January 13, 2009

Or, Maybe The Audience Is Simply Smarter Than You Are

Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press.

Take a sheet of paper and make a big circle in the middle. In the center of that circle draw a smaller one to create a doughnut shape. Label the doughnut hole “sphere of consensus.” Call the middle region “sphere of legitimate debate,” and the outer region “sphere of deviance.”


In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized— meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the “echo chamber,” which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.


A commentor notes - "Journalists "draw a circle" and label it a sphere. How fitting somehow."

Flashback to the 2007 SDA reader occupation survey (of the first 630+ respondants)

engineers: 61
computer programmers/consultants/systems analysts: 47
management: 46
military: 36
educators: 31
scientists: 28
small business: 28
technicians/technologists: 27
accountants/bookkeepers/economists/taxation/insurance: 24
construction/electricians/plumbers/carpenters/contractors: 23
financiers/brokers/bankers: 21
farmer/rancher/cowboy/agriculture/veterinary: 19
stay-at-home parents: 18
consultants: 18
sales: 16
pilots/air traffic control: 15
lawyers/legal assistants/advocates: 14
doctors/nurses/healthcare: 14
pastors/priests/missionaries/social workers/psychologists/counselors: 13
civil servants: 12
artists/musicians/photographers: 12
manufacturing/machinists: 10
writers/journalists/reporters: 10
police/corrections/security/investigation: 8
students: 8
truckers/railroad workers: 8
statisticians/actuaries/data analysts/librarians: 8
architects/draftsmen/urban planners: 8
radio/television/telecom: 7
mechanics/heavy equipment operators: 6
oil workers: 6
real estate: 4
forestry: 3
purchasing/logistics/warehousing: 3
secretary/administrative assistant:3
quality assurance: 2
map maker/surveyor: 2
human resources: 2
other: 12

The problems besetting journalism today aren't just the consequence of the liberal left's lopsided representation within their ranks - it's that there seems to be a fundamental inability to understand that on any given topic, someone is likely to get something wrong.

The internet didn't just connect politically like-minded people whose views are under-served. It connected the highly trained and knowledgeable across geographic regions and fields of expertise, enabling them to compare notes and realize "it's not just us". That by and large, journalism is perhaps the only profession where the utterly unqualified are given the privilege of writing to a mass audience on topics that they really not ought to.

At one time, the error in basic chemistry or math might only be spotted by a few trained individuals in the field. A messed up report on the Canadian Wheat Board would raise the ire of ag producers but not much more. Misidentifying a weapons system would pass unnoticed by all but the military.

Today the chemists, ag producers and military talk to each other, and the conclusion they're coming to is that an uncomfortably large percentage of journalists are not merely tainted by political assumptions - they're lazy, stupid, or both.

The phenomenon is so widespread that a phrase has been coined to mock it - "Google is your friend."

They're asking themselves, "Why should we buy your papers? Why should I trust your network"? If you can't get these basic facts right, if you can't bother to balance your staff politically, of what possible value is your product to me? To anyone?

The crumbling authority of media is a problem that cannot be solved within the current top-down framework, because the framework itself is the problem. It's the wrong model for the times.

The environment has been altered forever, and what the industry is faced with isn't reorganization - it's evolution. Change or die. Or change, and die anyway.

I have my money on both.

Update. I no sooner finished writing this when reader Michael S. sent along this case in point, courtesy the Associated Press.


Posted by Kate at January 13, 2009 10:25 AM

That is the most interesting and lucid dissection of the conundrum of modern media I have ever read. I couldn't agree more. I have been fascinated by the declining power of the media, and their increasing contempt for the blogosphere and other internet / non conventional sources of news, and more importantly - opinion.

Posted by: Derek MacKenzie at January 13, 2009 10:42 AM

Why do some people study ?

Because they can't do Math !

for you could substitute:

Sociology, Psychology, Pick a "Victim" Studies, GLBT Studies, Social/Environmental "Justice or whatever passes for post secondary education these days.

Posted by: Fred at January 13, 2009 10:46 AM

I'm not an expert in just about any field you can think of - and I know when they're getting it wrong.

Posted by: Kathryn at January 13, 2009 10:53 AM

The MSM are committing suicide by "willful ignorance". The best and most recent example of this was the Obama campaign. Questions are now being asked "What do we really know about the 25 year void in Barrack Obamas biography?" We certainly know all about Sarah Palins years as the Mayor of Wasilla. The MSM now picks winners and losers and exploits them or ignores them according to their own agenda and ideology. AGW is another ongoing example where the MSM have climbed onboard the ship only to find themselves sinking with it because they have not done due diligence in investigating the facts. So are they incompetent or complicit?

Posted by: Daniel at January 13, 2009 10:54 AM

...and people wonder why I don't trust these scumbags.
I can't wait for the last one to go belly up (kinda like your gopher, LOL)

Posted by: FREE at January 13, 2009 11:01 AM


Posted by: robert quinn at January 13, 2009 11:10 AM

Michael Crichton has written on something similar. It was more along of the lines of why we shouldn't trust newspapers in general. Once in a while we'll stumble upon a story in which we have particular expertise. We'll notice some glaring error and think, WTF, this reporter doesn't know what he's talking about. Then we read the next story and think hmmm... good story.

He says we should try to avoid this mindlessness.

Posted by: Contributor X at January 13, 2009 11:15 AM

I grew up the son of a cop, so I always knew from him when they got it wrong wrt law enforcement. Almost always.

I was a hard rock miner for 5 years, so I always spotted it when they got it wrong when reporting on mining issues. Extremely rare when they got it right.

I have been a sailor for 18 years next month and a non-professional student of Canadian military history for going on 25 years, so I now spot when they get it wrong from that front. Blatchford is about the only one that gets it right.

From those three persepctives I have always known that the press have never understood what it was they were reporting. I had just never seen that concept so well presented as in this post.

Posted by: AtlanticJim at January 13, 2009 11:16 AM

"...journalism is perhaps the only profession where the utterly unqualified are given the privilege of writing to a mass audience on topics that they really not ought to."

Perhaps the best single line in the entire narrative.

You wouldn't depend on a surgeon for advice on your car; your grocer for an explaination of sunspots; or the day-care facilitator for information about Iranian nuclear weapons development.

Why do people constantly depend on journalists? Have you ever noticed how often news stories are journalists interviewing journalists, rather than experts?

Posted by: Sarge (not the idiot troll) at January 13, 2009 11:20 AM

Kate, I nominate this for your best post ever.

The internet opens up access to professional opinions. The media no longer defines, on our behalf, which opinions are professional.

We are gradually reaching the day where the majority of people will readily question media sources, and truly consider the facts for themselves. As you say, the internet has opened up access to opinions of all sorts of accuracy. The media filters that were once effective, are now ridiculously simple to bypass.

Posted by: Eagle at January 13, 2009 11:25 AM

You know this phenomenon is not new. During the Middle Ages the majority of educated people were the clergy of the Catholic Church. Books were scarce and the organization that had the biggest library was the Church. Since the clergy took their cue from Rome, the Pope was able to define the "spheres" mentioned in the essay. Things ofcourse were changing slowly until the invetion of the printing press, which allowed the thinkers to publish their views to the masses (at least those who could read). The advent of the mass media allowed those who controlled the media to define these spheres until now (look at the what happened with Obama). I think what we're seeing now with the internet is merely a continuation of the aforementioned phenomenon. Why do you think Communist governments and like-minded individuals in West are trying the limit the internet?

A. To "protect" us from all the "bad" stuff that's in it; or

B. So that they can influence and dictate what the "spheres" are on any given subject.

At least the Catholic Church decided to stick to the original message of its Founder, get out of the "mind-control" business and allow individuals to make their own choices.


Posted by: favill at January 13, 2009 11:29 AM

At Saturday's hate fest there were more than enough MSM cams to film what I did, but they chose not to.

Somebody has to bring you what happened.

Posted by: Mississauga Matt at January 13, 2009 11:29 AM

Contributor X - Crichton knew what he was talking about.

We should coin a term for this, perhaps someone already has, something along the line of "man in the mirror media epiphany". In other words, when you see what you do, or who you are, as presented by the media you quickly understand how useless the media are!

Everyone that I know who has ever dealt with the media find it an eye-opening experience. Not only are:
1) the preparations (i.e. research) by the journalist missing or sloppy,
2)their data gathering (whether by interview, google, etc) is ad-hoc and follows no clear process/pattern, and
3) summary and presentation usually show that the reporter didn't understand the topic at all.

Now, I know editors and managers get involved in the final "approved" version of events, and perhaps its a case of catch 22, but come on, to remain a journalist these days you either have to believe the manipulations being done or be heavily into S&M. I suspect it's a nice mix of both.

Posted by: Frenchie77 at January 13, 2009 11:31 AM

Kate, your sum-up in your post is a Milestone !!

Google is your friend. Crumbling authority. Lazy, stupid or both. Environment altered forever.

Especially the 'connected highly trained and knowledgeable people'. The essence of sda. The reason for being. And it works because of a very capable host !!

And this phrase also sums up my take for the past three decades; ” Sometimes the people the press thinks of as deviant types are closer to the sphere of consensus than the journalists who are classifying those same people as “fringe.” (I run into it everyday)

It is, IMO, the very reason WK spent so much time and effort slandering sda and others early on. He knew what side his bread was buttered on. The biggest advantage a corrupt, control-freak LPC has, a compliant media, was starting to vaporize. Atomized by the keystrokes of $300 computers that most citizens have acquired.

Posted by: ron in kelowna at January 13, 2009 11:41 AM

I don't agree that the media as a whole are simply lazy stupid or both (although they may have those attributes as well).

What has become apparent is that they are willfully and knowingly spreading missinformation and dissinformation, and that despite a large and growing number of the populace is now aware of this (due to the reasons outlined in the article), that instead of stopping, or correcting, they are amplifying the lies and missinformation.

That tells me that the media is producing exactly what it intends to produce, and is aware of what it is producing and why it is producing it.

Simply calling them lazy or stupid lets them off the hook for actions and intentions that are far more nefarious than that.

Posted by: ward at January 13, 2009 11:44 AM

Years ago, and occasionally today, I worked in a public arena that would attract local, and sometimes national, media attention. Reporters and/or talking heads would show up to interview us or get the story. We'd talk, and I'd always end the interview with "I'd appreciate reviewing the story for factual accuracy before it goes to press". As memory serves, only one junior scribe, a young woman with her eye on the prize actually ran her story by me. The rest just said, "probably not".

And we always spent the next few days having to re-explain our program to a now wider audience who had gotten off on the wrong foot with us because of the misreporting. It got to the point that we would simply refuse interviews or access to certain media or reporters who simply refused to report it right. We'd happily tell other media that we had done that too :)

One of the big things that has changed, is that a story now never dies. It used to have a life cycle - reporters would know that once what they wrote became yesterday's news, it, and its content would die in a few days, and few would accurately remember what it was about in any case. They could write just about anything and in fairly short time, most would forget about it.

That doesn't happen anymore. EVERY story has legs long enough to outlive both the journalist and the topic, thanks to electronics and the internet.

As a consequence, spin becomes much more damaging and dangerous and accuracy infinitely more important. The presence or lack of either can alter history in ways no one could have foreseen two decades ago.

It also means that vigilance concerning both spin and accuracy has never been more critical. We have entered the age of "Madison Avenue" on steroids, where the impact of megaspin can readily overwhelm one's ability to filter it, notwithstanding the availability of the internet for research. While "Google is your friend" is presently important, both Google and the most fragile of sources, Wikipedia, have been caught filtering the data flow.

Paradoxically, while the "Truth is Out There" and the internet is writ large, the absence of an honest media makes finding it even more difficult then before. We are firmly embedded in the Age of Truthiness, whether we want to be or not, and we are slowly all becoming Truthers, where belief in something is sufficient authority to accept its validity. This what the MSM has done to itself, and to us collectively.

Posted by: Skip at January 13, 2009 11:46 AM

c'mon kate... stop being such a downer... and just "follow that star" to bethlehem...

"Ms. Sadu, 47, hasn't planned any entertainment for the 10-hour trip, so as not to
interrupt spontaneous expressions of inaugural glee."

gotta feel the love, man.


Posted by: neo at January 13, 2009 11:46 AM

Corporate MSM have been information gatekeepers and manipulators of public opinion for many decades if not centuries.

The wilful blindness of Canadian MSM to the Chretien / Martin era of governing malfeasance and corruption is the single reason that corruption was able to survive and even flourish.

Corrupt corporately owned Canadian MSM!!

The internet has blown that cozy corrupt relationship to hell, for the betterment of humans.

No one should be surprised to see all governments coralling and coercing the internet back into their chokehold.
Dumbing down the populace will be job #1 on all governments front burners.

Posted by: Joe Molnar at January 13, 2009 11:47 AM

The problem with journalism is journalism was never a profession. It's a job.

When it was treated as just a job, when you wanted a story on science you'd hire a scientist who wrote well. Now you'd hire a useless, skills-challenged English major who wouldn't know the slightest thing about what they were writing about and would substitute their agenda in place of facts.

Posted by: Warwick at January 13, 2009 11:50 AM

It is rare for the dominant entities in any industry to lead on the path to new innovative ways. IBM (and all the other computer giants of the seventies), for example, failed to lead the way to the desktop computing era. Microsoft is floundering in its attempt to be an internet leader. Kodak is desperately trying to find a way to be viable in the age of digital photography.

The innovators are unconstrained in the ways of the established.

So yes, I also vote for change and die.

Posted by: Woodporter at January 13, 2009 11:58 AM

As a youngster I too always though about this phenomenon. I would see lots of errors in areas which I had a long interest in and wonder if they make a mistakes here how about on stuff I have no knowledge of? This clouded my judgement of the MSM before I even noticed there liberal mindedness.

Posted by: jpilot at January 13, 2009 11:58 AM

The problem isn't that they are stupid. They just seem stupid to us because we think their job is to report the news, when they view their job as political activist.

The problem with the title "journalist" is that journals are where your ideas go. Reporters report, journalists comment. It used to be that you had to earn the right to comment in a newspaper or on TV, now ever new reporter fresh out of whatever "little red schoolhouse" they graduated sets to work immediately righting all of the wrongs identified in their indoctrination.

Posted by: Tim in Vermont at January 13, 2009 11:58 AM

A minor defence of journalism and community newspapers. They are not all lazy, or incompetent, and they have time and resources. (I know, I know: time+resources /= accurate). I've read tenditious and wretched bile spill from the screens of bloggers, dashed off in fits of delusional pique. And the modified, voluntary wiki model Kate is advocating for is not without its pitfalls.

No newspaper can afford a board of experts in every field an so mistakes are made, add in deadlines, and issues with sources (people with secrets and proprietary info can be weird)and you get what you get. Journalists are well aware of the problems, academia has tried to solve the problem with fairy tale journalistic standards. If you are expecting perfection I have some real estate I would like to talk to you about. Professional peer review journals have slates of experts with months/years away deadlines, and the wrong editor can slant a journal in ways utterly invisible to the general public's eye and never mentioned by the profession due to social threat of ostracism (think the NEJM two years ago).
The notion that the journalists are wrong more than they are right seems to assume the facts are always clear, their proponents always truthful and the opinions solidified.
I've presented board approved budgets to Executive Directors of charities and been told the numbers on the page have no bearing on the reality the charity is facing...and it gets worse from there.

I like my profession - I worked for a warm community paper - and I like blogs, and since I went marginal part time freelance to be home with my very large family of small kids several years ago, I am blessed to have an hour or so a day to enjoy the wonderful world of online news and blogs - and dash off the occassional unedited reply while my boys finish their oatmeal.

I'm not saying that newspapers aren't wrong, but I am saying that in my experience they aren't malicious partisans. You are welcome to gripe about the hacks, and when you are done cleaning up the newsroom with your flawless bullsh*** detectors and awesome labour law free firing powers - can you tell off the rude emergency room nurse, smarten up the postal clerk, make the bridge engineer a little less arrogant, and tell the grade three teacher to teach, not propagandize. Thanks for that- I knew you could help out, it will be lovely to live in a world without hospitals, mail, bridges or schools. I know those are all public institutions, so just fix the clueless help in the container aisle at Canadian Tire and I will be impressed.

Feel free to bash big media,while you are at it stop patronizing their largest advetisers, like GMC... oh wait.
Vote with your mouse and read free news. I hope the industry does change, and become lean, mean and ALWAYS correct, just please click on the online ads, because Kate can't take time off to sit in on a Wheat Board meeting. Kate is rare in her dedication and even she has an organization of volunteers.

Posted by: Bobbi at January 13, 2009 11:58 AM

Ah, this must be that change we can believe in everyone's been calling for.

Posted by: K Stricker at January 13, 2009 11:59 AM

I've told this story before on SDA, but with this post I can't resist telling it again.

To make it short: I was born and grew up in Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe to be precise. Living there I saw first hand what Mugabe was doing, even in the early days, and what he did to my parents, their life savings, and so forth. Saw what happened to the university. Saw what happened to the blacks. Knew friends who were killed by Mugabe's thugs. Saw it all.

When we came to Canada I always remember how shocked I was to see supposed prestigious papers like the New York Times and the Globe and Mail, getting the story of Zimbabwe so wrong, intentionally leaving out critical facts, and failing to make any mention of those who suffered. It was a horrid distortion of the truth, executed without any shame by the media.

And the teachers in the schools I attended believed everything they read (except for one or two wonderful teachers who were wiser than that, and who I will always remember), and they too spouted the same lies and falsehoods, believing them to be truth because the media said so.

It made me livid.

So for me it is incredibly satisfying to see the old media suffer, and frankly I hope they all go to hell. They have NOT in general been a force for truth in the world. In fact, they have been rather evil.

For this reason I will always support blogs like Kate's. It's a simple question of loving freedom and truth, and I will stand on the side of freedom and truth every time.

Posted by: TJ at January 13, 2009 11:59 AM

I find it ironic that Rosen isn't too bad in defining the process, but thinks that the disenfranchised being empowered by the Net are the radical left while he lives in the fairy world of the MSM being part of the "media-working-for-government alliance that's been Bush's lapdog" crap.

I wonder if he thinks the Sphere of Deviance includes Judeo-Christian social conservatives; small government conservatives and libertarians; and, say, Sarah Palin, or if he views those groups as being truly beyond the pale and quite-rightly ignored or debased as deviants by the MSM? Hmm. I wonder what someone who thinks that Atrios or Glenn Greenwald are the cutting edge of the peoples' revolution against the Establishment or who thinks that getting an Evangelical leader on a political talk show where he's mocked and subjected to the Third Degree is somehow part of the Establishment controlling what the debate is thinks about conservative and libertarian blogs? Not too much, I'm sure.

Posted by: andycanuck at January 13, 2009 11:59 AM

Part of the issue is that most journalists don't even recognize their own bias. They see the world only through their own lens and report accordingly. You will often see it show up when they do something like write "The Fraser Institute, the far right, bla bla", and on the other hand write "the policy think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives".

And besides, many journalists are certainly not the sharpest tools in the shed and are easily tricked and bamboozled depending on their own biases.

Having met a number of journalists, I would say they are not a bright bunch, that's for sure...and to have them filter information for me to try to formulate my decisions about events is nauseating at times.

Posted by: John Luft at January 13, 2009 12:00 PM

Ward makes a good point.

During the last decade, the Media seems to have pulled-out-all-the-stops in trying and counter the Internet. It became more willful, deliberate in spewing out the, even obvious, garbage. AGW being the prime example.

A desperate, last attempt to control by fear mongering ? As mentioned before - church libraries.

Posted by: ron in kelowna at January 13, 2009 12:02 PM

TJ....maybe the Globe and Mail and the NYT can pay off their debts with the $100 BILLION dollar bank notes that Zimbabwe had been distributing! Of course when they were issued, you could only buy 3 eggs with them, but it might be a wake up call for the Mugabe apologists at those papers.

Posted by: John Luft at January 13, 2009 12:04 PM

"Why do you think Communist governments and like-minded individuals in West are trying the limit the internet?"

Leave out "communist" and you are spot on.

Posted by: Fred 2 at January 13, 2009 12:04 PM

"I am saying that in my experience they aren't malicious partisans."

Just ask Sarah Palin.

Posted by: Tim in Vermont at January 13, 2009 12:04 PM

Kate and Mike S!

I just checked and it's +273 at Buttonville Airport! It's a record!

Deniers! ;o)

I'm not sure now, but it might have been Richard Feynman that nailed down the phenomenon that when we read something in the paper in our own area of expertise, we always find it maddeningly inaccurate -- but then we turn the page and read something else like it's Gospel. Except one day, the light bulb goes on and you say to yourself, "hey, if I can't trust them when they write about stuff I know, how do I trust them when they write about this?"

More people seem to be having that moment.

Posted by: Jim Whyte at January 13, 2009 12:06 PM

John Luft

100 billion dollar notes are so yesterday.

Now they're introducing the 500 billion dollar note.

Posted by: Warwick at January 13, 2009 12:10 PM

Your post drips with a sense of entitlement to define the world as we percieve it. That day is over, sorry. This line is particularly funny:

"I've read tenditious and wretched bile spill from the screens of bloggers, dashed off in fits of delusional pique."

It reminds me of the post yesterday where somebody said they were considering a Smart Car because it was "better than their '86 Astro van" Bloggers don't keep other points of view from being heard, newspaper groupthink does.

Posted by: Tim in Vermont at January 13, 2009 12:12 PM

Back in 1969 I met a 'journalist' who had recently come back from spending a month in Cambodia. He had written a book on the current political situation in the country, which had just been published. I asked him if he had managed, while he was there, to talk to anyone in the Khmer Rouge. He replied 'What's the Khmer Rouge?' And he considered himself an 'expert' on Cambodia.

Posted by: albertaclipper at January 13, 2009 12:14 PM

I would hold the MSM responsible for a large part of finance mess we are currently in. By not researching and properly informing people of dangers of certain investments they lead the masses down the garden path. Other examples of MSM spreading false truths are the verbitium they spread about commodity prices. Take for example oil prices, they hyped the price up last summer by reporting every little hositlity, storm, breakdown and crack prediction, to the point where the price fell like a rock. Now they are doing it again saying crap like the fighting in Gaza is responsible for the retail price to go up while the wholesale price is still falling.
Lets face it, they have completely sold out, I have a hard time trusting them on a simply thing like the date.

Posted by: Matt at January 13, 2009 12:17 PM

Katie - what an excellent article. I am going to forward it to the stations I dislike the most, CTV and CBC. Maybe to CNN and BBC next.

Posted by: canadian at January 13, 2009 12:21 PM

Great post. I worked for the Feds so I felt like a life preserver that never got tossed.
By the way, that is one eclectic survey of occupations. I damn near feel inadequate but then I remember WK and Jack Layton read it too.

Posted by: Speedy at January 13, 2009 12:29 PM

I am a reader and nothing made me more content that relaxing with a good book, newspaper or magazine. Then something changed - writers spent far more time lecturing and less time entertaining, informing changed into instructing. The more self-righteous the old-media became, the less I read. I tired of feeling irritated and insulted by their constant preaching. They took all the fun out of reading. Thankfully the Internet restored the pleasure of reading, learning and communicating.

Posted by: LC Bennett at January 13, 2009 12:29 PM

Traditionally, the MSM has been the conduit of information, and therefore, the shapers of "reality". Control the information, and you control the reality.

The business model of the MSM has been to leverage that ownership of the information conduit. It's not really a complicated model, newspapers did it, television did it, and now the Internet does it: offer content for low cost that bring bums and eyeballs. This bond of attraction provides the opportunity to sell. To the world of commerce, it sells demand creation. To the political world, it sells this "reality", and therefore is instrumental in delivering political power, as politics reduces as the election of proxies that will change "reality" in ways perceived to be positive.

The blogosphere, quite simply, has allowed the masses to finally grasp the quality of the information they have been receiving from the MSM. It's now clear that the quality is low, either by commission, or omission. Commission: spinning politically to deliver power. Omission: ignorant journalists.

A final offering of the MSM is fame, which can be leveraged by the recipient in many ways. Usually, to become filthy rich by offering questionable products or services. Case in point: Ms. Spears.

In short, the offerings of the blogosphere allow one to establish, for oneself, the quality of information being received.

The days of the MSM shaping reality, and making money off that, are dwindling.

It's really not much different than the transition from horsepower to the internal combustion engine. People began to see the internal combustion engine was a better offering, across a range of value perceptions.

The MSM is all twisted up in its own internal logic, just like Detroit was in the 70's. That's a death spiral for any business.

Posted by: Shaken at January 13, 2009 12:40 PM

Shaken nailed it !!

Posted by: ron in kelowna at January 13, 2009 12:48 PM

The US temperatures are reported in °F.
Canadian temperatures are reported in °C.
-36°C = ~-33°F - by coincidence not that much off (both are damned cold, but the piece made no reference to the different measuring systems)

Posted by: JET at January 13, 2009 12:52 PM

Three years ago when I first discovered this blog (the first blog I had ever visited from a mention made on either Adler or Rutherford) the comment on the sidebar

"Why this blog?
Until this moment
I have been forced
to listen while media
and politicians alike
have told me
"what Canadians think".
In all that time they
never once asked.

This is just the voice
of an ordinary Canadian
yelling back at the radio -
"You don't speak for me."

THAT was when everything changed and I realized that I could have a voice.

It still yell at the radio and the TV - but then I go onto one of the blogs and find out I am not alone.

Thanks Kate!

Posted by: Alberta Girl at January 13, 2009 12:55 PM

Jet said,

"The US temperatures are reported in °F.
Canadian temperatures are reported in °C.
-36°C = ~-33°F - by coincidence not that much off (both are damned cold, but the piece made no reference to the different measuring systems)"

That is not nearly as alarming as the fact that Winnepeg is now is Saskatchewan. Who knew that Brad Wall had imperialistitc tendencies.

Posted by: Trevor at January 13, 2009 1:07 PM

Posted by: Frenchie77 at January 13, 2009 11:31 AM

"Contributor X - Crichton knew what he was talking about.

We should coin a term for this, perhaps someone already has, something along the line of "man in the mirror media epiphany". "

Well, there's a well known cognitive bias (i.e., possessed by all humans) called confirmation bias.

It basically posits that we reject/ignore/dismiss evidence contrary to our existing beliefs and seek/believe/ evidence that conforms to our existing beliefs. So in this instance, reading an article in which you know the reporter is an ignorant ass clown (valid evidence) is ignored. But every other story to which you are not an expert is then viewed (incorrectly) as another piece of evidence that the media are A-OK.

My epiphany came when I first read Crichton's piece and later when I learned about the various cognitive biases (just for fun).

And, by the way, learning about cognitive biases for me was really not fun at all. It just made me use much more hedging language in real life and in writing and then ask people to defend their claims with more rigor. Which makes me seem like a dick. I mean, maybe I was a dick anyway, who knows?

Posted by: Contributor X at January 13, 2009 1:08 PM

quite possibly your best work ever Kate. I really like shaken's take as well. It should be required reading for all in the MSM and journo students - I'm going to forward it to my circle ASAP.

I would add that the second group that is in the process of losing a large part of its prestige and position in society is teachers at all levels. My ten-year old's access to google and wiki etc. has her teacher on her toes for fear of being made a fool yet again for saying something that isn't true and being called on it. I'm sure medical doctors are under similar pressures.

Posted by: Gord Tulk at January 13, 2009 1:09 PM

I think that advertising effectiveness drives all. Do advertisers crave audiences of trenchant critical thinkers to rip their ads to shreds? No, they want the impressionable, the intellectually pliable. Who are these people? Are they conservative? Who would want to sell a "nothing down, we will give your $5000 for your trade, even if you push it in" car deal to a critical thinker who would see right through it? No, the Obama voter is who the advertisers want. Somebody who believes Obama when he says "We're not broke! Look at all of these credit cards." Advertisers want eyeballs that hear rhetoric and think they are hearing logic. Even the most hard headed businessman heading the largest capitalist enterprise is more interested in selling products to impressionable viewers who are likely to change their mind based on advertising than in presenting their personal views.

We are doomed to a corrupt, non democratic, govt and a dollar that is going to make the Mexican Peso look like a reserve currency.

Posted by: Tim in Vermont at January 13, 2009 1:15 PM

The MSM could redeem themselves and stop their death spiral easily by just collecting the facts, all of the facts with no deliberate omissions or distortions in a timely manner to the best of their ability at a central location and then let the public interpret and debate their efforts in a community forum. It looks like I've defined blogging which is what the compromised future of journalism is going to have to morph into if they want to survive.

Besides learning the craft of stylizing "the product" and too little time on ethics and critical thinking skills, please tell me what value is J-school? Like general education degrees it's a place for dumbed down generalists that cover topics and subjects they are too often out of their element to do. 90% of the utterances of the MSM on this economic crisis are stupid, useless and a waste of time.

Bobbi, no offense, but, it's really a stretch to place the bloated amount of today's useless journalism in the same league as "hospitals, mail, bridges or schools" as a social necessity.

Posted by: penny at January 13, 2009 1:19 PM

For many years I worked as a Paramedic in a larger metropolitan area. I have intimate information on various events that were reported in the various media. During those 10+ years I never found a news organization that got it more than 50% right. I think that the errors come from four issues; bias, laziness, ignorance, and workload.

There was a time when I used to think that you should not ascribe to malice what could be easily explained by stupidity. However, I no longer use that rule when dealing with journalists. Their bias and issue advocacy has tainted much of their coverage to the point that their sacred trust is evaporated never to be seen again. Unfortunately, this leaves them as the boy that cried wolf ignored when something important does happen.

Often times the effort required to get it right and to seek balance is something they just don't want to do. This probably extends from the bias in that they already know what they want and why spend the time to confirm it? This is intellectual laziness, and should not be tolerated by the editors. But, since the editors are in group think mode with the reporters it is not only tolerated but encouraged.

When you have a person with a bachelor's degree who cannot understand basic math, statistics, science, or technology you should not be surprised at what you get. To hear a journalist not ask a person who is getting free limitless energy the basic questions such as how much energy to you put in to what you get out? Also, if this is a scientific theory, what results would falsify it? Or, even better why is the temperature going down when CO2 is still rising? Since journalism schools do not require significant science or math courses in their curriculum, we will probably never see a resolution on this issue.

The last issue of workload is not a problem of the reporter's making but of the organization. Many of these people are overworked and thus the quality degrades. Since the editors do not care if quality sufferers and the approved bias has been covered then it must be good enough to print.

So maybe I should change my statement to: "Never ascribe to malice what can be best explained to overworked, uneducated, sloppy, group think reporting."

Posted by: Richard P at January 13, 2009 1:21 PM

Talking about coaxial spheres is cool. Providing a recipe for drawing a two dimensional visual aid not so much.

The various MSM foibles that insult us daily have a simple explanation. About 95% of the participants suffer from compulsions rather than talent.

Posted by: Sgt Lejaune at January 13, 2009 1:34 PM

Change -and- die. Faster with the dying part, please.

Shaken also pierces to the core of the carbuncle that is the MSM. The quality is low. So low that if the news business were the food business we'd all be dead of salmonella. Or growing our own in the back yard.

Which is really what this is all about. Growing your own.

Posted by: The Phantom at January 13, 2009 1:34 PM

Sorry - late to the thread - in my opinion you can compare MSM to a game of "telephone" - where the person saying something has his/her information passed down the line through reporters, editors, etc etc - whereas with the blogosphere experts can speak directly to their audience.

Posted by: Erik Larsen at January 13, 2009 1:40 PM

This is possibly the best post, and series of follow up comments I have ever seen.

Thank you Kate for the succinct, and bang-on post regarding the MSM

There have been many objective and knowledgeable suppliments to the original post.

I agree, this should be spread around, this is great.

Posted by: robins111 at January 13, 2009 1:46 PM

Sorry to rain on your parade...


In my humble opinion, the internet will only cut in half ( at best ) the efficiency of the liberal brainwashing machine.

when you look at what is posted at sites like Huffington Post and Daily Kos, you have to conclude that if the main stream media as we know it dies, it will have a second life on the internet trough sites such as those two.

One half of internet sites/blogs will be doing what Small Dead Animals, Gateway Pundit and many other conservative sites have been doing; providing the facts the liberal MSM is concealing, providing full context, informing instead of brainwashing and generally exposing the left for what it is etc...

but the other half will be working hard to make sure liberal propaganda/brainwashing will go on and on and on...

Posted by: Friend of USA at January 13, 2009 2:01 PM

Friend of USA,

Sorry I don't agree, it's been my experience that lefty bloggers are not as good with the info-flow as us.

Further, the point Kate was making was that regardless of where the information starts, it'll be reviewed, chopped up, googled, etc., by anyone who finds it.

The ability to 'see for yourself', has removed this power from a small ideologically driven MSM.

If the NYT or the Globe & Mail go under this year, it really dosn't matter.

We can still watch the world through our screens, and make our own opinions.

KOS & Huffy-toon are just the other side of the same picture, correction: the bottom of our picture

Posted by: robins111 at January 13, 2009 2:16 PM

Warwick....I don't think Zim came out with a 500 Billion banknote. I know they came out with 500 million and I heard that after the issuance of the 100 Billion notes, the German company that was printing them said they would not print any more. Would be interested, however, if they really did come out with a 500 Billion note. Not that it matters now because they are starting all over again.....those Marxists...they are economic geniuses, aren't they? Makes you really want clowns like Layton and his Marxist buddy, Duceppe, in charge of the Canadian economy.

Posted by: John Luft at January 13, 2009 2:18 PM

You mean to tell me that all this time I was living in Winnipeg I was actually in Saskatchewan?

Holy crap...

All those documents I certified that were true and correct?


Thanks AP. I gotta fire up the shredder.

Posted by: oatmealeatincanuck at January 13, 2009 2:19 PM

Very good points. Journalists have a responsibility to fact check (usually), but as consumers we also have a responsibility. We should take any particular source of inforation with a degree of skepticism, until we can confirm it elsewhere. It doesn't mean paranoid, just broad in how we consume information.
Luckily blogs can get through a lot of the MSM and to the core of the arguements.

Posted by: darcy meyers at January 13, 2009 2:26 PM

Minor correction to my comment above:

"therefore is instrumental in delivering political power, as politics reduces as the election of proxies that will change "reality" in ways perceived to be positive."

should be

"therefore is instrumental in delivering political power, as politics reduces to the election of proxies that will change "reality" in ways perceived to be positive."

I suppose as many of you, I am multitasking as I read this blog, and am therefore often guilty of pressing the Post button before I have done a completely thorough job of previewing my post.

The irony of posting a comment with lower quality because of typos or brain f*rts is not lost on yours truly.

Boiling the ocean (as much as Al Gore will dare allow me), prior to the blogosphere, we were told what to think, with little ability to resist. The blogosphere has enabled more and more to think for themselves, because they have instant and simple access to supporting and contrary information.

"Journalists" have one thing that is difficult to displace: relationships. As the fame value proposition of the MSM is eroded, by losing eyeballs and bums, the value of these relationships will erode as well.

Witness Harper's management of the PPG. He doesn't need them as much as they think he needs them. The value propositions of the MSM are evaporating, and their response is to try more of the same only harder (US election, Gaza...), rather than consider deeply what is really going on, and reacting accordingly: with a new, viable value proposition to its suppliers and consumers.

Posted by: Shaken at January 13, 2009 2:50 PM

"You wouldn't depend on a surgeon for advice on your car; your grocer for an explaination of sunspots; or the day-care facilitator for information about Iranian nuclear weapons development."


Posted by: Indiana Homez at January 13, 2009 3:46 PM

I doubt that there’s a journalist in the world who undertook that field with the intention of being lazy, as well, I doubt that there is any skewing of IQs in the profession. Instead they’re like new politicians who enter the legislatures and parliament, all starry-eyed, in anticipation of making things better; their good intentions only to be sucked up into the old establishment vortex. So I understand poster Bobbi’s chagrin at people dumping on journalists per se.

While I agree that the news media often (always) gets things wrong, I can’t believe that this is predominantly caused by individual laziness and stupidity. More importantly, getting things wrong is a lesser evil than purposeful bias. Inaccuracy only makes the news medium useless, bias makes it dangerous.

Thankfully, whatever one judges to be wrong with the MSM, the internet certainly helps to ameliorate the problem. This process unfortunately is happening too slowly. Although we’re seeing frequent occurrences of print media succumbing, there is little evidence that I’ve seen of any effect on TV news. I believe that someone posted earlier that 70% of the news consumers still get their daily propaganda from TV news, as opposed to print or internet.

In Canada, with little hope of a FOX News equivalent, this does not augur well for clarity in a comfortable timeframe (I read the SDA age survey). Sorry to be such a downer in such a long post.

Posted by: glasnost at January 13, 2009 4:45 PM

so I read the LIST of participants, quite impressive I must say. As a handiman type of guy should I feel inferior, nope, quite the opposite.

I'm well informed in many areas, and more so every day, thanks to people like KATE and ALL the posters here, even those I may disagree with!!

Posted by: GYM at January 13, 2009 5:51 PM

Cheer up, glasnost. The trend is more important than the moment. TV, in its existing form, will not be the news media of choice in the future. Instant, interactive and entertaining are the key words. Conservatives must learn to connect with the younger generation. Today's kids will soon rebel against the boomer Establishment. Humor and a more rational perspective on events may be the natural reaction to progressive outrage overload ( or POO, for short).

Posted by: LC Bennett at January 13, 2009 5:51 PM

Thanks for the ammunition, Kate. Our local rag had a feature piece titled "It's Not The Media, It's The Content' just last week.

They started off right with the title, then quickly digressed into newspaper technologies, the internet and ‘citizen journalists’as being the root cause(s) of their troubles.

I'm sure you won't mind, but I cut and pasted your piece (attributed) and sent it to the Managing Editor.

I've taken him to task on other occasions regarding their lack of balance. Needless to say, they truely and honestly just don't get it (yet).

Incidentally, I included the CBC Majeeda Harb bit as a classic example of 'Google is your friend' and the apparent (or deliberate) incompetence of jouralists.

Posted by: No Guff at January 13, 2009 5:51 PM

We night be in for a lot of bad winters if the Sun is any indicater.

Posted by: Revnant Dream at January 13, 2009 5:59 PM

Not soon enough can the demise of this disgusting CBC and CTV be! They have to be the worst in Canada, although Kevin NEwman is working his tail off to become the new liar king of Canada. Moving Peter Pansbridge and old Count Loyd over has been a big job for Kevin. Tell the truth or get the hell off the air, think of the children, you are wasting valuable resources in your zeal to indoctrinate the masses to your secular utopia you MSM MORONS.

Posted by: bartinsky at January 13, 2009 6:07 PM

My educational institute of employment has a journalism program - we take 18 year old kids and try to turn them into reporters/journalists, but what do they know about anything else? They don't need to take history, political science, economics, etc - they focus on "writing." The good ones learn they need to work their butts off, but many are slackers and don't want to do any more work than they have to (no different than students in my own program).

One of the things they learn is that the editors rule, and that you give the editor what the editor wants, or you end up selling classified ads. I have been interviewed several times over the years by student reporters who have shared their work with me (often in the hope of feedback and better understanding of a topic) only to see a well written and researched article butchered by the editor because it was too long to fit the space available (because the add count was up that week and the story needed to become shorter).

Posted by: crotch rocket cowboy at January 13, 2009 6:49 PM

Crap, they've moved Winnipeg !

Why wasn't I sent the memo?

Posted by: Alienated at January 13, 2009 6:53 PM

It's not just that we have people from a wide range of professional fields here, but at least half a dozen specialties in the survey are represented by the lovely and multi-talented Kate.

Posted by: Anthony at January 13, 2009 6:56 PM

Not to worry oatmealeatincanuck and Alienated, they changed the story when they found out they screwed up.

Suprising no one, they have not actually admitted that they screwed up.

What was Kate's point with this post? Oh yeah.

Posted by: AtlanticJim at January 13, 2009 7:08 PM


Nicely said. Who knew your where a Philosopher? Not being sarcastic either.
I have just one point that you may have missed. Its the converse of fame.
That would be de-famation. How many have fallen like a Gary Hart for stupidity at his insolence towards the press if not decency. Hearst was well known to break men with glee he hated. How many people have the MSM vilified unjustly for other purposes, Political or commercial or out of malice?
Think of Hollywood & how since its beginning they have relied on a few “Gossips: to make or break folks.
Its about power as usual.

Posted by: Revnant Dream at January 13, 2009 7:18 PM

Good post Kate!

It brings me joy to see ever more people coming around to the realization that the mass media are deliberately feeding the public crap.

They know they are doing it and they don't care for any number of reasons.

Whether incompetence, laziness, ignorance, venality, deliberate and willful attempts to influence to carry an agenda to bail for their political pets or to justify their own existence in any given case, it does not matter.

The MSMers have been promoting themselves as honest and having integrity. They continue to argue that they are better and better equipped to judge and define what is relevant and in what context.

They are in fact quite the opposite.

The MSMers have earned every bit of scorn and derision that comes their way.

Heap it on folks and keep pounding down on them.

Posted by: OMMAG at January 13, 2009 7:30 PM

I knew those NDPers were up to something. Trying to regain power by moving Winterpeg to Saskabush. Will they have no shame.

My thoughts on the media: "I may not be a smart man" but "Stupid media is as stupid media does".

Posted by: Joe at January 13, 2009 7:37 PM

The Ken Whyte win is being freeped by Kate according to threaders but with defenders and NP has her Garth Turner memememem retirement letter upsetting others. All in all a good day don't you think?

Posted by: Speedy at January 13, 2009 7:37 PM

The advent of the Internet and the blogsphere was a communication tool that Disco Dictator Trudeau didn't see coming. Fancy pants Trudeau and his thought police CHRCs along with his media police CRTC never imagined that Canadians would have a way to communicate with each other beyond the more traditional sources available. One of the results of this new communication tool is that the MSM no longer preaches it's Liberal ideology and manufactured consent in a vacuum. The internet and the blogsphere gives people a voice that would otherwise not be available to them, a little bit of freedom goes a long way. The MSM now preaches mainly to the converted and the ignorant, their sphere of influence in politics, and society in general is shrinking. I greatly appreciate the freedom to hear and read the thoughts of other posters and know that I'm not alone in the wilderness. Right on Kate, great posts Joe Molnar and Shaken, it's nice to not be marginalized.

Posted by: Sean M at January 13, 2009 8:04 PM

Remember that if it's in an American paper the temperature will usually be given in Fahrenheit and not Celsius.
-35 Fahrenheit is -37.222... Celsius. Still pretty damn cold no matter how you look at it.

Posted by: Hal at January 13, 2009 8:37 PM

Geeezzzz.I knew you peeps in Saskabush were starting to prosper now that you've gotten rid of the Dippers....but so much,so fast,you now need TWO provincial capitals?

Posted by: Justthinkin at January 13, 2009 9:29 PM

"Kate, I nominate this for your best post ever."

I agree!! My all time favorite thread except for last weeks Israel thread.

Posted by: lawnguy at January 13, 2009 9:42 PM

Yes, lawnguy, that's why we keep coming back here.

Posted by: sysk at January 14, 2009 12:11 AM

Haha, I appreciate being included in the rancher/farmer/cowboy-related occupations. It is indeed a compliment.

Posted by: dr kill at January 14, 2009 8:29 AM