Zeynep Tufekci, sociologist and academic who studies the effect technology has on society and one of the first writers to warn about the dangers of big data and social media-driven political campaigning, is also a thoughtful media critic. She laid out our current Beltway media problem in a Twitter thread yesterday with uncommon clarity:
Remarkable that a media person can write “Do you think a single person outside the Beltway gives a hoot…” without realizing it means that so many of in media failed so staggeringly in their job that they’re perceived as little more than cynical gossips. Institutional failure. https://t.co/rCmzIkqMtT
— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) August 26, 2020
Here’s the rest of the thread, de-twittified:
“Do you think any persuadable voter even notices?” That’s the job! We can roll our eyes without their help; media’s only remaining job is to inform and highlight what’s important, not roll their own eyes preemptively. Amazing that so many in media are [s]till blind to this in 2020.
Also Politico published play-by-play gossip from the Wikileaks hacks daily in 2016—didn’t roll their eyes then. I tried to shout this before 2016 and I’ll say it again. The condition we face is widespread and profound *elite failure* in our institutions during a tough transition.
In the run-up to 2016, it was staggering how many individual reporters were consumed looking up their and colleagues names in the Wikileaks hack and snickering on Twitter and then writing pieces about it, instead of actual reporting on important stuff on either Trump or Clinton.
How many of them learned anything since 2016? Not very hopeful here. In an age where digital technology has eaten up the easy advertising dollars, the only hope traditional media has is to make a case that it’s relevant and important or be reduced to virality chasers.
Also, “Persuadable voter” is not some fixed category. If there is no informative reporting; if there is no contextualization; if there is no explanation of what happened, and then people are less likely to be persuaded by that particular issue.
From my book (written before Trump’s win). One key goal of authoritarianism is to produce “resignation, cynicism, and a sense of disempowerment”—not by censoring info (not that easy anymore) but making information irrelevant to action. Some media are handmaidens of exactly this.
Maybe institutions are like dominoes — when one falls, it knocks over the next, and so on. Open thread.