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26.10.06

Web poses problems for traditional media and politicians

If you’re reading this posting, you probably already have joined the ranks of those who prefer information about current events (in this case, Louisiana state and local politics) because of two advantages it has over the traditional media – which some politicians would prefer you not have.

One, you may be here because you like the immediacy. This column is based upon stories appearing from traditional media outlets. The problem they face is they can disseminate information in traditional forms only a limited number of times a day. Take a television or radio outlet. The former might be able to broadcast news four times a day and the other maybe once an hour except at night, for a very limited number of stories. That’s the broadcast media; as far as the print media, they get one shot a day. A lot can happen in 24 hours.

As a result, these traditional media are establishing web presences. Still, their information provision remains quite limited. A newspaper or TV station might be able to provide five current stories a day, while the wire services can do somewhat more on the web. That helps are far as information provision – as long as the consumer has the desire to gather information that way. But practically no analysis occurs on a real-time basis from these traditional outlets. Which is why you may be here – not only do you get a news item probably more quickly than you get it from turning on a media outlet, or picking up a print publication, but you get analysis of it – often well before you would see it broadcast or printed – in context with other things going on. And you get it according to your schedule, not theirs.

(Note: some days I wake up and, after other duties are done, troll news stories for an interesting topic that I think people would want commentary on, and deliver. Other days, I have an idea of something brewing and will wait for it to come to fruition, then write a column about it – like a press conference, court ruling, legislative decision, etc. Especially in the second case, I’m likely to comment on it hours, even days, before the traditional media do, as perhaps some of you have noticed by now.)

The other reason you could be here is that you have found this to be a reliable marker for news and analysis you might not otherwise find on your own. It is not so much speed but coverage which really rankles some politicians, because they are coming to grips with the fact it is much harder for them now to be themselves without the public finding out who they really are and what they really believe.

The reaction to the latest media article in the state on the topic of independent, non-career journalists providing news and commentary encapsulates perfectly this elitist, arrogant attitude. (Note to the author of this article, who had tried to contact me about it: too bad we couldn’t connect, because I could have told him some good stories about local politicians’ reactions to this space.) One politician quoted, state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, basically argues that he gets to say anything he wants, no matter how asinine (and he’s among the prolific producers of ridiculous comments on the floor of the state Senate) as a legislator, yet people like a lawyer and former legislative employee, a doctoral communications student, and a political science professor are a problem because they provide factual information about him and “editorialize” in their online postings.

Their fear, of course, is that new media of this type is disproportionately consumed by politically interested and active people who, in a two-step process, convey the information to the public as a whole. These new media comprise a multiplicity of gatekeepers that politicians cannot control, unlike the traditional media. Because the traditional media rely upon these politicians for information that grabs readers that creates ad revenue, they must have access to these politicians or they suffer. But new media, who base their products more on commentary and less on production of news stories, have no such constraint and essentially lay outside the grasp of any politician.

Louisiana typically rides behind the curve on innovation, including the use of the web for gathering news and commentary, but it is catching up, and those politicians who have built their careers on controlling information disseminated about them are having to adjust to this new reality. And they don’t like it because they know, just like the dinosaurs, that the new reality threatens the extinction of their political careers.

1 comment:

Ryan Duncan said...

Thank you for commenting professor. I'm sorry I couldn't get in touch with you in time to quote you, etc. Unfortunately the topic is one that I couldn't possibly cover entirely and still keep it at a printable length.

Cheers,
Ryan Duncan