Mass Media vs. Alternative Media

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Your post is very substantial, Daniel, and makes a lot of sense. The same kind of reporting and information flow happened in Libya. But I wish to go in a very different direction in this blog. I’d like to alert you and others to an article that seeks to understand why the mass media report so poorly, and that article is by Michael C. Jensen, “Toward a Theory of the Press.” Now, it’s old (1976) and it was only a preliminary working paper and he didn’t follow it up, so I don’t take it as gospel or anything like that. But it does make a case that the mass media are selling entertainment and simple answers to complex issues. These media go for low cost stories, and so they do not usually dig around or do the kind of deeper intelligence work you’ve done in your blog.

Now that we have alternative internet media, we have to understand why they are more likely to ferret out the truth and tell more accurate stories, that is, if they are.  How would we extend Jensen’s theory to account for that fact, if it is a fact? One possible answer is that the internet has greatly lowered the cost of collecting information. You can search and you can  find bits of information here and there and you can then connect the dots and write an intelligent story. But if you can do it, why aren’t the mass media doing it? It may be that we are in the midst of a disequilibrium or transition. The mass media have their “old” clientele but they are losing customers to the new alternative internet media. This is a common belief that we often see espoused, and it has merit. The internet ultimately may alter the information flow to the public and thus political beliefs. But one cannot get too optimistic, if Jensen’s ideas are correct, because most people rationally do not demand to know the truth about government and politics because they feel helpless to do anything about them, and this is why they want their “news” to be simple-minded entertainment instead. If his theory holds up, then we may see a good many alternative media that start to mimic the mass media in producing inaccurate but entertaining stories. I suspect that this is already the case.

10:08 am on March 3, 2012