MITCHELL’S MUSINGS: Medium is the message, once again

Former newspaper editor reflects on the changes in media



If anybody asks me for writing advice (it’s funny, for some reason that’s a rare occurrence) I usually tell them what my first year English instructor taught us – economy and clarity.

In other words, the fewer the words the better, and keep it simple so the message doesn’t get lost in gobbledegook (that might not be the technical word for it but you know what I mean).

The other thing to keep in mind, other than finding something interesting to write about each week, is know your audience.

If the kind people who come up to me in the supermarket are any indication that would be females over 70, hi mom. But occasionally a brave male will admit he likes it too, same demographic mind you, so I kind of write for 55 and up, which luckily includes me, and if a few millennials, other than the two who I make read it, happen to come across it so much the better.

Although The Morning Star is, of course, online as well as the printed version, I’m pretty sure most of my readers are in danger of getting ink on their fingers. They, like yours truly, grew up with newspapers and prefer, trust, and gravitate towards the tactile experience. This also keeps me from going ‘viral’ which may sound like a disease but is actually a popularity quotient. Still, I don’t think I want to go there.

But you can’t turn back time (trust me, I’ve tried) and we all have to come to grips with the future of media.

The power, reach and dominance of Big Tech has forced local media to find their niche and role in our lives and in our communities. They are forced to go after smaller demographics because the former community at large is no longer there. Indeed, a fractured and fragmented media landscape dominated by FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) threatens local media as a whole just as it threatens local retail and by default: local democracy and a sense of community.

The internet, it was shouted from the rooftops, would get rid of the gatekeepers in print, radio and TV that controlled the news cycle and replace it with a freer, more open exchange of ideas that would hopefully reveal something more resembling the truth and less like the establishment-dominated, mainstream media’s version of history on the run.

Instead the fairly regulated mainstream media and its attempts to maintain fairness as well as community accountability has given up a huge chunk of market share to the click-dominated, money-driven, pretty much anything goes, especially if it goes viral, digital formats that cater to wide and narrow audiences alike.

That’s not to say traditional media wasn’t money-hungry in its day, it was and some people (not me) got very rich as a result, but there was at least an attempt to be locally responsible and accountable, and if not government was there to step in on behalf of the residents through legislation and oversight.

The new gatekeeper, Big Tech, and its growing impact driven by the young and now powerful (and so, so rich), is so far ahead of government, dominated by doddering dinosaurs, that any attempts at legislation would likely be too little, too late, and even possibly outdated by technology before they even became law.

Meanwhile the fracturing of the media landscape, lack of accountability and catering to the lowest common denominator through click bait, leaves us debating life and death situations where no one agrees on the facts fed to them by their respective media bubbles.

Fox News viewers think law and order is the vital issue of the day as they watch mayhem in Portland and ponder left-wing conspiracies that threaten America itself, while CNN viewers focus on the pandemic and its increasing death toll largely due to the White House’s lack of leadership, while all the while sermonizing how political correctness is going to save us all from ourselves.

Yikes. So much for the truth.

Apparently knowing your audience isn’t always good in the long run, and feeding them what they want to hear all the time may be even worse, and in service to economy and clarity that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Glenn Mitchell is a columnist and former editor of the Morning Star.

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