Very few Americans trust the mainstream media nowadays. According to a Pew Research Center study, an abysmally low 18 percent of Americans have “a lot” of faith in national news agencies. That number is only expected to go further down as the years wane on.
All news organizations are attempting to regain their steadily decreasing audience in different ways. Some are continuing to tow the line, while others are attempting to “communicate” with their viewers in new ways. One popular liberal news outlet, HuffPost (formerly Huffington Post), is attempting the latter. Lydia Polgreen, the company’s current editor-in-chief, recently published a “Letter From the Editor” detailing HuffPost’s trajectory in the years ahead.
Polgreen is obviously concerned about her media organization’s claims to legitimacy in the era of Trump. In this piece, she doesn’t shy away from the major problems mainstream sites face in a world where only 10 percent of young Americans give the mainstream media a grade of “A” for their reporting.
Polgreen points out one reason Americans put less trust in the mainstream media has to do with the closing up of thousands of local news organizations around the nation. Thanks to the rapid rise of the Internet, around a quarter million local and regional newspaper jobs have become obsolete. Since people don’t see journalists in their local communities anymore, Polgreen argues, it makes cosmopolitan news organizations seem even more removed from the vast majority of Americans.
Interestingly, Polgreen fails to mention that the very same Internet that caused the death of the “community journalist” also gave birth to the “alt-right” and, more generally, “alternative media.” Numerous independent political commentators critical of the mainstream media rose up before and during the 2016 presidential election, and many of them now enjoy large followings online.
With this in mind, it seems somewhat ironic that Polgreen believes more social media will help increase the legitimacy of HuffPost. After all, it was the rise of the Internet that in large part destroyed the credibility of mainstream media sites and increased the “alternative media’s” claims to legitimacy.
Digital natives today increasingly watch videos of individual political commentators like Stefan Molyneux, Paul Joseph Watson, and styxhexandhammer666, all of whom have a growing subscriber base and are hostile to the mainstream. Whether this is wrong or right isn’t the point here. The point is that “alt-right,” “alternative media,” and even conspiracy theory sites are attracting more and more young people precisely because they feel alienated from the very establishment the mainstream media represents.
As far as Polgreen sees it, the mainstream must learn to listen more if it wants to survive. The mainstream media must also adapt to the times by increasing its social media presence. That’s why she says she is proud her company will launch a digital contributor network where people can share their opinions, stories, and concerns.
Of course, every news site nowadays needs to have a social media dimension to survive. That’s a given. So, it’s not quite clear how HuffPost‘s digital contributor network will help the company become more “edgy” and attract new readers. A majority of HuffPost’s dedicated readers are probably already committed liberals, so this new community page certainly won’t attract anyone on the right. Even if HuffPost‘s community forum is built with the noblest of intentions, it just seems like this network could easily become a liberal echo chamber.
There’s no doubt America is extremely polarized and is in need of a good honest discussion. The problem is, that discussion will most likely not happen on a mainstream news platform.
We should never forget the wise words of media theoretician Marshall McLuhan: “the medium is the message.” It is the platform of the Internet that will inevitably frame the great debates of our time. Therefore, it’s critical for anyone trying to wrap their head around politics in the modern world to seriously study the ways in which the Internet is changing how people interact with others, with themselves, and with the world around them.
As the great cultural critic John David Ebert often points out, Internet erases old boundaries between the “here” and “there” and the “there” and “everywhere.” Actually, it almost makes “everywhere” a “nowhere” by erasing any conception of boundary lines. While these boundary lines may seem “old fashioned” to people living in multi-ethnic cities, it’s quite clear that the millions of American’s who support a Mexican border wall think differently. The Mexican-American border wall could be read as an anxious response to the erasure of community lines fostered by the Internet’s very design.
Ebert also details in his celebrated book New Media Invasion how the digital revolution is undoing the old Western values of individual initiative and reason fostered by Gutenbergian book culture. Instead, in Ebert’s opinion, humanity seems to be regressing into a strange and (especially in the case of ISIS) terrifying digital tribalism.
Nicholas Carr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Shallows also looks into this issue from a neurological perspective. Carr expertly shows how the Internet is literally re-wiring our brains and teaching us to think in a more tribalistic manner. Instead of knowing something by heart, it’s far more important to know how to find something on Google in our digital jungle.
So, while it might be easy for people living in cosmopolitan capitals to assume the Internet is liberating force and that globalism is the greatest good, the reality of the situation is far more complex. News organizations need to realize there are many people are justifiably trepidatious over the “brave new world” of automation and globalization. If the mainstream media wants to win back favor with the masses, they must recognize that things like tradition and national pride still matter a great deal to many Americans.
While nothing is impossible, it’s pretty hard to imagine the mainstream media ever being able to win back any Trump-supporting American. The Internet cannot be censored. Just like the Hydra, once you delete someone’s page, it somehow springs up yet again with a vengeance. And, as we’ve seen in recent times, the “plebs” have serious doubts about the globalist project and aren’t afraid to voice their opposition politically.
Whether it’s deserved or not, every mainstream news organization has the deadly stench of globalism around it. Even if sites like HuffPost have honorable intentions, the millions who voted for Trump, Brexit, and Le Pen perceive only intolerance and elitism in the mainstream media. And, since they too have access to the Internet, they’re going to be heard. You can count on that.
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