I’ve spent much of the last week or so watching Joe Rogan talking to Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson about the brief reglaciation of the Younger Dryas at the end of the last ice age.
It’s something I’m very interested in: I’ve spent the past 2 years building computer models of it.
These sorts of videos just have people talking for hours about stuff. You never saw anything like this on mainstream TV, where any discussion of anything would never last much longer than about 5 minutes.
Joe Rogan was in the news because he was moving his videos from YouTube to some other platform, and I wondered who he was. That’s how I ended up watching hours and hours of him talking to different people about all kinds of different things. And he was clearly somebody who could talk for hours this way.
But also I can listen for hours. And, given this, I found myself wondering whether people like Joe Rogan were now becoming far more influential than the standard 5-minute mainstream media. They’re the New Media, and they always seem to be fronted by charismatic individuals like Rogan. There are lots of them: Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Michael Savage are prime examples. These days I spend most of my time listening to people like them.
Also in the news is a BBC Newsnight presenter called Emily Maitlis, who was being criticised for airing her own personal opinions about Boris Johnson. She’s from the Old Media, and such people aren’t supposed to have their own opinions about anything: they’re supposed to remain neutral. So Maitlis was being censured for doing what people like Joe Rogan did all the time: say what she herself thought. It’s not that the Old Media never produced any charismatic individuals: they did, but they were people (like Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman) who gradually emerged over time from being anonymous presenters to become distinct, recognisable personalities. Is Maitlis one of these? I didn’t think she was. I didn’t think anyone would tune in just to hear what Emily Maitlis thought. She was trying to do New Media in an Old Media contest: she was trying to be somebody she wasn’t. Or that’s my guess.
Anyway the New Media is presented by charismatic individuals, and the Old Media is presented by employees. That’s one difference. But another one is that there are lots of charismatic individuals on the internet, and they climb to the top in an evolutionary process: people either listen to them or they don’t. Joe Rogan has probably spent years building up a listener base of people who want to know what he thinks, and Emily Maitlis hasn’t.
And the highly personal and individual New Media seem to be winning out over the impersonal, corporate Old Media: people seem to want recognisable characters. And that’s why the Old Media are dying, with newspapers and TV channels losing their audiences.
And the result is that the New Media are increasingly shaping the public discourse. Or people like Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson who can get into the New Media (via people like Joe Rogan) now define the debate: they’re becoming the new mainstream media. There are hours and hours of them talking on video, and hardly any of the established conventional wisdom from universities. It’s all being turned upside down.
And yet Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson both presented themselves as being people whose views were being ignored or derided by established conventional wisdom. As I saw it, it was the other way round: they were ignoring established conventional wisdom, which was having an increasingly hard time getting heard.
Maybe that’s just how the conventional wisdom changes: interesting new opinions attract interested new listeners, and in time these become the conventional wisdom, at least until yet more interesting new opinions emerge.
The whole media environment is changing. I couldn’t see why Joe Rogan had become a major player, but he had. And the whole debate is changing.
Does anyone need to get published in a peer-reviewed magazine any more? If they want to get a hearing they could probably do no better if they could get themselves on Joe Rogan, and be seen by his millions of viewers.
Great post, Frank. I agree with everything you wrote with the exception of the following sentence (emphasis mine):
Maybe you meant to say, “they’re supposed to appear neutral.” Because the “Old Media” is no longer neutral. They may pretend to be neutral and unbiased, but they are actually on the far opposite end of the spectrum. The Old Media is controlled by their corporate overlords and they must do their bidding. Today’s Old Media “journalists” are nothing more than propagandists who are forced to solely promote the opinion(s) of their sponsors.
I also think that many people these days want to hear different and contesting ideas about things. Rather like it took the public several decades to realise that our political system was fundamentally broken – a mere shadow of everything that it used to stand for – and that all of the major parties were essentially offering us the same thing, just glossed over with some blue-sounding or red-sounding catchphrases, and, the moment they got a chance, voted for something – anything – which might actually make a difference (i.e. Brexit), so too have they finally rumbled the fact that the mainstream media have gone exactly the same way. It doesn’t matter what paper you buy or what TV or radio news you watch/listen to, you get the same old opinions chucked at you, just worded slightly differently depending on the political persuasion of that particular paper.
That’s why I think that more and more people are turning to the Internet to find stuff out. Of course, there’s a lot of rubbish on the Internet, too, but even if it’s some off-the-wall conspiracy theory, at least it isn’t the same old-same old all the time. There is, of course, always the tendency for people to seek out stuff on the Internet which supports their pre-decided inclinations, just as, back in the day when the only sources of information were the mainstream media, the lefties would tend to buy the Guardian and righties would buy the Telegraph, but I think that more and more people these days who are genuinely interested in things are finding that in order to inform themselves properly, the only way to do it is via the Internet. Smart people have become quite adept at sifting out the rubbishy, biased sites full of clickbait, histrionics and made-up stuff and sniffing out sites which offer much more balanced, and thus more genuinely informative, views on things.
If the mainstream media had any sense and wanted to claw back some of its lost custom, it would welcome some of its employees speaking out with dissenting opinions, and indeed would encourage more of them to do so, but I think it’s now in such a deep hole of its own making that such a radical change of attitude would be all but impossible. No wonder they’re losing readers/viewers/listeners and are worried. And no wonder politicians are worried, too, and take every opportunity that they can to try and “tame” the Internet in the same way as they “tamed” our formerly free press.
Long may it continue!
Looks like Trump’s finally done it; cut the cord with the WHO.
And I’m of the opinion that by direct funding, absolutely not one cent will be given to finding ways to stop people whingeing about having to wash their hair.
Neat example of what really matters. Ordinary people come out to protect a tobacco shop from looters.
It’s the sort of thing that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
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