Saturday, 28 May 2016

The tears of the legacy media

"The collapse of the press and the rise of anti-social media put democracy in peril" says Iain Martin. Cutting to the chase, it's the usual hackneyed bilge about the decline of traditional media and the demise of the elite corps of journalists, upon which the whole of western civilisation depends. Apparently without the stewardship of our betters we risk declining to the status of barbarians.
What is at stake is much more important than mere hackery, and mainstream media is hardly blameless, of course. But if good outlets perish, and news and analysis is delivered largely via Facebook and Google, we’ll soon find out what a problem that is.

Already, in the rise of the SNP in Scotland, Corbyn in England, the more extreme Ukippers, and Trump in the US it is evident that “Facebook media” is a serious menace to a healthy democracy. I say that not because I disagree with any of those causes, although I do disagree with them all. The concern is that people are encouraged to live in an anti-social media echo-chamber, in which they only hear views and conspiracy theories which confirm their prejudices.

Compromise is a key ingredient in a civilised society, yet constant exposure to the myth that it is always bad, and that there are simple populist solutions to every question, and that anyone who disagrees with you is an idiot, leads to Trump, Le Pen and a threat to civilisation and free thought about which we are far too sanguine.
Astonishing. Iain Martin made his name at the Daily Telegraph. You couldn't find a more dismal closed shop than the Telegraph. It's editors have approval lists of who can be referenced and who cannot. It is a walled garden. It regularly interferes with the content submitted by journalists and lacks the courage to print anything its risk averse lawyers don't like or anything which may upset advertisers.

In fact, the only reason the Telegraph survives to this day is by confirming the prejudices of readers. You can say exactly the same of CapX and City AM. IEA inspired libertarian claptrap featuring Iain Martin's former Telegraph colleagues and the various think tank wonks.

They are also victim to what we bloggers call, for want of a better name, "not invented here syndrome". They will ignore a source entirely unless it comes from a source with SW1 prestige. There is an institutionalised solipsism. That's why its been the same inbred circle-jerk for over a decade - and that's why it is utterly incapable of growing intellectually. I first started buying the Telegraph in 2001 and very little has progressed since.

It is for that reason we are presently witnessing such a lacklustre Leave campaign. It has successfully excluded any original ideas. If they come up with anything original at all you can bet your ass they stole it. They have cultivated a consensus based groupthink of their own which is outright hostile to criticism even from well-wishers. They think they know everything and can't be told anything. They transmit rather than interact. It's why they are almost universally despised by bloggers.

Meanwhile, some of the most far-reaching debate around is happening in the comments of social media. The level of EU discussion has been stratospheric compared with what you'll find in the media. The fact that Fraser Nelson passes as an intellect tells you everything. If I took the same shortcuts with facts I would expect to be pulled up on it.

It is precisely because social media is not an echo chamber that we see the rise of alternative candidates. At this point, people will vote for anything which threatens to destabilise the consensus because they're sick of it. In politics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In this referendum we have seen the full force of the establishment brought down against what it views as a a democratic insurgency. Brexit threatens to break up their powerbase. We see the FT and the Guardian slavishly republishing any assertion from any diplomat, dignitary or official without the slightest intention of verifying the veracity of the claims made - often lacking the knowledge to even notice they're being lied to. And of course anyone who disagrees is a "conspiracy theorist".

There is an inherent sense of entitlement throughout UK media. You can see it in collective outrage among economists who feel entitled to be heeded. There is a belief that they are guardians of a sacred wisdom that we plebs could not possibly have access to or comprehend without their benevolent guiding hand. And because we reject them obviously that's a grave threat to democracy - that we might choose people anti-ethical to their consensus.

What Iain Martin writes, lacking in originality as it is, is not an expression of concern for democracy. It is the anguished cries of an obsolete species. They no longer have a monopoly on the agenda and have lost their grip over narratives. Media consumers now have the ability to deal directly. We do not need intermediaries or interpreters. We have the same tools they do and the same access to data.

From the outset of the digital revolution they have sought to exclude external influences rather than opening up a dialogue. Now they find themselves in a wilderness of their own making as the conversations happen without them. Nobody is going to pay for something when they can get better for free.

The one lesson our media seems incapable of learning is that people will pay for media which adds value. Having utterly debased itself, making enemies along the way, it is no longer valued or trusted. And when corporate entities have the gall to tell writers they can't afford to pay them, while at the same time paying oafs like Boris Johnson £275k a year, you can't be in the least bit surprised that the media no longer enjoys the same level of influence.

Unlike Iain Martin I do not lament the demise of the legacy media. It is a wholly malevolent influence which trades on prestige in defence of the political orthodoxy. Its primary pursuit is self-preservation.

That we are starting to see trust in established media eroding is to be celebrated. It says there is a far healthier debate than ever. The public are voting with their wallets and voting to abandon that which no longer serves a useful purpose. As for democracy, the signals at the ballot box tell us that the establishment order is dying and people are willing to endure the likes of Farage and Trump to get rid of it. Says rather a lot doesn't it?

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