June 04, 2003

Big Bad Media

Jeff Jarvis wrote a big post on media bashing and I wrote a big reply in his comments. To review his post, he complained about media bashing by people unlinked and unnamed except for one Lawrence Lessig who I had never heard of. I have read through his post a few times and I still don't know who he is referring to -- no one I have read has bashed "all big media" as being bad in itself; the claims seem to be a little more specific than that. But I took issue with his slamming of bloggers, in a how-dare-they-presume waggon-circling stance straight out of the big-media-personnel handbook (from the chapter "How to Deal With Criticism from Outsiders.") Here is what he said:

As for the anti-big-media bashing we've seen from webloggers -- inspired lately by the FCC and by the New York Times screwups -- I'll argue that they are essentially jealous. Webloggers are nanomedia moguls with big-media aspirations. Most of them are conservative or libertarian and thus should abhor regulation, even of media. But in this case and this case only, they endorse regulation. Why? Because they hate big media. And they hate big media because it has the resources and the distribution and the audience they don't have. Hell, big media pays; blogging doesn't.

My reaction was, Hurrr? Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Jarvis? I will admit most of the regulate-deregulate media argument makes my eyes glaze over. I guess I am in favor of as little regulation as possible -- for one thing, it's easier to manipulate the media behind the scenes if there are regulatory boards that can, how shall we say, be "coaxed" to favor one viewpoint over another. But that rant is for another day when I get interested in the subject, which will probably be never. But who are these bloggers whose dispute with "big media" can be reduced to matters of simple envy? It's not even a question of the pot calling the kettle black, since Jeff Jarvis is not the only professional media person with a blog.

Anyway, here is my rant, posted in his comments, but I wanted to share with you, my readers:

With all due respect, I don't think you can see the forest for the trees here. You've missed the point of most of the "attacks" on big media, at least the ones by webloggers.

I was under the impression that the ire "big media" has been getting from bloggers et al isn't so much about the Evil Conglomerate Communist Leftist Corporate Hegemony whatsit or because they are "jealous" of the pay and prestige professional media people get (excuse me, but what the hell?), so much as they are sick of the way pro-journalists and editors of big-deal publications come off as a bunch of snobs when they find their august attention distracted by those pesky blogger flies and other annoying members of the hoi polloi. Look, I am not a "nanomedia mogul with big-media aspirations." I don't want to go on CNN, I don't give a shit about fame and fortune and getting invited to tony Noo Yawk partays with the big boiz, nor do I care one fig about how many people read my blog; but I do get irritated when I read a column in a major publication that treats blogs as nothing more than the equivalent of a high school girl's unicorn-infested webpage on Geocities.

And it's not just blogs that get the patronizing treatment -- the members of the "fourth estate" have an attitude towards their readers that make a pre-Revolutionary French seigneur's treatment of peasants on his lands positively egalitarian by comparison. Just take a gander at this quote from Dana Milbank on the subject of White House chatrooms (quote lifted from the Blogger Formerly Known As Juan Gato): "The White House began the online discussions as a way for administration officials to communicate directly with the public -- cutting out those pesky journalists who act as filters. The resulting exchanges are a blend of the frivolous, the revelatory and, often, the saccharine." Filters. Leaving the relative merits of chatrooms aside, thanks but no thanks, Mr. Journalist Man; I don't need things to be "filtered" for me.

I know that you are a member of "big media" -- but so are a lot of other bloggers who complain about big media (cough Ken Layne Matt Welch Tim Blair cough). Are they just "jealous" too? For the record, I also don't care if all the newspapers and teevee stations in the country get bought by one giant borg of a company. I am not going to sue Clear Channel because their rock stations play nothing but Staind and Nickleback all day instead of my record collection. I don't think media should be "regulated" -- it's already regulated up the yin-yang. I don't care if big media isn't "fair" to all viewpoints. (I am beginning to hate the very concept of fairness. But that is another diatribe.)

And no one is disputing (well, no one except Indymedia freaks who think that the CIA has implanted listening devices in their bongs) the fact that the media in the US is the freest in the world. Maybe I haven't read the same things you have read -- but it seems to me that the threat to media freedom isn't coming from cranky webloggers and other critics, but from members of that same media -- say, like editors at the poor, beleaguered NYT who allow persons like Jayson Blair to write a bunch of lies and call it a "true story."

And then later I happened upon Lawrence Lessig's website, so now I know who he is. I don't know if he is a snob or a bigot where big media is concerned, because I am not interested in reading his whole blog. He does seem preoccupied with the subject. And that petition of his is wack, though I can't quite put my finger on why. Pay a dollar to extend copyright? Um, okay. Whatever... I didn't realize this was such a problem. Of course, doesn't that mean Disney will have no problem extending copyright over their product for eternity, or until civilization crumbles ("whatever duration Congress sets," hah hah!) -- but I guess that's okay? (Because if you think Disney's going to ever make it possible for my friend to publish his cartoon of Mickey fucking an orange you don't know Disney.) So he's not a big media hater after all? I'm so confused.

Posted by Andrea Harris at June 4, 2003 12:49 PM

Jeff worked so hard to get into his exclusive club just in time for it to be overtaken by technology.

Poor baby.

Posted by: McGehee at June 4, 2003 at 12:59 PM

Lessig's idea isn't directed at Disney, but at the gobs and gobs of copyrighted material out there that is basically rotting away (literally, in the case of books and film) because the owners are unknown (or themselves don't know it).

The petition spells it out pretty plainly:

But as Justice Breyer calculated, only 2% of the work copyrighted during the initial 20 years affected by this statute has any continuing commercial value at all. The balance has disappeared from the commercial marketplace, and, we fear, could disappear from our culture generally. For example: The vast majority of film created during the 1920s and 1930s is not commercially available. Because of the CTEA, much of it remains under copyright. Yet because it is often impossible to track down the copyright owners for these films, commercial and noncommercial preservationist and distributors cannot safely restore and distribute these films. And because these films were made from nitrate-based stock, by the time the copyright to these films expire, most of them will have dissolved.

The same is true with many other copyrighted works that are no longer commercially available. Though the Internet could facilitate the distribution of this work if the copyright owners could be identified, the costs of locating these copyright owners is wildly prohibitive. Schools and libraries are thus denied access to works that otherwise could be made available at a very low cost.

Such burdens on access to work that has no continuing commercial value serves no legitimate copyright purpose. It certainly does not "promote the Progress of Science" as the Constitution requires.

Seems like a reasonable "Gordian Knot" idea to me.

Posted by: *** Dave at June 4, 2003 at 01:19 PM

I don't think Milbank said anyone needed a filter. He said that journalists act as filters. I'm not sure how you can dispute that.

I'm not at the Mideast peace talks; I'm not standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ.
It's a journalist, his editor and a large corporation that decide whether I'm going to hear about the peace process or the girl in a flatbed Ford.
They're also going to decide whether I hear about what Sharon's unnamed aides are whispering, or about how long the two leaders shook hands, or whatever.

To some extent, I can assign my own degree of importance to these happenings, but I won't know that they exist until someone who's there at the scene deigns to tell me. And AFAIK, there's a real shortage of bloggers being allowed into the peace talks.

Posted by: PG at June 4, 2003 at 02:49 PM

I'm wondering if Mickey f'ing an orange would constitute satire? If so, it would presumably be protected.

Posted by: James Joyner at June 4, 2003 at 04:01 PM

Dave: well, when you put it that way, it sounds a whole lot more reasonable.

PG: well, you could interpret what Milbank said that way, if you ignore the sneer at the White House chatters. His column wasn't really the worst offender in the snob area that I have read, it was just the latest one where some pro-journo let slip (or so it seems to my perhaps oversensitive instincts) the attitude towards the public that I think permeates the professional media (with, I admit, some justification): that the masses are the great unwashed, who can't deal with all this information without someone to dumb it down for them -- or "translate" it, if you will. Just look at all the handwringing over the notion of "information overload" that has been a major theme of op-eds and books for decades now. While it is no doubt true that mmost people aren't trained to process all information properly, that doing so is something of a specialized skill that not eveyone has the talent for, all too often the reaction of those people who are trained in communication and information processing is to act as if that gave them some sort of special powers beyond mortal ken. It is also human nature for people of one specialty to form clubby groups and treat non-members as lesser beings, outsiders who are inferior because they don't have the secret password. Journalists, in my observation, often seem to think of themselves as Morpheus-like characters, with their own bottle of reality-revealing pills (I forget which color they are supposed to be) and that the rest of us are lined up in oblivious ranks, plugged in to some sort of illusion machine and thinking that there really is a spoon.

I don't think of bloggers as being reporters, anyway; it's media people who seem to think that, and are reacting as if we are invading their sacred turf. When I made that reference to "filters" and why I find it insulting is for the very thing you seem to cite approvingly -- the idea that these folks are deciding (or at least wish they could) what we should find out about. Why should it be an either/or situation between peace talks and some other sotry? Why not report both and let people decide which one to pay attention to? The notion seems to be that no one can pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

James: I'm not really sure that my friends were serious about the cartoon, but knowing Disney they'd take a dim view of it... or ignore it altogether. One thing I know -- never underestimate the Mouse...

Posted by: Andrea Harris at June 4, 2003 at 05:04 PM

[huge rant deleted]

Boy, am I tired of reading about the media. Except for Layne and Blair - they're funny, most of the time. The rest of it is about as interesting as the goings-on in the local asphalt industry. Except it's got an air of grasping, whiny desperation that's mindful of a 10-year high school reunion.

Feh -- I'm cranky.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin at June 4, 2003 at 05:45 PM

PG: I think the point is that when a huge story breaks across the street from your corner in Winslow and the media is getting it wrong or spinning/ coloring the facts then you as a blogger can fact check their asses for your readers. Enough of us do this and the media will be forced to more accurate, ergo: more honest.

I too am rather tired of the "filters" looking down their collective superior noses while we unwashed yokels pay their fat expense accounts and salaries for tainted information.

Like Andrea I'll take it straight up thanks, no water, no ice, hold the cute little political umbrella.

Posted by: feste at June 5, 2003 at 09:28 PM

I know that Jarvis is a big gun (because all the
bloggers I read say so), but I'm not certain why
he is so big. I've tried, God knows I've tried to
read his stuff; but have yet to find anything very
interesting (or particularly well put) about his
chosen subject matter. Perhaps he should stick to
getting Bloggery supplied free to the starving of
the planet, and leave criticism of other bloggers
to the ones who think they've codified the rules
of blogging (Heaven knows there are enough of

Posted by: Smiling Dave at June 5, 2003 at 10:39 PM

If Big Media is so well-equipped to report what's important, why do we keep hearing about, say, the same stupid, squalid California murder for weeks on end? I mean, really, beyond maybe a mention, what the hell is the big deal about stuff like that, really? 3 MILLION people have died in the latest war in the Congo, fer Chrissakes. Where are the hourly updates on that??

Posted by: Jeff at June 6, 2003 at 02:56 AM