When you get letters like this one from Jose Hevia after writing an op-ed featuring an essay from your recent book Blogothon, recounting your experiences as a network TV insider turned independent media outsider. The essay offered a case study of how the nominally non-commercial network, PBS, turned its back on a human rights TV series I co-produced. It is about the challenges progressives face in offering a counter-narrative to parochial mainstream thinking.
My critical correspondent wondered what I was whining about:
Complaining that the old media is getting more and more monopolized is … Who cares about old media? … Nobody is my inner circle under 30 watches old media any more.
Take that, old man. Ha, ha, ha.
I am not sure his view is totally true, what with Comedy Central, movie channels galore and unlimited sports coverage. The New York Times reports “Television is America’s No. 1 pastime, with an average of four hours and 39 minutes consumed by every person every day.”
At the same time, Jose is right that Americans ages 12 to 34 are spending less time in front of TV sets.”
What they are not watching is traditional TV news, maybe because it is so uninteresting and disconnected from their lives.
One problem is that we live in a country where there’s plenty of news but little diverse interpretation, context and background. Viewers are interested when it is presented interestingly, not in canned infotainment-oriented formats. When it’s not, they’re not. Breaking news is everywhere only to be replaced by more breaking news that distracts your attention from what broke before.
It’s odd but almost all the most active and militant youth activists who disagree on so much agree that an 80 plus year old named Noam Chomsky is one of their heroes. Punk groups write songs praising him. His books are passed from hand to hand. They are the most popular titles in the Occupy Wall Street Peoples Library. Chomsky just released a pamphlet about Occupy.
A few years back, Chomsky got a rare long interview on cable TV. No, it wasn’t MSNBC or Fox or Comedy Central—the networks that are widely watched—but CSPAN’s Book TV. I started at the screen for what seemed like forever to watch a scroll listing some 80 books he’s written go by ever so slowly. I am not sure how many people watched but it was fascinating.
I am nowhere near Chomsky’s prodigious output. I have only written 14 books not to mention essays published in scores of others. I am not sure it matters but I do what I can.
And, yet, yes, as a journalist I am still a book guy because of my years as a student and immersion in a political culture that reveres ideas and intellectual thought.
At the same time I have also spent years inside the mainstream media machine where my work reached many more millions, even when I felt I was pumping it our into the maw where shows whiz by and are rarely remembered.
When I worked at ABC News. there was an expression that counseled producers not to get too detailed. The instruction was to avoid “MEGO” standing for “My Eyes Glaze Over.” That’s how they believe the audience reacts when exposed to too much analysis. They tune out!
So its not surprising that online media like You Tube, Twitter, Facebook etc are so popular. They are personal, quick, easy to upload to and snappy,
The Occupy Movement has taken advantage of this technology too, with websites and twitter feeds but to their credit, also longer-form outlets.
Old time activists like one of my mentors as an organizer, Stanley Aronowitz, now a social theorist, believes many in this generation don’t understand the importance of reaching beyond their Facebook Friends and digital communities.
He told me for a TV series I am doing about who rules America,
We don’t have a left that really continually, in an effective way, talks about who has power in America. The Occupy movement talked about ninety-nine percent being deprived of economic power and about inequality, but it is not even close to being an analysis that can be disseminated throughout the entire society. We don’t have a system of daily newspapers. We don’t have a weekly newspaper. We have Twitter. We have, you know, various other kinds of social media that we have access to, but it does not replace the kind of systematic analysis that can take place as a result of having our own media.
Maybe that’s why I write a daily 3000-word blog every day at newsdissector.net and churn out books even though I know it’s a kind of Neanderthal pursuit in an age when even popular magazines and newspapers are facing enormous obstacles in reaching audiences. The book business seems to be barely limping along as a transition continues to heavily hyped digital nirvana.
At the same time, along with my younger critic, I do use and believe in the power of social media. I have had a computer since 1981, and been online since ’86. I tweet (Dissector Events) have a Facebook page, use a smart phone, watch videos and relish the power of interactivity. I just think we need to be involved in as many media outlets as we can be.
The journalist I co-founded Globalvision Inc. with, Rory O Connor, has a brilliant must-read book out on social media, Friends, Followers and The Future; How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media.
Yes, he’s right this “new” media is transforming our world and providing key tools that help organize revolts and even revolutions.
It’s all very exciting, but also potentially dangerous as governments create cyber war commands to use the Internet as a tool for aggressive intervention, spying, surveillance, information collection, and social control. Social Media also addicts us to big corporate brands with questionable commitments to change and democracy.
I am reminded of a poster I saw that was created by the students at the Beaux Arts College in Paris during the May-June 1968 uprising. The slogan was more of a mocking warning than a celebration. It read, “I Participate, You Participate. We Participate. They Profit!”
Democracy should not be about enriching a techno-elite, giving us more toys and apps and devices to distract us from becoming the change makers we should be. (How much is Apple or Google giving back?) That’s why I wrote Blogothon with the title inspired by old TV telethons that once ran around the clock. I have been blogging almost every day since 9/11 2001. I believe you need to have a regular presence to win influence.
If the progressive movement is to build support, it needs to be present in all media in an effort to reach and persuade the mainstream about why change is needed and how to go about it, it needs to critique old media and vitalize new Media. We have to build a mass audience for our ideas, not just focus on chatting with so-called friends. Outreach is essential without being condescending. We must influence the mainstream.
Then, we have to also go beyond media and get actively involved in the struggle to transform the status quo in an America of growing economic inequality, poverty and war. My Blogothon essays treat all of these issues with perspectives rooted in my long “career” in media and activism.
Have a read, and you tell me if they can contribute to the movement we need to build?
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at NewsDissector.net. Schechter’s new book Blogothon features blogs and essays on key issues (Cosimo Books). He hosts the News Dissector Radio Hour on Progressive Radio Network (PRN.fm). Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.