The election victory of Donald Trump highlights shortcomings of the main-stream mass media in America as much as disillusionment with conventional politics. Indeed, it is a damning verdict on both “pillars of democracy”. Contrary to what many people believe, politicians are not dinosaurs and they can adjust themselves quite quickly, for better or worse. Journalists, on the other hand, appear in a more precarious position.
It’s somewhat ironic that journalists are among the slowest species to adjust. They may always lambaste others’ “failure to adapt” but the truth is that while businesses often take consumers’ feedback seriously, and politicians usually do what opinion polls tell them to, reporters can be very aloof – and unknowingly so.
The growing influence of social media outlets has managed to contain the arrogance a little, but mainstream media have remained adamant that their characteristic “assets” would enable them to pull through these difficult times.
The “assets” refer to the “access” to news sources unreachable to most others, like high-ranking officials or top celebrities, and the perceived ability to separate rumours, heresy or blatant lies from what is real. The strong confidence in the “assets” has led to one significant mistake. The transformation from a one-way communication pattern to a two-way approach has been too slow and incomplete. Some conventional media people think that it is enough to publish or read out readers’, or viewers’ comments.
Real “engagement” requires a lot more. Even American media outlets have failed to recognise this as evident in their “more of the same” approach in deciding content. The “high-horse” mentality still prevails, leading to coverage or commentaries that viewers or readers have found irrelevant, patronising or one-sided. The Trump triumph is voters’ message to the Democrats that “You are promising things that you should have done over the past eight years”, and to the mainstream media that “We don’t believe you any longer.”
Make no mistake, it’s anything but easy to strike a balance between what the public “want” to read or watch and what they “should” read or watch. What’s happening, though, is the mainstream media jealously guarding the right to dictate content and be opinion leaders. Social media outlets have been granted a content-guiding role, but things ultimately remain lopsided in favour of the old guards.
The conventional media have long considered themselves a pillar of democracy. That was for good reasons up until social media proved that they, too, have legitimate grounds to share that status. Better still, social media have been less influenced by vested interests.
In other words, while banks or oil companies or auto manufacturers can assert varying degrees of control over the mainstream media, they can’t do the same to the social media.
With “subscription” money waning, the mainstream media are relying more and more on “sponsors”. This is chipping away at their credibility, making them unable to take full advantage of social media outlets’ capacity to spread pure rumours or fake news. When American media outlets endorsed Hillary Clinton, people could not help wonder if some vested interests were lurking behind the scenes. It didn’t matter if the endorsement was sincere or not.
There is no simple cure for what the conventional media are suffering from. It’s a new ball game and perhaps trying to buy time can be riskier than expected and everything – the structure, the concept, the vision – will have to be redrawn urgently from scratch.
Published : December 11, 2016
By : The Nation