The Media At War – Old Media Vs. New Media

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

If you’re reading this post, I have no doubt you are more than aware this is an election year. You have probably chosen your favorite candidate, and done a bit of research. Before you let out an exasperated sigh and hit the red X in the upper right corner, let me assure you that this post isn’t dedicated to trying to convert you. Rather, it’s a look at the technological influence of old and new media and the war being waged between the two. This post is designed to be a preface for a follow up which will be done on voter empowerment and the growing opportunities available to average citizens. This post is also dedicated to the presence and the role electronic components should play in our electoral system.

A quick note of clarification: When I specify Old Media I’m referring to mainstream print and television. These include sites like WSJ, NYT, CNN and FOX. I define New Media as largely web-based publications/aggregations…Things like Digg, Reddit, Del.icio.us and the blog component of sites like Wired.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “I find that the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise.” A sentiment I feel is relevant and one with which I strongly agree. Since the mid ’90s liberals and conservatives have cried foul against the Old Media. Both sides are claiming bias, censorship and misconduct. This primary season is, perhaps, the first opportunity we have had to put aside our rocks and stones and view the greater issue in a civilized fashion.

In today’s modern information web one is subject to two very different dialogs. The Old Media has focused on Clinton, Obama, McCain, Romney, and until recently Huckabee. The New Media on the other hand has focused on Ron Paul, John Edwards and Obama. Astonishingly, the discourse and news being represented and distributed is vastly different between the two. While the Old Media focuses on telling the people what they should believe, what they should think, and focuses on creating sensationalized issue-after-polarizing-issue, the New Media powered by the people – not corporate/political interests – have focused on sharing/promoting and debating an entirely different type of news.

In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the New Media is in outright rebellion against the Old Media. Like him, love him, hate him, despise him – one thing Ron Paul has shown us is the incredible power of the New Media and their impact on enabling individuals, groups, and grass roots projects. Four years ago Paul’s campaign would have been no different than Kucinich and his predecessors. Just a fringe blip that let out a quick shout and then vanished back into the background noise unable to gain momentum or raise the funds to continue. Not any more. Today’s message is simple, the people have a voice and are hungry to be heard. The way news and information is distributed will never be the same.

The power of the New Media isn’t limited to politics alone. That’s why it’s so significant – it’s relevant for all things information based. Have you heard about the web activist group Anonymous and their virtual war on Scientology? It would not be possible for any movement to pick up the momentum it has without the New Media. In fact, their whole goal relies on spreading information through New Media outlets. If the Old Media eventually picks up partial, censored coverage, most will view it as an unexpected bonus.

I mentioned previously that Old and New Media are at war. As proof, consider a recent battle that occurred between the New Media and Fox News/Cooper Lawrence. In a segment lashing out at the gaming community, Fox News brought Cooper Lawrence on to discuss elements of the game Mass Effect which were branded as morally deplorable. Shortly thereafter, the New Media spread information revealing that Lawrence had never played the game & was making gross exaggerations/uninformed statements. The backlash? Within hours the book she was promoting had been blasted on Amazon.com. For the 10, five-star ratings the book had, it had nearly three hundred one-star ratings. Of the 250 keywords associated with the Author, 90% had to do with things like “Liar,” “Hypocrite,” or “Uneducated.” It wasn’t just limited to Amazon. Her MySpace page was bombarded by protesters, her publishers contacted, and her website overloaded. Within a week, a besieged Lawrence issued a public apology and a correction. Fox and other Old Media outlets eventually gave the response some attention, but largely ignored the entire event. The Lawrence/Mass Effect battle was a defining moment. An end of the era of accountability-free news during which major news outlets were able to publish/hold grossly biased interviews without having to fear any potential repercussions beyond being forced to publish a minute/obscure retraction somewhere down the road.

The Lawrence issue compounded recent issues Fox has been facing – from the Democrats refusing to appear on the network during the primary, to Ron Paul supporters [Major support from the financial industry] selling off stock and boycotting their services. All of this made possible and recorded by the New Media.

The Old Media has lost the faith of the American people after betraying it for years. The New Media is poised to bring a level of accountability and richly different information to the table. New Media is changing the media-scape permanently.

The question of media and politics doesn’t end with the media. In fact, that’s just the start. After the 2000 election hanging chad mess in Florida, advocates trying to fix the issue and snag easy headlines turned to electronic alternatives. Though coverage has been somewhat mixed, the truth is these machines have been a disaster. They performed miserably in the 06′ elections and have been at the center of major controversies during this primary season. It was through the New Media that word first spread and became known that the machines could be easily hacked. It was through citizen reporters and the New Media that updates were published about the NH re-count and it was through the New Media that the D & R candidates were able to raise the tens of thousands of dollars in a two-day period required to pay for the recounts.

Skeptical? Not familiar with New Media? Curious? Then I challenge you to compare front page headlines on Reddit and Digg to those of CNN over a 36 hour period.

It’s not that there is no longer a place for Old Media and that New Media will replacd it…Rather, we are coming into a time where we have other options and may be able to hold Old and New accountable for what they report. It is, in a way, an exciting new form of media checks and balances.

Note: This post is a preface for a Part 2 which will cover social networking, grass roots and some of my recent political experiments.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.