Monday, March 16, 2009

Blowback Works Both Ways

When this blog kicked off a couple of weeks ago, I put up a post linking a few self-selected "greatest hits" from my previous lives in the blogosphere. A reader noted the famed "Vodkapundit vs. Steve Lovelady" fracas from 2004 and commented that in the aftermath of the CNN/Eason Jordan debacle,

MSM journalists (following Rather gate and Eason's gaffe) vowed never to give another whiff of oxygen to conservative bloggers under any circumstances. That vow is one of the few things they have successfully navigated in the years since. The overt politicization of the MSM into ever bigger propaganda mouthpieces has accelerated since then and with it the comedic property of the word "journalist".
I've been mulling over Stan's observation ever since, and while my memory may be failing me here, I couldn't recall a similar course of events since the days of Jordan and Rathergate when right-of-center bloggers pushed an issue into the limelight, the MSM reported on it, and subsequent reaction led to a meaningful event (i.e., Jordan's resignation under pressure or Rather's firing).

There have been other "underground" stories that have been much-discussed in the blogosphere while being ignored by the major media--John Edwards' shenanigans leap to mind--but in all cases I can think of, the press has not actively reported on those stories until after the main players themselves felt compelled to respond. The recent step-down of Chas Freeman is a good example; as Mickey Kaus notes, there was hardly a whisper of complaint aired against Freeman in the major papers until after Freeman was effectively forced out.

The blogosphere's relationship with major media has been characterized as "the letters to the editor that the editor doesn't want to print" (and if you recall who first coined that one, please let me know in the comments; I couldn't locate the original source). Personally, I think the thing that really perturbs the ranks of newspaper employees is the new ability of "civilians" to go out there and air stories the papers have actively chosen not to talk about. It drives gatekeepers nuts when people get through despite their best efforts, and newspaper editors see themselves as the guardians of what the general public Ought To Know--and what they ought to be kept in the dark about.

Take the Tea Party movement, for example. Since frustration over endless trillions in bailouts boiled over a few weeks ago (pun certainly intended), anti-spending Tea Parties have been springing up all over the country, and they've been growing in attendance every week. Last weekend's rally in Cincinnati was one of the largest yet, but if you search Google News for "tea party," you'll find nary a recent mention in any of the big papers. This is a story Big Media doesn't like and doesn't want to talk about, and in true monopoly fashion, they just aren't going to mention it unless they absolutely have to.

All of the above occured to me today when I ran across a too-rare Steven Den Beste post about the decline of the newspaper:

The new generation of reporters sought to use journalism as a way of improving the world. And they calculated their effectiveness by listening for the screams.

When your newspaper is effectively a monopoly, offended customers and offended readers have no recourse but to continue to deal with you, so there was little consequence for the reporters. The money still flowed in and they still got paid. Indeed, agenda journalists took pride in the fact that they didn't concern themselves with business consequences; it was a demonstration of their dedication to truth and social good.

Over years that built up a significant percentage of both customers (advertisers) and readers who were primed to move to something new once it became available. With the internet, they now have that alternative, and they are leaving in droves.

comments disabledThese are the people who, in public opinion polls, answer "Good riddance" when asked about the pending demise of newspapers.
Indeed. I'd go farther than that and note the endless stream of contempt newspaper employees tend to express towards their own customers; glee over complaint letters and phone calls have long been held as badges of honor by newsprint types, and their internal reactions seep through from time to time at places like Romanesko.

Unless you have a monopoly, you can't get away with sneering at your customers for very long. The newspaper's monopoly died in 1995, when the internet brought information to the fingertips of anybody with a modem. The dinosaur media never understood that they were in a tar pit from that moment on, and now it's too late for them to change their ways and crawl back out.

1 comment:

  1. I remember another Den Beste post about newspapers as gatekeepers.

    Damn, wish he would write like this all the time again. Still miss USS Clueless