Wednesday, September 12, 2007

After “All the news that’s fit to print”

Of the newspaper as a facilitator of imagined community, Anderson writes: “The second source of imagined linkage lies in the relationship between the newspaper, as a form of book, and the market.” (33)

When print consumption is a less and less a “mass ceremony” as Anderson describes it, and a “Long Tail” economy enables niche products to find dedicated markets and publication without requisite mass appeal, do print sources have a stronger or weaker impact on their market and the ‘community’ it creates? How does Anderson’s imagined community account for the relationship between a community’s (imagined) scale and power?

Sites like that have sought to harness ‘citizen journalists’ into cohesive groups focusing on their local environment have had only limited success, perhaps because they expose and identify the community being imagined, rather than leveraging the perceived power of a greater (anonymous) audience as traditional newspapers have been able to do.

Also essential to the power of the newspaper, Anderson writes, is its self-sufficiency, its exact and perfect replication. But journalism on the Internet — citizen or otherwise — is fluid, not finite, and available for alteration and response. Editors and journalists, previously vested with an inherent trust as arbiters of this shared print culture, surrender authority to readers. And so do interactive news media then diminish the operative elements of “print capitalism” as Anderson describes them — the capacity to link “fraternity, power and time meaningfully together”?

Is this finiteness, a degree of implied authority or an assertion of definitiveness, instrumental to the impact of print capitalism in fostering imagined communities? Walter Cronkite’s daily declaration — “And that’s the way it is” — may been exclusive and incomplete, but it unequivocally established what Anderson describes as the anonymity of shared experience.

In our world, it seems the proliferation of news media creates cracks in imagined communities of scale. Readers’ imagined notions of ‘shared’ values, ideals or products may not be any different, but with an ever-increasing buffet of choices available for consumption, no one source, no nightly newscast or newspaper can suggest that it represents America, or any nation. Those that do (dare I say Fox News?) are questioned, even ridiculed, for asserting a dominant voice that no outlet can claim in an age of splintered media.

No comments: