Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: The Beltway Vs. The Blogs

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My latest Tuned In column in Time arose from some conversations I’d been having lately with colleagues about how much influence new media (blogs, online news, YouTube, etc.) is having in this year’s election coverage as opposed to old media (newspapers, TV news, Time magazine, etc.). This issue has come up in every election since there’s been an Internet—see all the articles about 2006 being the YouTube election, for instance. But I found that the more I looked at it, the more it seemed like both old and new media were having an influence—but increasingly, in the ways that people usually associate with the other group. So I wrote a column about it:

It’s too simple to say that the new media are killing off the old media. Interest in political news is sky-high, and new and old media each need the other to supply material and drive attention. What’s happening instead is a kind of melding of roles. Old and new media are still symbiotic, but it’s getting hard to tell who’s the rhino and who’s the tickbird.

In their original division of labor, the old media broke news while the blogs dispensed opinion. But look at two of the biggest stories of the Democratic primary: Barack Obama’s comments that working-class voters are “bitter” and Bill Clinton’s rope-line rant that a reporter who profiled him was a “scumbag.” Both were broken by a volunteer for the Huffington Post website, Mayhill Fowler… [snip]

And the old media, under pressure to work fast, sharpen their voices and cut costs, are increasingly making news blog-style, through argument and controversy.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the complex interrelation between old and new media is probably better suited to a book than a 750-word column. And I was really trying to cram two or three different column topics in here (what the passing of Tim Russert represents for Establishment journalism, journalists’ territorial attacks on Fowler, the popularity yet vapidity of the big TV debates, etc.).

And I, like you, could make a list as long as my arm of the aspects I left out or gave short shrift (e.g., the role of below-the-radar Internet rumors, the reporting of new/old media hybrids like Talking Points Memo and Politico, the way that the competition for links from Drudge et al. is forcing old media to be faster and bloggier, the fact that mainstream institutions are now rife with blogs like the one you are reading right now, and so on).

So, sorry about that.

But the overarching conclusion I came to is that the more you compare the role of the old and the new media, the more pointless it seems to separate the two (instead of separating “good reporting from bad, informed opinion from hot air, information from stenography”).

Of course, you could draw the inference that a column comparing old and new media in the election is equally pointless, if you look at it that way. So don’t look at it that way!

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