Why New Media Beats Old Media
Sure, there's a lot of crap out there. But it's easier to find good information and engage with experts than ever.
Atlantic Wire asks Barney Frank what he reads. His answer is pretty much what you’d expect from a bright 71-year-old Northeasterner who’s the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. He doesn’t “get” Twitter, for example. But this is interesting:
The trouble with new media is the fact that there’s no screen. Anyone can publish anything. We still have the notion that if it’s printed it has some validity. Previously, you had to convince at least one other person that it was worth printing. Now, anyone can print anything in this medium. In general, there’s a lot more gossip and fragmentation. People are starting to just get reinforcement in the media. On the left, it’s MSNBC, Fire Dog Lake and The Huffington Post. On the right, it’s Fox News and the talk radio hosts. People interpret facts differently through these parallel universes. It’s what makes compromise so hard because your partisans just think your selling them out because that’s what everyone they know says. It deepens and sharpens a partisan and ideological divide.
Amusingly, I’ve been steeped in blogs and other new media for eight years now–I’ve got to be in the top 1% of the top 1% in consumption–and it’s had the opposite effect on me. I’m less ideological than I was when I started OTB, largely because it’s much easier for me to engage with smart voices on the other side of the aisle. (The stagnation of conservative intellectual thought has been a contributing factor, too, although it’s hard to judge how much of the decline is real and how much is change in my filter.)
Then again, I’m pretty selective about what I read. With so many choices out there, I quickly filter out the loudest, angriest venues. There are issues, most notably the Scooter Libby trial, where FDL has been worth reading over the years but they’re preaching to the choir, not writing to persuade me; I act accordingly. Whereas I once filled several hours a day with talk radio and cable news talking heads, I’ve long since moved on to blogs and Twitter. Both not only allow me to focus on the brightest, most reasonable voices but to quickly find the topics that interest me.
The last is too often overlooked in this discussion. With the proliferation of channels, there are presumably more than enough good show hosts out there to allow calibrating one’s radio listening and television viewing. But even the best of them require sitting through discussions I don’t find useful in hopes that the conversation steers towards something interesting. While there’s some serendipity in that, it’s mostly a huge time waster. That was simply a fact of life a decade ago. No longer. It’s easy to follow Andrew Sullivan’s blog feed, with its eclectic coverage, and skip past the annoying (“Oh, Trig Palin again.” Hit J to jump to next topic.) and get to the insightful. Similarly, while people like Franks (and, once upon a time, Joyner) snark at Twitters 140 character limit, the fact is that skilled writers can convey useful thoughts in short form. More importantly, they can curate links to longer form pieces and offer curt insights as to whether and why one should follow them.
Aside from its value as a source for breaking news and links to stories elsewhere, Twitter is primarily a social medium. It’s a place to engage a wide variety of people from literally all over the world in real time. My Foreign Policy list, for example, includes 189 people from think tanks, universities, the media, government, the military, and just bright folks interested in the topic. Some of these are one-way conversations but most are two-way. This means that I can not only debate people on the other side of the aisle and challenge their facts and assumptions — and vice versa — but I can learn from people in field. I’ve got some of the best Middle East thinkers on the planet at my disposal and most of them are happy to engage. I’ve gone back and forth with the indispensable NYT reporter Chris Chivers live from Misrata, Libya. And had dialog with Anne Marie Slaughter, until recently President Obama’s Director of Policy Planning, about Libya and other topics. It beats the hell out of trying to call in to a radio show.