings suggest is that connectivity as well as the audience’s capacity to network instead of simply consume or massively react to the news is the largest overall change introduced by digital media. Intelligent tools for approaching this digital news environment, in which highly influential content is constantly distributed and assimilated by a very interactive public, is the next frontier for journalism.

Footnotes

[1] Michael C. Munger, “Blogging and Political Information: Truth or Truthiness?” Public Choice v. 134 no. 1/2, 125-6.

[2]Oliver Darcy, “The Man Who Could Have Stopped Donald Trump,” Business Insider, July 18, 2016.

[3] Lauren Collins, “The Oracle. The Many Lives of Arianna Huffington,” The New Yorker, October 13 2008.

 

Mariana Flores Lizaola

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