The Balkanization of Media

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , ,

I’m a media junkie, and I have enough miles on me to remember that Sunday meant, in addition to church, a pile of newspapers.  We’d pick them up at the newsstand after swinging by the bakery for crumb buns.

I read all the funnies…the Journal American’s were best, I recall…and my father read the rest.  For him, reading the news wasn’t entertainment.  It was his mission to stay informed.  I made it my mission, as well, but doing so isn’t easy in the sound-bite, spin-laden and context-deficient world we live in.  It takes work and it’s work that most people don’t care to do.

If the sound-bite world of broadcast media has done any good at all, it can be argued that it has defined the problem: most people don’t give a damn about points of view other than their own.  Rather, they want black or white ideas…never shades of gray.  Let the liberal, intellectual elite wallow around in that “shades-of-gray” muck if it wants to.  Just give me some of that old-time, right-wing political certainty…and a beer.

I spent many years in the media business…on the magazine side…but my passion was all media.  When cable TV spread across the country and the promise of hundreds of channels captivated our media-junkie imaginations, I saw the risk of an increasingly balkanized world of ideas, where like-minded consumers of information all drank from the same cup.  Then, the internet pushed the idea even further.

I recall a segment of public radio’s “On the Media,” which aired some years ago.  One guest was from the newspaper business and the other represented the, then, some-what new world of Internet-delivered news.  It was like the Christians and the Lions.  The internet guy hit all the hot spots: people don’t have enough time to read newspapers; most of what’s in a newspaper isn’t of interest to the reader; the internet is immediate and evergreen; and, best yet, internet news can be customized.  Only “your” news that’s fit to print, delivered daily, and it doesn’t even kill a tree!

Well, to me the value of a good newspaper is the same as the pleasure of dining at a good buffet.  While you may walk up to the buffet table looking for one kind of food, chances are you will return to your table with some enriching surprises.  Sadly, this view hardly matters any more.

So, what to do, what to do?  I don’t know to do anything but continue pushing the multi-source information envelope and hope that someone, somewhere uncovers a way to package it in a manner such that people won’t feel as though their cherished ideas are being attacked.  Am I hopeful that this will come to pass?  Of course.  Do I think it will?  No.

Unfortunately, freedom of speech is, for most people, the freedom not to hear…or care.

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