Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.
In this article, Russell (et al.) challenges the mainstream media’s dominance over the news industry, and questions whether the rise in blogs and bloggers reflects a trend away from mainstream media as a source of news.
Russell (2008) begins her discussion of online news by emphasising the power of ‘in-the-field’, ‘self-made’, ‘part-time’ reporters. Soldiers who, in their downtime reflect on the conflict they are fighting in, and share those reflections on Twitter, or photograph their journey (Russell 2008). Or mere citizens, who document the experiences of their life in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, and in turn, shed light on the untold stories of war.
Russell (2008) attributes the growth of ‘self-made’ journalist-bloggers to the increasing availability of video recording devices, internet connections, and the evolution of the (smart) mobile phone.
Despite the growing population of the blogosphere, and the inherent characteristics of blogging (“independence… merit-based popularity”), I argue that blogs are do not “effectively inform the public” anymore than traditional news sources. To support my contention, I will approach the argument from an economic point of view, and demonstrate the benefits of a profit-based media industry (and in turn, that traditional profit-based media is superior to “independent” blogs at “effectively inform[ing] the public”).
The economic principles that support the media industry ensure that the media industry, or individual media outlets, must “effectively inform the public”. Consider the following. ‘Media Source A’ decides to publish a handful of stories that gain little interest in the public domain; the Media Source sells fewer units; it generates poorer ratings; attracts less revenue from its advertising partners, and ultimately; ‘Media Source A’s annual turnover is diminished. In market terms, ‘Media Source A’ has produce an undesirable product, and in response, consumers have bought fewer units.
Enter ‘Media Source B’. ‘Media Source B’ publishes stories that are received well by consumers in the public domain; the Media Source sells more units; it generates higher ratings; attracts increased revenue fro its advertising partners, and ultimately; ‘Media Source B’ yields a greater annual turnover.
Here, market mechanisms ensure that the firm (Media Source) that delivers the most desirable product (the news source that best “informs the public”), are rewarded with higher profits, and as such, sustain and grow their business for longer.
Blogs, on the other hand, are not supported by the same market ‘voting system’ that supports the traditional media industry. Furthermore, the “editorial independence” of blogs is no more advantageous than the profit-dependent editorials of traditional media.
There is, however, strong (and some valid) opposition to my economically-grounded argument. My argument, for example, does not take into account the “quality” of public discourse published by traditional media sources – in general, emotive or celebrity stories attract more public interest and attention than political debate (the latter of which is argued to be more relevant). But such is the nature of economics. It believes in “selling people what they want” rather than the sociological argument of “selling people what they need”.
In conclusion, bloggers do not inform the public more effectively than the mainstream media. Indeed, both ‘old’ and ‘new’ mediums are vulnerable to subjective editorialising.
- Russell, A. et al., ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture’, in Varnelis, K. (ed.) Networked Publics, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, pp. 43-76, 2008.
- ‘Sage’, ‘Since the news media is profit based, does it hurt the credibility of news media programs?’, Analog Binary Set, 2010.