Fragmentation or renewal
Wednesday, July 12th, 2006
Many analysts are writing about the fragmentation of media audiences. And most, like this Fortune writer, moan about it:
I think the explosion of choice has left us poorer in at least two arenas. The first is journalism. (Yes, as a Fortune writer, I’ve got a stake in the health of the mainstream media, which bloggers call the MSM.) The network evening newscasts, big-city newspapers and the national news magazines once had the money, access, skills, commitment and power to deliver lots of original reporting and put important issues on the national agenda. Today, they are all diminished.
To pick a single, timely, example, The Tribune Co. announced just the other day that its newspapers would be closing foreign bureaus in Johannesburg, Moscow, Lebanon and Pakistan. This is happening all over newspaperdom and it happened years ago at the broadcast networks.
Yes, there is more information available to us than ever, but I don’t think we are better informed. Niche media will, inevitably, continue to weaken mass media.
The second arena where we are worse off is politics. This is related to journalism, as the moderate and responsible (okay, bland) voices of the MSM get drowned out by partisan, opinionated cableheads and bloggers.
Politics in America has become polarized for many reasons, but a big one is the fact that people can now filter the news and opinion they get to avoid exposure to ideas with which they disagree. Anderson suggests that this could well be a temporary problem, and that if the major parties continue to move to the extremes and the quality of debate continues to deteriorate, the Internet could well enable a new party or parties, to arise.
Mass culture provides intangible benefits, too. Big stars, hit TV shows and even commercials help knit a society together. Think of the feeling that comes a few times a year – the morning after the Super Bowl or the Oscars – when tens of millions of Americans share a common experience.
This analsys of course misses the fact that new communities are arising, knitting people together in novel and powerful ways. Something is being lost, but I’d argue that we’re gaining much more than a “mass of niches.”