October 20th, 2011 12:34 EST
The News Business is Changing Too Fast for The Mainstream to Keep Pace
A tragedy looms
The only thing trickier than our financial elite and their politician-stooges is the labels they use. These labels are a contagion which all of us readily contract.
Take, for example, the term mainstream media. I use this catch-all because it`s handy, but it has become dangerously misleading, and therein lies a big story you won`t find in the mainstream media. " The big news organizations are becoming artifacts. They`re having trouble holding themselves together. They`re trying to reinvent themselves, but no sooner do they achieve modest success than they come apart again. Their predicament is the same as the book publishing industry`s; they don`t know how to succeed in the Internet Era.
Meanwhile, alternative news organizations are springing up almost weekly, because it`s no longer cost-prohibitive to start a newspaper or an Internet radio station or even a video news operation. In a sense, each Facebook page is a newspaper, and each participant has an almost unlimited treasury of ideas and information to draw on. There are not only news sites but e-mailed newsletters, like Sam Smith`s noble Undernews, which is both a site and an e-mail. We`re left to our wits and druthers to decide if these enterprises are trustworthy. Some are screeds, some are insightful, some propagate disinformation, others merely filter events through a certain kind of tinted lens "just as newspapers have always done while claiming more dispassion and fairness than they`re entitled to. If the public is now on its own when it comes to reliability, it also has infinitely more choices and more resources.
The Huffington Post is perhaps the most notable of alternative media, and while it regularly scoops its older brethren and sometimes owns a story from the get-go, it can`t be relied on for an unusual angle of vision, not the way you can rely on AlterNet or National Memo.
In many ways the venerable Christian Science Monitor, now solely online, has been an alternative press for a long time. While other organizations have laid claim to objectivity and fairness the Monitor can be trusted not to grind the usual axes.
When I use my Facebook presence as a kind of alembic for unusual or neglected ideas I tend to turn to the alternative press for a number of reasons. I want to help them achieve recognition. I look to them for marginalized news and contrarian views. But I also turn to what`s left of our local and regional press, because I often find a different way of seeing things among them. For example, The Tennessean doesn`t see street protests along California`s central coast the way The New York Times does. And sometimes a member of the news establishment surprisingly becomes an alternative news source, as is the case with The Guardian, a venerable British news organization that took Occupy Wall Street seriously from day one and has reported the ensuing protests better than most American newspapers.
AlterNet and National Memo are among the better known alternative news operations, but others, like The Student Operated Press and NewsBlaze, are interesting because they don`t share traditional obsessions, the usual ways of determining the importance of news. For example, if I write a piece for The Student Operated Press claiming that the biggest story of our time is the effort in Congress to sell the Internet out from under the public to media giants, it will receive a much warmer welcome than any media giant would give it, because it`s not an issue Big Media wants covered. And it will get a warmer welcome than it would from HuffPost or AlterNet or National Memo because their editors were largely shaped by the 19th Century news ethos that still dominates large newsrooms "to say nothing of the fact that I`m not a big, attention-getting name in journalism. NewsBlaze and The Student Operated Press, like a number of other online operations, give younger, untried journalists an opportunity to test their skills in the marketplace.
The underlying importance of these developments is that a 19th Century ethos is being overridden by new ways of thinking about news. Nobody knows what will emerge, in the same way publishers still can`t decide whether publishing an e-book along with a paperback is a good or a bad thing. But it`s a thing, and we`ll have to see how its thingness plays out in our lives.
There have always been alternative media, but there has never before been a medium like the Internet to circulate them. Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communications theorist, famously said the medium is the message, and this dictum is better understood by the giant corporations covertly paying Congress to hand the Net over to them than it is by the public "a looming tragedy. The Occupy Movement would do well to take up this cause, because nothing will suppress dissent in America more than the takeover of the Internet by giant corporations in the name of privatization.
An even more exciting phenomenon is at work. Until the 1990s we were pretty much constrained to take a news organization`s word for it or embark on researches few of us had time for. But with the Internet arose organizations like The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, FactCheck.Org, Poynter.Org, and Snopes.com, enabling us to investigate stories for accuracy. These organizations, which ought to be used regularly by everyone interested in news, perform a far more valuable service than think tanks funded by corporate interests with an agenda. Two great newspaper families support them "Annenberg and Poynter "and so they`re rooted in a tradition that predates the concentration of media in a few hands in the 1980s.
When we use the term mainstream media to distinguish between the giants we know and the upstarts we`re getting to know we must remember that the word mainstream doesn`t mean what it meant ten years ago, or even five years ago. HuffPost is mainstream now, FactCheck and Poynter should be, and many others will be.
Djelloul Marbrook`s first book, Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. Artists` Hill, an excerpt from his unpublished novel, Crowds of One, won the 2008 Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction. Artemisia`s Wolf, a novella, was published by Prakash Books of India early in 2011. Alice Miller`s Room, a novella, was published in 1999 by OnlineOriginals.com (UK) as an e-book, and Bliss Plot Press of Woodstock, NY, recently published his novella, Saraceno, as an e-book. Orbis (UK), Smashwords.com, Potomac Review (Maryland) and Prima Materia (New York). His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010). Recent poems were published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Oberon, Meadowland Review, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Poets Against War, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue, Atticus, Long Island Quarterly, ReDactions, Istanbul Literary Review, Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review, Damazine, Perpetuum Mobile, Attic, and Chronogram. A retired newspaper editor and Navy veteran, he lives in Germantown, NY, with his wife Marilyn, and has lifelong ties to Woodstock.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com