Monday, March 23, 2009

The Daily Us

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column ("The Daily Me") last Thursday advancing the thesis that as newspapers disappear, we will be on our own to pick and choose among news stories on the web.

He goes on to cite and agree with several studies that indicate we will choose to read only articles that re-enforce our biases. And we will ignore those that challenge our prejudices.

Kristof laments that the change will mean greater and greater polarization in a nation that can ill-afford it.

Perhaps, but for decades main-stream news media (newspapers, news magazines and TV) have provided us ideologically narrow choices. Rupert's choice and Gannett's and the New York Times', and CBS's and PBS's and The Oregonian's. With few exceptions (Bill Moyers, Ralph Nader and Ron Paul come to mind) mainstream American political discourse runs the gamut from "A" to "B."

By contrast, the Internet’s raging, howling cacophony give us a wild and refreshing range of political voices.

For 70 years, media myopia, extending in the narrow band from conservative Republican to liberal Democrat, has cramped our view of the world and our options.

The Internet has the potential to blow open awareness. Not just pushing out the boundaries on the political Left and Right, but lifting Up and pulling Down and exploring In and extending Out.

For example, I wonder whether the New Populism would have been amplified as it is being if it weren’t for the Internet and the millions of soapboxes that allowed the public to express its outrage over the AIG bonuses. Interestingly, that outrage has come from both Left and Right — and who knows where else.

Where’s the polarization? Where's "The Daily Me"?

What we have in the Internet is a Vox Populi. Not everyone may hear it, but it is always just a click away. And we can add our voices to it without paying a cent.

Before the Internet you had to go to some obscure storefront and purchase a screed to learn real alternatives. Now such opinion is free and on your desk top.

This is the stuff of pre-revolutionary pamphleteering that arose when owning a printing press was not limited to the wealthy. That widespread “power of the press” gave the American colonies the revolutionary “Common Sense” and hundreds of opinionated and, yes, biased pamphlets.

The Internet could fuel the equivalent to Thomas Paine’s persuasive prose, and before you know it we might be exposed to real choices. The economy might not be restored to its dependence on the old, destructive consumerist values; it might be fundamentally changed by a new set of values, as it desperately needs to be.

No, I don’t think the demise of tightly edited and narrowly circumscribed newspapers will give us “The Daily Me.”

I suspect it will give us “The Daily Us.” In fact it already has, and, unlike Kristof, I believe we are better for it.

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