Sunday, February 27, 2005

Not quite David vs. Goliath

You know, I don't often tackle writing about subjects that I can't research to death in support of my opinion--truth is, I don't write these articles to publish my opinion as much as to create a clearinghouse for the "facts" of the issue, lest they be forgotten in the commentary.

But I've been chewing on something for a while now, as have many outlets in both the blogosphere and even the mainstream media. The topic, of course, IS the blogosphere and the mainstream media: which medium will dictate the "news" cycle in the future?

Now I'm one to be very cautious of the phenomenon known as "blogger's triumphantism". While I believe the blogosphere has done a decent job of policing the MSM, and has even taken the lead in reporting some stories of significance, there is a limit to the contributions that an internet-only medium can make in today's society. The bottom line, to me, is that convenience still dictates actions across the majority of households in America, and the MSM outlets are far more convenient than the blogosphere, a situation that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

But then I ask the following: how can a medium that offers all the benefits of the blogosphere NOT ascend to the same--or even surpass--status as the MSM? Obviously there are some obstacles for bloggers to overcome, but won't the merits of the system eventually be rewarded? The answer is no, not necessarily--although it is not without hope. There are possibilities for an increased blogger role in the landscape of information processing and reporting. What would it take for the blogosphere to become a mainstay in the majority of households in America in the same way that the MSM is today? In my view, there are three things that would need to happen: a) greater convenience for a multimedia experience by the audience; b) the ability for blogging outlets to play "big game" on an even level with the MSM; and 3) for MSM's credibility to become so suspect that the audience actively seeks an alternative to their habitual news outlets.

The blogosphere currently is home to some of the best-written, well-researched and easily-digested WRITTEN commentary available to seeking eyes. Occasionally you get photographs to back up the narrative, but most of the blogosphere is based on Gutenberg's idea with a 21st century flair. And I've got to be honest with you: that format will never be the top choice ofy a society that is used to having headlines flashing on the bottom of the screen while they watch sports, the morning shows, or even Headline News. The problem is at a sort of a good-news, bad-news bridge right now: the technology is in place for a more multimedia blogging experience--but that doesn't address the main problem. The problem primarily is time. Most bloggers, even the big-name bloggers, created their blog as an accessory to their "other" job (whether that be as a "real" journalist or not, few bloggers live on the content and proceeds of their site alone). The written word will always be the format of choice for those "on the go" bloggers. But that doesn't mean that multimedia will be shut out of the blogging experience; it just means that the blogosphere will have to undergo an evolution to incorporate the full possibilities of the medium. Already there are "group blogs" that allow for frequent posts on a variety of subjects--I look for the revolution to be something along those lines, as some of the more popular blogs incorporate one person (or one firm) specifically to add visuals and sound to the words published by those already established in the medium. If "subscribers" could wake up or return home from work and have a multimedia news capsule waiting in their e-mail inbox from their blogs of choice, maybe the desire and/or need to turn on the TV or open the newspaper would be diminished. . .but I digress. The specifics of how the multimedia revolution occurs is less important than the fact that some form of evolution must occur if the blogosphere is ever to become more than an oversight activity for the MSM. The opportunity does exist for bloggers to take a larger role in the news cycle, it just remains to be seen if that opportunity will be exploited.

Secondly, the appearance of major personalities on MSM outlets gives that medium an incredible advantage on the blogosphere. The Sunday morning shows--heck, the EVERY morning shows like Today and GMA--can get the major newsmakers on their programs seemingly without effort, a feature that the blogosphere lacks. However, headway is being made in this area: look at Michelle Malkin's great work at getting eyewitness accounts from some of the major players at Jordan Eason's DAVOS trainwreck. That single incident may be the most glaring example of the blogosphere (it doesn't hurt that she's a "real" journalist, too) being able to get major newsmakers to address the issues of the day "on their turf", but it is hardly isolated: Gov. Owens gave members of the Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs about a 30 minute interview prior to delivering the State of the State address in CO earlier this year; several authors and other public figures have used the blogosphere to register complaints and/or corrections for the record (correcting, of course, information that appeared in MSM outlets). And I am sure that it will not be long before the more media-saavy members of the public start using the blogosphere as a place to give up-to-the-minute progress reports on the issues of the day. For the public figures, it is a freebie: exposure in a growing medium without any expense except for time. I look for "talking heads" to become more accessible to certain outlets in the blogosphere in the future--possibly even in the near future.

But now for the biggest kicker: EVEN IF the blogosphere is able to bridge the multimedia gap in the future to make their product more digestible to the public; EVEN IF the bloggers start getting sit-down time with major newsmakers willing to go "on the record" with the relative unknown asking the questions--it will all be for naught if the product that the MSM puts out is still reviewed as credible by its viewing audience. It all goes back to the famous saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." As long as the public "trusts" the news as it is presented in the MSM, they will not look elsewhere for the news.

So to answer the question "which medium will dictate the news cycle in the future?", one must answer this question first: which medium can overcome their handicaps the best? The blogosphere is limited by both a perceived inconvenience and lack of ability to produce newsmakers in their content; the MSM is shackled by its bias. Only if the MSM fails to control their product will the door be opened to whatever advances the blogosphere can add to its content. The advantage is clearly with the outlets of the mainstream media--but will they realize that their "hold" on the news is entirely dependent on how they perform the duty of news reporting? Or will they continue to act like they're the only show in town, putting facts behind agenda in the production room priority table?

I guess time will tell. In the meantime, please visit the sites that I link to on the right to get another take on the issues of the day.


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