The Jonah Goldberg piece mentioned below concludes by wondering what is coming next, now that “we are officially at the Goodbye To All That moment of old media.” Like Goldberg, I have no clear idea. But here are some thoughts I had on this topic during a long plane ride home this afternoon:
1. Blogs like ours don’t compete with national newscasts. We don’t try to summarize the national and world news, we don’t offer live coverage of hurricanes, and we attempt investigative journalism only intermittently. We’re more like opinion journals. If one took everything we wrote during a week, did some editing, and changed our format, our blog might end up looking something like a less literate version of National Review or the Weekly Standard. Note that these magazines — the closest thing we have to major media competitors — seem to respect and even promote the work of conservative bloggers.
2. Blogs can only inflict significant damage on network news organizations to the extent that these organizations utter flagrant falsehoods or otherwise commit major inexcusable errors. When networks run slanted stories that always favor the liberal cause, we serve a worthwhile function by exposing the slant and the consistency of the bias. But this does no major harm to the networks.
3. Arguably, then, blogs pose no inherent danger to the networks. Networks merely need to avoid uttering flagrant falsehoods and committing major inexcusable errors. Then they can continue to slant things in the liberal direction without taking any deadly hits from bloggers. The Washington Post can serve as a model.
4. This looks like the smart play, but it’s not entirely satisfactory. For example, when the candidate you hate gets a bounce in the polls, this approach does not permit you to produce a magic bullet hit piece, at will, to reverse the bounce. You may have to eschew the quick fix and hope that a steady drumbeat of negativity on pre-existing issues will do the trick. This approach will jump start neither your ratings nor your candidate. Thus, it remain unclear which play the networks will make.
5. In any event, broadcast network news organizations face major challenges beyond those posed by bloggers. The fact that blogs don’t really compete with them doesn’t mean they lack competitors. And it’s questionable whether the networks remain committed to their news departments.
6. Will we ever again see a major network that gains general trust as a non-partisan source of news? I’m pretty sure we won’t. It’s a daunting task, and the incentive for undertaking it is not obvious. The old “most trusted man in America model” model was an anomaly — the product of a breath-taking new technology with enormous “centralizing” tendencies, coupled with a post World War II political consensus. That consensus no longer exists, and we now have a breath-taking new technology with enormous decentralizing tendencies.
7. So I guess I agree with what most commentators have been saying. It looks like we’re headed back to a more normal and probably more salutary model in which thousands of flowers attempt to bloom — or perhaps thousands of weeds attempt to pose as flowers. No one gets to say, authoritatively, which weeds are flowers. These determinations are made over time in the market place, as has happened traditionally in our politics. The big difference this time is that, in the information age, the market place will function even better than it has in the past.
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