The new dominance of social media in the news business is not depressing at all: it’s excellent news. Just as most news consumers were never avid enough to seek out blogs, most Americans were never avid enough to seek out news at all. They didn’t buy newspapers; they didn’t watch the nightly news on TV; it just wasn’t something which interested them. But now the news comes at them directly, from their friends, which means that the total news audience has grown massively, even just within the relatively stagnant US population. Globally, of course, it’s growing faster still — the ubiquitous smartphone is a worldwide phenomenon.
So, you’re saying the only outdated part of Thoreau’s famous observation is that it’s not just the broad, flapping American ear anymore? “The total news audience has grown massively” — hold up, hold up; I think we’re going to have to search your definition of news here, sir. When I look at a site like Digg, which is essentially just the top forty current viral stories, well, I suspect your generous notion of news consumption and its supposed beneficial consequences is about as myopic as measuring a nation’s economic health by GDP. To continue on that note, perhaps, like the SPI, we’ll see these attitudes become more popular in reaction.
Anyway, I remember Noel telling me some time ago about news programs incorporating viewer tweets into their coverage. Not being a news viewer, I didn’t see an example for myself until very recently. Sweet Christ, Neil Postman had no idea how prescient he was. Have we had an incident yet of some poor bastard breaking off his reporting of what @horndogg69 thinks about the Syrian civil war by screaming “I went to journalism school for this?!” before exiting stage right in a flurry of scattered notes and epithets?