Bill Bennett's Withering Take on Mainstream Media
I've no brief, politically, for William J. Bennett, author, talk-show host, blogger, and former US Education Secretary, but his intelligence is a given. His article "Wither the Mainstream Media" describes with great insight a symbiosis between bloggers and talk-radio, and goes on to say that this symbiosis may be the biggest political story of the 2004 election.
Noting that 21% of American voters relied on the Internet for most of their election news, Bennett notices:
"Yes, people cared about something more than job losses (as Ohio, which may have lost more jobs than any other state in the last four years, proved)—but the information about the context of the job losses, as well as the “something more,” came from places other than the mainstream media." (Emphasis mine)Bennett goes on to describe the experience that confirmed for him the importance of the blogosphere:
The value of the blogosphere, combined with talk-radio, teaches another lesson: the experts can often be wrong—not just about facts but about what people care about, and even who’s in charge. Seven months ago, I started a nationally syndicated radio show and only recently learned something very valuable. I began the top of my show two weeks ago with a menu of news items (as I always do), and I was prepared to discuss them ... I opened the phone lines and every single call—every single one—was about the Marine in Fallujah who had shot an Iraqi in a mosque, a news item I did not read in my opening menu of news. The lesson: people often care about something different, and know something more, than what the news providers want to provide or think the people should care about.
A significant insight, and one that bodes ill for mainstream media and companies, too, if they fail to talk about what readers and customers care about (of course, the reverse is, joy!, also true). Bennett closes with "This new media gives us all not only more and better information but more and better democracy."
And I would add "much more power as consumers and employees."
I'm one of Kool-Aid drinkers that David Murray chortles over; I do believe that the Net is the most significant communication innovation since the printing press. What Murray has missed, and what Bennett gets, is that the effects of the innovation are subtle from day-to-day, but that they are inexorable and telling.