FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, February 11, 2005

Jeff Gannon is a Product of Disrupted Media

If anyone doubts that technology and our nation's growing political divisiveness have combined to alter news media, the recent controversy surrounding White House correspondent Jeff Gannon should be sufficient proof. Gannon, as you may be aware, resigned from his position as a correspondent for the conservative-leaning Talon News service after questions about his credentials were raised. Naturally, liberals and conservatives have very different takes on the matter. Timothy Karr of MediaCitizen has written an excellent comprehensive summary.

Politics aside, the Gannon controversy illustrates several points about how the media has changed in the past few years:

  1. No one finds it remarkable that a news organization such as Talon is unabashedly conservative. More and more, news organizations will declare political allegiances rather than attempting to be "unbiased."
  2. Talon wouldn't and couldn't exist without the Internet. Its main outlet is its website, from which webmasters and bloggers can easily reference posted stories. This increases Talon's reach exponentially.
  3. The controversy has been magnified by bloggers of all political persuasions, thereby forcing the mainstream media to pay attention. Before the Internet, a story such as this would have been an obscure filler item, if it was covered at all. Since the 2004 Presidental election, we've seen the power of the blogosphere increase steadily, with no end in sight. In essence, bloggers have replaced many of the old-time beat reporters and "stringers" that were systematically eliminated from the mainstream press in waves of cost-cutting over the years. As media observer Daniel Conover writes, "It must be clear now that blogs and websites are providing the bulk of significant real-time reporting on MSM [mainstream media] matters. Those of us who work in the MSM and care about these issues turn to these 'non-official' sources to get the scoop on our industry, and I don't expect that to change any time soon."
  4. It also raises the question of who qualifies as a legitimate journalist. Before the Internet, working for a legitimate print or broadcast news medium made one a journalist. It also helped to have a degree in journalism or a related subject. Today, we must ask ourselves whether bloggers qualify as journalists, and if so, which ones. Liberals will likely claim that conservative bloggers are bogus, and vice versa.
  5. Controversies in this new age can take some particularly ugly turns. Gannon's detractors have linked him to ventures involving gay pornography and prostitution, while Gannon claims that his family members -- including his elderly mother -- have been harrassed since the story became national news. In this post-Monica Lewinsky era, a cardinal rule of politics is to tag your opponent to a sex scandal -- the kinkier, the better.

The Gannon incident is certainly not the last such controversy, as we seem to have entered a "perfect storm" of technological power, information reach and political friction.