Monday, January 17, 2005

The Blog Identity - Preface

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More than a decade ago, Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote a book about a major “wave” of technological advances, which they said would fundamentally change how we live, work, and govern. This “Third Wave” was based on how we receive, analyze, and utilize information.

During the year 2004, blogs played a critical role in investigative journalism, uncovering not only fraud but a brazen attempt by a network to manipulate a presidential election. More than ten million blogs were created in 2004, and the best information is that the explosion is just starting. Radio and editorial personality Hugh Hewitt wrote a book about some of the ramifications of what he calls the “Information Reformation”, indicating that the window of opportunity is real but will close relatively soon.

This article is the first of a series, of changes and creation of new and different identities and roles in the world to come. I hope to address some as-yet unexamined possibilities and directions, and perhaps spark an idea or two.

As often happens when major events occur, the full impact has yet to be seen, much less considered, of the blog phenomenon. Just last week , the CBS network released a report which, instead of accepting the responsibility for promoting fraud, chose to whitewash the scandal and spin a claim of restored integrity. The network has unwittingly to extend the controversy and damn its future, because it continues to misunderstand the nature and degree of the new authorities following the case, who will inevitably return to the attack.

This is a common symptom in the Old Media. Sunday morning, Chris Matthews addressed the scandal, but only as a tangent, and with something far less than a sincere respect for blogs. In a ‘roundtable’ discussion Sunday, Matthews invited Howard Fineman from Newsweek magazine, Campbell Brown from NBC, Ryan Lizza from New Republic magazine, and Kathleen Parker from the Orlando Sentinel; Old Media and Mainstream, all of them. There was not a radio or cable television host there, to say nothing of bloggers. Matthews was his predictable moronic self, demanding to know “if a prominent scandal was broken about a leading Conservative host, would Rush Limbaugh push the story?”, never considering that as a Conservative Talk Show host, that’s not Limbaugh’s job. Matthews never once asked why MSM networks never considered the severity and sheer arrogance of CBS’ actions in Rathergate; that speaks not only to his own bias, but to the clear complicity between MSM networks to excuse felonies, as long as they were committed in the attacks on Conservatives. Matthews demanded to know “whether bloggers would care about a scandal involving a Conservative”, indicating he has somehow never heard of DemocraticUnderground or Kos. Howard Fineman opined that blogger investigations were somehow bad for journalism, as did Campbell Brown, though she stated that the Thornburgh Report is “progress”. Ryan Lizza had no comments on the scandal of any sort, while Kathleen Parker claimed it was clear that “the bloggers” were only interested in “scapegoating” big names. Not a single one on the panel spoke even once to the fact that bloggers uncovered the fraud, forced the investigation, and in every point on this case were proven correct and CBS wrong. That speaks volumes.

This was interesting to me, not because I expected that pack of egotistical liars to give a fig about the facts or responsible journalism, but because after the Report and all the evidence already cited, I would have expected the MSM to at least begin to come to terms with bloggers as a potent force. Instead, Matthews and his buddies have chosen to ignore a sea change in culture and information, indicating a level of desperation as yet unacknowledged publicly.

In that same show, Matthews opined that with the fall in stature of “men to match the marble” in Washington, “Hollywood stars to rival the gods”, and the scandals involving Church leaders, there is no one left to admire or emulate. When examined in closer point, it turns out that only the Liberals have lost their glory, another fact lost on Matthews. Republicans and 62 million voters have found President Bush a man who keeps his promises and sticks to his word. Stars like Mel Gibson who stand on principle have inspired millions, and the Church is enjoying great support and strength in many places. Only in the Left has the lie been found and caused disgrace. This hardly means that only Liberals do wrong, or that Conservatives are starry-eyed and willing to ignore facts, but rather shows that the Right has been able to find a stronger base for its support than the Left has. Many people have grown tired of pretend virtues, and returned to genuine values.

Matthews also spent a few minutes deriding Prince Harry, and suggesting that “we” should end the British Monarchy as a result. I agree that Harry’s nazi-costume stunt was stupid and hurtful, but I wonder at the notion that anyone but the British have any right to say what should happen to their form of government. It seems to me that we were right to oppose their interference in our elections, so we have no right to demand they end their Monarchy. Matthews, in typical Liberal fashion, sees nothing wrong with such presumption.

And so I come to the first group in our examination: Old Media (OM). For many years, the Old Media has seen a tide between different mediums, and the expectation was, initially, that the Internet would simply add another dimension to the palate, not changing who the major players were, or how things got done. This year, that all changed. Rathergate caught the OM completely by surprise, strategic as well as tactical. Even as OM nabobs struggled to respond to the fact-heavy attacks from Little Green Footballs and Powerline and Polipundit, new sites like Rathergate sprang up to pursue new leads and counter OM spin. Rather was outclassed from the start, but never knew it.

By the time the smoke from the scandal began to clear, the public saw gaping holes in CBS’ credibility, as the indisputable facts provided by the bloggers found attention and support in Talk Radio and other New Media, such as Fox News, Fox News represents an interesting evolution in progress, as some networks are willing to use the new resource and acknowledge the importance of bloggers. Essentially, what happened in Rathergate, is that the OM tried to stall and resist the online journalists, but the blog community had already reached a critical mass; simply too many people were aware of the blogs and were carrying their demands to CBS and the other networks. The networks were prepared to ignore hundreds of critics, even thousands, but when the outcry became loud enough, the OM realized they were powerless to deny the truth any longer. So, they resorted to attempting to spin it. I’ll discuss the New Media later this week, possibly tomorrow.

So, what will happen to the poor Old Media? Actually, in the short term, not that much. The reason is, that the OM still has a lot of money and influence in the market. Yes, they’re losing market share, but all together as a group, the OM still has money and power beyond anything the NM can muster. The OM sees the NM as a threat, but only tactically. That’s because as often happens with empires, the men at the top only see what they expect or will accept, and the most serious threats are small enough to be missed until it is far too late. The demise of the OM will not be bloody, but gradual, and inevitable for all its apparent distance now. A generation from now, television will still be here, but its value as a news commodity will depend on the competition between hundreds of outlets, and what actually appears on sets will be programmed to suit the requirements and preferences of each user. Demand will drive the medium, and it will have no choice but to submit. Information will mix with entertainment, much as Talk Radio does now, so that I can see the TV news being delivered in a “forum” setting, where viewers enjoy VR connection to others watching the news, and an interactive discussion will take place, a situation somewhere between a professional briefing and a public square. Rhetorical skills will remain in demand, but unsupported facts will be derided immediately. Other possibilities exist, not the least of which is the reminder that facts and accuracy were few and weak in Michael Moore’s work, but that did not keep it from becoming popular for people who wanted to believe in the conspiracy. The same thing will happen, to some degree, in the delivery of news. News will become a commodity of varying flavors, as it always has, but the dominance of Network oligarchies will fade and die.

The next obvious trend is the scary one. With facts being parsed about as they are, it is possible for people to sort through the available data and reach mutually exclusive possibilities. This is how, for instance, reasonable people have been able to conclude that the War on Terror is either an unquestionably necessary element of American Foreign Policy, or else an unforgivably Imperial abuse of power by the United States. Fortunately, an appetite for fact-checking remains solid, and shows a healthy growth potential. The caveat to all of this, is that there will always need to be citizens willing to watch the watchers. After all, Dan Rather was supposed to be watching out for Big Government, but we discovered we needed to also be protected from Big News.

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