Less than half of Canadians trust the information they receive from the media. Newspaper readership is on the decline; over 60% of Canadians identified the internet as their major source for news last year. Blogs and other online independent news sources are flourishing and having a direct effect on world events. Is the traditional world of print and broadcast media headed for extinction?
In my personal world, that has already happened. I haven’t watched a televised news broadcast in years. I might browse through the ads in a newspaper every few months. Radio is just a medium that stirs me out of bed in the morning (and only when my three-year-old fails to first).
The information I consume comes from the internet. I do read major news sources on the web such as the Globe and Mail, the BBC, and the New York Times. On my mobile device I pass the time during breakfast skimming the CBC’s very brief stories. However, I temper these sources of objective-poseur information with more blatantly biased posts from bloggers in a variety of fields including Michael Geist, Stephen Dubner, and Jason O’Grady. I also frequent distinctly online news sources such as the Register.
Most of this information I access through a mess of RSS feeds which essentially presents me with a text-based headline and summary for each news item. This access method serves to blur the lines between the different media outlets and frees me to select content based on my own discretion. In a sense, I edit my own little newspaper.
In his landmark 1996 book, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte foretold of this sort of behaviour when he described how information consumers would build their own interfaces to the news, ignoring traditional outlets like newspapers and television. He called it the “Daily Me.”
Negroponte’s original vision of the Daily Me never quite caught on, partly because most large news providers bought up the online outlets that could have made it happen and crafted the internet in their stuffy traditional image.
Fortunately, citizens of the internet are not so easy to quell. Blogging, for one, is an explosive force that flies in the face of old media and threatens to supplant it (though it’s unlikely that it ever will). The “Daily Me” has transformed into the “Daily We” as information consumers now insist on not only controlling their information consumption, but also on enforcing their right to contribute.
The Daily We began roughly when independent blogs started encouraging readers to comment openly and freely. Traditional media has never offered its consumers this privilege for many reasons, including limited space, limited time, and, of course, editorial perspective. On blogs however, comment-based conversations can, and often do, carry on at great length.
Today, the internet is rife with the unharnessed power of the the “we.” The word “mass” now describes this force instead of the traditional media “we” are working simultaneously with and against.
Now the Daily We is everywhere. In a way, it’s already been reduced to a gaudy trend through the rather patronizing acknowledgements of traditional media: most major media sites permit open commenting on a token number of news stories. Even the esteemed “Gray Lady” — the New York Times — let’s us in to colour select pages on her web site.
The Daily We goes further than just commenting on news, however. Through a multitude of new technical outlets we distribute our thoughts, our opinions, our cultures, and our communities. The podcast lets us broadcast what radio and television either miss or choose to ignore. Mobile tools such as cell phone text messaging enable us to tap into the youth culture that is ever more alienated by the traditional media.
At the beginning of the 20th century the media was viewed as a dangerous tool of empowerment for the unprivileged in society. Critics like Nietszche fretted that newspapers threatened to stir the general populace into a “tyranny of the least and the dumbest.” It was believed that we could be controlled by the press as a population of uncritical information consumers.
For a time this might have been true, but as we enter the new millennium it becomes clear that we are not content with our formerly docile roles in the media ecosystem.
Perhaps we have become too critical; or perhaps we are just sick of a media machine that feeds us endless gobs of propaganda from governments and corporations.
Whatever, the collective “we” wants to become an active participant, an essential element in a sort of never-ending feedback loop of news and current events. The “we” has seen past the false pretence of the “objective” media and understands that by openly displaying bias it can enable and respect its audience’s powers of discretion. In a twist of irony, by adopting bias online information resources may have established a greater degree of trust than traditional media currently enjoys.