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Dysproportional Power in an Internet Dominated News Market

Who controls the news? There are increasingly few media corporations in charge of media ownership. The mega-trend is called "media convergence" or "media consolidation" or "concentration of media ownership." The structure is called "oligolopy".

According to an April 7 2011 article on New York Times it is a myth that the rise of Internet media means that traditional media are losing their audience. Au contraire, mon ami. It is a fact that "...in 2010, the Internet passed newspapers for the first time as the platform where Americans “regularly” get news", but that doesn't mean the audience is flowing to alternative news outlets.
Of the 25 most popular news Web sites in the United States, for instance, all but two are “legacy” media sources, such as the New York Times or CNN, or aggregators of traditional media, such as Yahoo or Google News. Of the roughly 200 news sites with the highest traffic, 81 percent are traditional media or aggregators of it. 
That leaves a very small window for alternative news, alternative news angles and, ultimately, alternative views. The establishment holds the power. The rest may drown in the long tail of the news economy.

I am going to leave the rest of the Five Myths from the NTY/PEW article alone and focus on this problematic development. In hindsight it may be predictable, but I will admit that I was one of those who had optimistic views on the future of blogger power and, hence, potential for revived societal criticism in an alternative news culture.

About 10 years ago - I started blogging in 1998 - I composed a couple of simple models to illustrate the flow of news/views in the Internet Age.
In this model the "PUBLIC" (also "BLOGGERS") influence the MSM (MainStream Media) through its poisition as an integral part of the "media food chain". The media, always hungry for new impulses, pick up on the stories that interest the people the most, as expressed in online browsing behavior, commenting and blogging. 
In this model, the Authoritarian Model, the Authorities push concepts and angles through the media machine, and bloggers largely reblog on issues raised by the MSM. The entire system is self-reinforcing and serves largely as a mechanism for mind control. Authories are not just government officials, but also major powerbrokers, in particular commercial interests.
Both models may co-exist within the same media structure, but the current situation reflects the lower model, the Authoritarian structure in which news and views are largely top managed. The public receives input through the media, digests it and influences policy mainly through adopting various partisan stances and by voting for electoral candidates. "Authoritarian" may seem like a too negative word in the context. The model may also simply describe how information is processed in a representative democracy on the rudimentary level, but it is alarmingly similar to the way communication takes place in authoritarian and populistic regimes, except the contact between Bloggers (or Public) and Authority may be more or less broken off.

The upper model is a model in which the public affects MSM. Don't be fooled by the apparent longer distance-to-power in this structure. The influence asserted by the Public is actually larger, because the public generates the Media. The contact between Authorities and the Public is largely to be perceived as policy making, and the information flow is direct, not unlike President Obama's many interactive and involving Web 2.0 projects. There is, of course, a great risk of mainstreaming in this model too, but my main point is: 

The blogosphere is powerful due to its ability to direct media.

Journalists are always looking for hot news items, limited in their ressources and when comes to sources, and bound by a deadline. This is the window of opportunity for any ambitious blogger: If you can produce the news, views or angles, and capture the interest of MSM, you can be pretty sure a blog will be on the watch-list of major editorial offices.

The NYT article about the emerging online news structure (Myth #3) states that understanding audience behavior may be critical to monetizing news, also for the struggling major news outlets. This, however, mostly has to do with the gargantuan data mining projects undertaken by entities like Google and Apple - it is about aggregated user data, and not so much about trend analysis on a qualitative/intuitive level.

Or, at least, that is the appearance: Mechanical models derived from solid money-making systems based on pulling large quauntums of feedback data from users of IT-applications. Of course, you cannot rule out that the companies employ talented analysts who are, at any point in time, capable of processing data on a more sentient level, summarizing on sub-trends and forming company policies that reflects interests and demands.

One of the startling revelations I had in my years of blogging was that many bloggers - with their entrepreneural spirit and semi-anarchist attitudes - had an ambiguous relationship with the MSM. 

On one side they were largely opposed to learning and applying traditional methods and models from journalism, marketing and professional narration, and on the other side they craved attention, also from the MSM, and celebrated every time someone was able to "crash the MSM" with a viral story, opinion piece or blog post. 

They had the intuitive understanding that by connecting to the Cycle of Communication their presence and efforts were more relevant, and their influence in the political system expanded. They had the experienc of exercising dysproportional power.

Some bloggers have that experience on a regular basis. Exercising dysproportional power is their mode of existence. Some of the most influential and succesful bloggers I have observed were less obsessed with being anti-establishment. They had a more honest and, perhaps, more Machiavellian attitude to the task of exerting rhetorical power. 

Their barrier against working with or within the system was less, and as such they acted more deliberately, and with a clearer use of the mechanisms of communication, and they were rewarded for it.


The blogosphere, notoriously struggling to monetize on efforts, even before the Financial Crisis, may find itself entirely stuck in the long tail of news dissemination, a curiosity rather than an influential force, whether collectively - compared to the grand picture - or individually. 

Individual projects, particularly collaborate projects with the ability to monetize and organize their efforts, may always have an avenue for asserting influence in the political system.

However, in the overall scheme of things, the blogosphere's actual Power-to-Change may be very much illusion and ever more so, as the big media corporations set sails to exploit all options to consolidate.

Just like understanding the crowd is central to the succes of the large news agencies, the understanding of the Food Chain of Communication may be critical to the survival of an independent blogosphere, at least in terms of exercising dysproporational power.


In some of the up-coming blog posts I am going to go deeper into methods and techniques that can be used to exercise dysproportional power via the Internet, applying tested methods from a variety of fields, professional and academic. I will advise anyone with the tenacity to read this article to also read at least the introduction to Cultural Co-Dependency as a Grand Narrative in which I briefly outline the fundamental rule of the superior meme.

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