Balkinization  

Saturday, February 18, 2006

New Media and Old

JB

My interview with National Journal's Blogometer appears here. The last question was an invitation to write an essay on the following: "How do you see the new media and old media affecting and influencing each other in the next five years?" This is what I said:

Although bloggers like to think of themselves as bravely checking and critiquing old media, and parts of old media still regard bloggers as uncouth, unaccountable, and unreliable, in fact new media and old media (viewed both as a set of distinctive technologies and as a set of persons and social practices) have effectively merged much more than either would care to admit.

Reporters now regularly use bloggers, particularly expert bloggers, as sources for their stories. Newspapers, television networks and newsmagazines increasingly incorporate interactive elements in their online versions, sponsor their own blogs, and provide linkbacks to the blogs that discuss their stories. These trends, which have begun in earnest in the past year or so, will only accelerate as time goes on, as traditional media organizations work out the kinks of how to integrate interactivity into their business models. (Eventually, of course, broadcast television and internet video will merge as content delivery methods, and online delivery of text will increasingly dominate paper delivery.)

The most heavily linked to opinion and expert blogs, and aggregator blogs (i.e., blogs which primarily collect links to what other blogs are doing) make it increasingly easy for mainstream media to know what is going on in the blogosphere and to use this as information sources, as ideas or raw materials for new stories, and as a rough estimate of public opinion.

Interactivity will transform old media, which will not give up the ghost, but will instead use its considerable political and financial clout to draw important elements of the blogosphere ever closer to it, coopting and transforming them, even though many parts of the blogosphere will always remain beyond old media's grasp.

What mainstream media has to offer the blogosphere are money, advertising and links (i.e., traffic). Although the structure of the Internet guarantees that bloggers can generate some degree of traffic on their own, mainstream media platforms, because of their prominence, will help secure a disproportionate share of traffic and attention, and therefore will become (even more than today) important nodal points in the blogosphere, much to the chagrin of some bloggers and the delight of others.

Of course, the more that old media tries to coopt the blogosphere, the more it will itself be transformed. The result, I am afraid, will not be an unalloyed victory for decentralization or democracy, nor will it represent the end of powerful shapers of public opinion who occasionally abuse their power. Rather, it will instead produce a different distribution of power and a different set of dangers and responsibilities.

Just as political parties learned how to manipulate mainstream media in order to structure public debate and deliver their preferred messages, they are learning how to coopt, manipulate (and in some cases become part of) the blogosphere in order to shape public opinion. Increasingly, opinion makers (both in political parties and in the business world) have a multi-pronged strategy that attempts to influence both old and new media. Although the blogosphere regards itself as far too large and too diffuse to be manipulated by powerful political and financial interests, this is surely not so, and the degree of this influence will become even more obvious as time goes on. Nevertheless, the decentralization of the blogosphere and its characteristic architecture (of log normal or powerlaw distributions) allows a degree of countervailing power, which, I continue to hope, will not be extinguished. The revolution is real.


Comments:

I think your remarks are incisive and right on.

However one thing often not mentioned is that political blogs are not even one percent (in terms of public effect) of the power of blogs. Theyb start to dominate in many specialized subjects and also extend personal "community," possibly into something resemblng organization. Politically there may be (among other things) the power to affect dozens or hundreds of votes at "Millies littel teashop."

The specialization is increasingly important because it takes on roles that were once not easily availible to the masses. In the political sphere there are dozens of quite competent economic blogs commenting on specifics of policy and basic concepts. The generalizedpundits ignore them, but in general debate they multiply the number of individuals able to analyze and comment on things central to our wellbeing, but whose details (in a place where details are essential) are ignored for generalities.

Politically the local press is also ripe for development by any aspiring journalist who is willing to publish school board meeting schedules, minutes and comments. We've barely even seen the beginning of this. Perhaps we won't. But medium sized towns and small counties do have the potential of offering a small living for anyone with a relatively small amount of money and a large amount of time to invest.

I personally expect the "long tail" to gain increasing weight in politics as it has in retail. I expect in party discussions that increasingly well informed groups will blindside conventional pundits with well informed analysis of issues and that those with some base of voters will negotiate influence, perhaps through the creation of organizations.

I think one strong theme is frustration with "establishments' of all sides, though often for opposite reasons, and I think many who have thought of themselves as gadflies are going to be surprised to the degree they are concerned the purveyors of well worn, tired dead cliches.

Having watched the development of net "communities" and other forces for a dozen years and bbs communities before that I will state that growth will be expotential, but given the small base fundamental transformation (where the system really shifts) will be years ahead.

Also as you state existing powers will use and adjust to the new medium. And typically those who regard themselves as revolutionary are usually less democratic and more rigid than the imperfect media they challenge. On the left the echo chamber of Kos is an example, on the right the abusrdity of Pajamas Media is another. A few months ago the later which was supposedly net savvy was unable to use google to find out an "open source media" already existed, then they lied and actually claimed that the existing owner had voluntarily given up the name. This on top of the absurdity that they used "open source" to refer to a collective with unusually restrictive copyrights.

Yet they will chide rather for morality and boast they are in tune with this medium.

On the other hand a great deal of very serious political activity will occur outside the perception of the mainstream. "smart mob" concepts of revoltuionizng social communication. Extensions of ebay "market of the masses" to banking systems where savers and borrowers interact directly with each other.

In some online games we've actually reached the stage where money and other property in those games is convertaible to hard cold cash. The power to create their own currencies is falling into the hands of the people.

People can pretend blogs and other net mediums are a fad. And in the case of blogs they may be right. Blogs will evolve more towards things like the scoop engine (already somewhat obsolete) with basic capacities like the ability to name and thread comments. But the set of basic tools they represent will not go away unless repressed because this is handing over to the people basic mechanisms of power and wealth and also unexpectedly powerful simple self express. People will exploit this, for good and for bad.

Blogs are only one element of vast networks of social tendrils developing in parallel. Inj terms of actually effectively disciplines and other fields they may be less effective than mailing lists and the anarchists of Usenet will probably always fly their flags and mantain their beloved spots of "wild wild west" were the commies fight the Nazis and all others jump in in bloody glee for the show, the old net, not the sedate world of blogs. It an so many other places will lurk , potebtially bursting forth in unexpected places and times.
 

Relatedly, the Financial Times ran a long article about blogging and traditional journalism yesterday. At least for now, it's available here:

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/
384be1be-9eb1-11da-ba48-0000779e2340.html

The author opened a blog to discuss the article here: The comments are not uninteresting.

http://ftmagblog.blogspot.com/

I wrote a lengthy response to the FT article here:

http://allintensivepurposes.blogspot.com/2006/02/
blogging-considered-20.html

More in the comments on the FT blog.
 

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