Can blogs affect politics and society? (Matthew Ingram of the Globe & Mail
As a lead-up to mesh in May, the Gang of Five — that is me, Rob Hyndman, Mark Evans, Mike McDerment and Stuart “call me Chairman Mao” MacDonald — have been talking a lot (not surprisingly) about the themes we want to look at, and crawling the blogosphere for evidence of how Web 2.0 and blogs are — or aren’t — affecting media, marketing, business and society/politics.
A very good question.
I’m seeing more and more clearly that blogs, at least as they are promoted and filtered by the “blogging industry,” tend to be the dog that gets wagged by the tail with respect to the convergence of politics, marketing, business and the culture industry.
I’ve been fleshing out my map of the WeMedia conferences, to take but one example, extending back to previous conferences, and also working from the other end, from tech-business alliance mapping I’ve been doing.
It seems pretty clear to me that, despite the radical democratic and often anticorporate rhetoric of some its exponents, the object of the end-to-end content pipeline sketched out here is to distribute “citizen media” to the mainstream media, partly as a way of helping the latter market its own “corporate responsibility” bona fides while cutting costs and creating a two-tier system of “public-service” and “premium” content.
As I wrote before, the strategic business scenario here is pretty clear: you have large many large media companies and their tech and networking partners in the process of adapting to the “new economics of media.”
They are seeking to syndicate more content among themselves, to draw more extensively on hybrid-funded NGO and think-tank generated research, analysis, opinion and agenda-setting–I have a study here somewhere that charts the rise of think-tank commentators on the PBS News Hour over the years, for example–and to incorporate more of “hybrid-license” public-domain and Creative Commons-licensed content as it finds consistent with their own lobbying and marketing agenda and their evolving two-tiered content models.
Reuters is not atypical in this respect: For half a decade now it has been working to concentrate on developing the most profitable types of financial content (subscription data, premium news, research and intelligence, and applications) while cutting costs by outsourcing network operations and software development–it has three programming centers in China, for example–and cutting the budget for the staff-developed general reporting that has been the backbone of its news operations.
That’s why it’s aligning itself here with a “hybrid-source” content pipeline to feed its distribution network, which may include, for example, a partnership with BT, which brought its Radianz financial extranet business and is combining those network services with its own strong push toward a “triple-play” strategy of converged entertainment and information services for consumers.
Furthermore, Reuters, like many such companies, is locked in a high-stakes competitive death struggle with a substantial geopolitical component to it.
You can trace other “value chains” of this type–a horizontally integrated pipeline that extends from the generation of content, and the firms that now concentrate on managing and aggregating it, to the networks on which it is distributed and the devices on which it will be consumed–being formed all over the place.
What does it mean for ‘democracy’?
There are two ways of looking at this trend (at least). First, you can see it, from the point of view of realpolitik, as a tactically necessary alignment of interests to be negotiated among business, political and organized “civil society” institutions to promote a progressive agenda–however one tends to define that term–and counterbalance the very same kinds of strategic media institutions being used by those on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.
On the other hand, you can also view these interlocking relationships, as practiced on both ends of the ideological spectrum, as driven by and reinforcing the lobbying-driven two-party politics we all hear decried with great emotion on the C-SPAN phone-in lines. Furthermore, as a lot of Indians and Brazilians I know would say, we are, and have long been, attempting to export that model of a mediacratic “culture industry” abroad.
Many have noted the promiscuous confusion of traditional roles during the current administration–between the roles of church and state, business and government, business and academic, and non-profit and political institutions.
But many others have also noted that the current administration did not invent this way of using the culture industry to fight for control the cultural and political agenda.
I think that’s true, though I’m not ready to declare that all such relationships are inherently corrupt or corrupting to democracy. It depends on the degree of transparency involved.
Thus, when you look at the “key men” in the WeMedia conference social network, the media consultancies Promar and MMB Media LLC, it seems that the practice and relationships that they disclose epitomize the potential for institutional role strain and legal and regulatory arbitrage that is most in need of critical attention with regard to its transparency:
So it would be very interesting to talk to those folks about what they do and how they approach such issues.
I’ll say more about this later, the wife wants me to do some kind of mindless schlepping–which is apparently all I’m really good for.
click to zoom