Abstract Musings

Documenting the random thoughts of a cluttered mind

End of the MSM Monopoly

Peggy Noonan writes about the end of Old Media’s monopoly.

Now anyone can take to the parapet and announce the news. This will make for a certain amount of confusion. But better that than one-party rule and one-party thought. Only 20 years ago, when you were enraged at what you felt was the unfairness of a story, or a bias on the part of the storyteller, you could do this about it: nothing. You could write a letter.

When I worked at CBS a generation ago I used to receive those letters. Sometimes we read them, and sometimes we answered them, but not always. Now if you see such a report and are enraged you can do something about it: You can argue in public on a blog or on TV, you can put forth information that counters the information in the report. You can have a voice. You can change the story. You can bring down a news division. Is this improvement? Oh yes it is.

This is a great piece overall, and Peggy Noonan does the subject matter much better justice than I could. But I do want to highlight a couple of points she fails to adequately mention.

First, she attributes the beginning of the end of Old Media’s reign, rightly, to the advent of talk radio and cable TV. But, these outlets alone wouldn’t have brought about the revolution in journalism she describes. The MSM monopoly would still be intact were it not for the rise of the Internet and – more specifically – the Blogosphere.

Cable TV and talk radio certainly give the audience more options in terms of where to get the news or what slant that news has. But they are still limited in two fundamental ways:

  1. High barrier to entry. The establishment of a broadcast studio for either cable TV or talk radio is prohibitively expensive, to say the least. There is the cost of acquiring the capital necessary for such an enterprise, not to mention the cost of the capital itself, licensing fees, salaries, etc. Then the prospective media baron would need to find outlets for the program. I can’t imagine radio syndication comes overnight, nor do cable outlets just accept any old broadcast feed. (My old cable provider did not have FOX News for several years.)

  2. The audience has no voice. Cable TV and talk radio are a one-to-many conduit for information. The audience of both cable TV and talk radio still has no outlet to correct or refute factual errors, except to try to alert the outlet itself (or a competitor)1. This keeps the same barriers that created the MSM monopoly in the first place intact, just adding new players.

The Blogosphere solves both of these problems. The barrier to entry is significantly lowered, to the point where all that is required is an internet connection, and free time. And by the very nature of a blog, its author has a voice.

Secondly, she misses the impact the Blogosphere is having on the network news. The networks are in decline, and Noonan’s answer for them to reverse that trend is objective news coverage:

Networks, on the other hand, may try harder to play it down the middle, and that would be wise. The days when they could sell a one-party point of view is over. No one is buying now because no one is forced to buy. But everyone will buy the networks when they sell what they’re really good at, which is covering real news as it happens. Tsunamis, speeches, trials–events. Real and actual news. They are really good at that. And there is a market for it. And that market isn’t over.

Only this won’t – can’t – reverse the slide of network news into irrelevance. Two forces will prevent the networks from ever regaining the premier position in news coverage (slanted or not) they once held:

  1. Immediacy of news coverage. Cable TV and the Blogosphere will always beat the once a day network broadcasts to reporting news as it happens. Cable TV news came of age during the First Gulf War when CNN reported live from Baghdad as the bombs fell. Sure the networks interrupted their regular programming to broadcast the eerie green night-vision images of scud missiles and anti-aircraft fire, but CNN had the story from within Iraq and it was on 24/7. In its turn the Blogosphere was way out in front of the networks on covering the Tsunami tragedy in southern Asia. Blogs were all over the story, reporting details, providing video, even marshalling donations to the relief efforts in ways with which the network news couldn’t compete. Don’t believe me? Then ask the poor soul at CBS who lost his job for daring to interrupt ‘CSI:NY’ with a news report about the death of Yasser Arafat. News divisions of the networks are currently playing second fiddle to the entertainment divisions. My guess is that’s where the money is, and it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

  2. Inertia in the personnel departments. The Rathergate report makes it abundantly clear is that from top to bottom no line but the party line – the Democratic party line, that is – was considered. There was no critical attention paid to the veracity of this story, especially the documents which purported to prove it, until it was forced upon CBS by the Blogosphere. There is a word for this phenomena: groupthink. Even under the mounting evidence that the memos were forgeries, the prevailing point of view at CBS (and other media outlets) was that the story was ”Fake, But Accurate”. Until the news divisions can embrace more than token ideological diversity, it will be difficult for them to pursue a middle-of-the-road approach.

So, yes the monopoly is over, but the MSM will still be with us, warts and all, for at least a little while longer. And the network news divisions (and other media outlets) will attempt to adapt to this new environment, after all their survival is what is at stake. How well they can do that, or to what degree they are successful, remains to be seen. But as this Opinion Journal article expresses, the good news isn’t that the liberal news media is dead (it’s not), or the ascendancy of conservative media. But the development of a marketplace for news coverage which places a premium on the exposure of the truth, not spin.


  1. In the case of talk radio, it is possible to call in and converse with a particular show’s host, but the host is always in control, and can simply cut the caller off at the host’s discretion.