Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The "health of our democracy" at the hands of the blogosphere

In an article published yesterday in the Toledo Blade, as discovered by me through the Huffington Post, President Obama came out with a statement deeming “print media’s role vital” and expressing trepidation of the blogosphere’s effect on the “direction of the news”. Obama links “journalistic integrity”, i.e. the kind of reporting not found in opinionated blogs, to the concept of the nation as “something that…is absolutely critical to the health of our democracy." President Obama’s connection between print journalism and democracy directly resembles Benedict Anderson’s tie between the newspaper and the conceptualization of the community and/or nation. Anderson writes, “The newspaper reader, observing exact replicas of his own paper being consumed by his…neighbors is continually reassured that the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life” (36).
How would Benedict Anderson conceive of the Internet and its mode of reception by the citizens? Stefan, in his post below, questioned the impact of the shift in technologies. The news-site reader cannot see his neighbors’ computer screens, and they might not even be reading the news at the same time. We are no unified by nation in the simultaneous act of physically reading the news. Instead, we go through a series of clicks, whenever it is convenient for us, through whichever site we choose, to read whichever news we choose to read. Stefan noted how the internet has individualized the reception (or is it now an active search, a journey through the world wide web?) of the news. Although I agree that the way we approach news on the internet is customized to the individual, it is still part of a different kind of shared experience. There is always a link to “share” and article with a friend and social networking sites, etc. are set up so as to easily share what you are reading with your peers. The language of community is thus shifted from the physical sharing of experience to the virtual (Anderson even states that it was always somewhat virtual), and perhaps unity is not lost, just changed form.

I refer back to the Obama article: What does it mean that I found a national article from a Toledo newpaper on an uber-site that is just a collection of sources? What is the effect of the huffington post—a reputable, self-defined “internet newspaper” that juxtaposes news from “real” newspapers from around the country next to blog posts and videos from all over television as if all were created equal. And, above all, physically at the top of the page, is an ad for The New York Times Weekender. Is the media having an identity crisis? Does the plurality of our news source signify a loss in our concept of a unified nation or is it just a step in the process of formatting the community to include new technologies?

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