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.
One question (and I do see your point, but…):
Is it possible (or even probable) that your situation is not representative of how most people use the resources of the new media (even though they could and should)?
A second question:
If your situation is not representative, does Congressman Frank have a point in his complaint?
Sure, although I’d say Frank’s use of old media is unrepresentative in that he reads widely and also consumes a lot of specialized content–some of it curated by his staff.
My answer is the same now as it was 15 years ago, before the rise of the current new media: Consume widely. If all you’re reading is the local newspaper and all you’re watching is one of the nightly newscasts, you’re getting a distorted view of the world. The only real difference now is that it’s more easy to choose the framework of distortion.
I was going to say that the thing I notice about the new media is that you have to be an active infovore to make it work. If you dabble, or just track a few subjects, it’s easy to miss, say, that there was a tornado.
You cover that a bit in your comment … but I’m not sure how many have the dedication to “consume widely.”
I mean, the other difference between new and old is that I can just read about backpacking all day long. I’m not info-starved on that subject until a monthly magazine shows up.
@jp: True. I, for one, consume a whole lot less natural disaster, local crime, and “human interest” stories than I would if I had no choices but watch nightly newscasts. But it’s worth knowing that major tornadoes have hit and the like.
It took me a while to give up journals and switch to blogs and the net. It has really broadened my knowledge. Your point about being to engage with noted experts is very true. I have several well known economists with whom I now exchange emails. I also make it a point to read and engage with people across the aisle. Works best at smaller blogs as the large, heavily partisan blogs are really just for self confirmation.
Tastes like crap but there’s lots of it?
America is going through a pundit dark ages at the moment.
Imagine picking a newspaper and finding an article by Mark Twain or Winston Churchill.
@ponce: Well, that’s a different issue entirely that I may address in a different post. While we still have some brilliant writers out there–Christopher Hitchens springs to mind–we’ve moved from a reading culture to a watching culture. So, most of that talent has moved to television and the movies where there’s more money and influence.