Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell have written an excellent article, “Web of Influence”, published in the November/December issue of Foreign Policy. (Geoffrey Kirkman pointed me to the article a week or so ago, but it wasn’t obvious where the article appeared on the FP website. Thanks to Shannon Clark for pointing me in the right direction.) Drezner and Farrell are doing strong scholarly work on the blogosphere – “The Power and Politics of Blogs”, which looks at blogs ability to influence and frame media debate despite comparatively small readership, is very much worth reading. (Or read Farrell’s summary of the paper on Crooked Timber, where he’s a co-editor.)
One of the stars of the FP article is my friend and colleague Rebecca Mackinnon, “recovering television journalist” and fellow fellow (don’t you just love the English language?) at the Berkman Center. I’ve had a great time over the past year watching her become an alpha blogger, building NKZone, a creative new way to report about North Korea, and RConversation, her personal blog.
She’s just posted a remarkable piece about the end of her time with CNN and her thoughts on how the network has changed during her time with it. Rather than being the sort of personal rant all of us want to write when leaving a job we were passionate about, it’s a critique of the very notion of market-based journalism. The final paragraph gives me a great deal to wrestle with:
…it is unrealistic to expect commercially-driven TV news companies to do anything other than to seek profit maximization – while at the same time selling a product that can still be defined as “news” in some way. The search for profit maximization means that these companies will shape their news to fit the tastes and values of the majority of their most lucrative potential audience. Citizens of democracies who want to be well informed must understand this. They cannot expect to be passive consumers to whatever news comes their way from a name-brand news source. They must question, contrast and compare. They must demand better quality information.
I agree with both Rebecca’s formulation of the problem and her proposed solution. But it’s a partial solution at best – while some of us are becoming better critical readers, it takes a tremendous amount of work to read every story properly. I simply don’t have the background Rebecca has to read stories about North Asia critically. So I rely on informed critical readers like her to navigate me through issues in China and North Korea.
And this, to me, points to the larger, more difficult solution to the limitations of commercial media. Critical readers who share their interpretations have the chance to shape what corporate media covers and how they cover it. We’ve got a back door – an ever widening one – into the mainstream media. We’ve got a chance to hack commercial media. Let’s get busy!