Explaining Bottom-Up News is Difficult

It’s a few weeks old, but Matt Welch has a great example of the biases you find when mainstream journalists analyze the current trends in news gathering. He describes a conversation with Alex Jones, (who I critiqued here):

After Jones had gone on about how the “iron core” of news is shrinking, thereby imperiling our democracy, I pointed out that in a blog post I had written just that morning about a flurry of last-minute laws signed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the links I found (thanks to Google News) included MTV.com, a boating newsletter, and a hip-hop website. Instead of even entertaining the notion that the “iron core” had been increased on net by widespread sources, Jones was horrified. Why, how did I know that HipHopPress.com was a reliable source! Shame on the mainstream media for not covering each and every law!

In an argument like this, people like Welch are placed at a structural disadvantage because the emerging bottom-up structure of the news business is much harder to catalog than the top-down model it was replacing. Alex Jones can easily explain how the LA Times will cover California politics: they hire reporters and order them to Sacramento. He can say exactly how many reporters there will be, how much they’ll cost, how many stories they’re write, and so forth.

In contrast, Welch has to explain how a decentralized media ecosystem containing thousands of outlets like HipHopPress.com and MTV.com might, in the aggregate, provide more thorough coverage than the LA Times. This is quite a bit more difficult, because there’s no one offering a formal guarantee that any stories will be produced, and because the Internet news ecosystem is vastly more diverse, with many more contributors and many more types of contributors.

Yet the reality is that there are, in fact, a huge number of small sites covering California politics (and lots of other topics) that are the traditional domain of large newspapers. The fact that the blogosphere is hard to explain doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. After all, the Wikipedia process is much harder to explain than the Britannica editing process, yet it seems to work pretty well.

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One Response to Explaining Bottom-Up News is Difficult

  1. seff says:

    You have conveyed what I’ve tried to get across to friends in discussions about the newspaper industry. A monolithic oligopoly is giving way to a diversified multitude of news. Folks who fear of a too high noise to signal ratio only need to look at tools like RSS aggregators, Google search, Twitter, Facebook, etc. This is a huge positive.

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