We know exactly when and how Rome fell, but why such a backwater of a city became one of history’s greatest empires remains a mystery. And now, from politics and especial the media, the old framework and the old elites seem to be going the way of the dodo. Other institutional developments are less well known but even more pregnant with future possibilities.
The flood of digital content has proved most destructive to those institutions that profited from selling information, what we call for interesting reasons, the media. The word means “in the middle.” Journalists claimed to stand between the public and the facts about the world. While that was never really true, in the last century the news media did sprinkle tidbits of information sometimes useful to ordinary people.
Today, we are drowning in the stuff. The “news feed” is nothing more than a button in social media and the newspaper, cradle of journalism, has lost its business model. The facts of the world as it turns out, are virtually infinite in number and incoherent in pattern. The digital age resembles the Tower of Babel, an uproar of mutually unintelligible voices in a giant circle jerk.
Media like CNN flushed their credibility long ago and now merely contribute to the noise. In such an environment, conspiracy theories can become plausible explanations for the behavior of scientists. The more information we absorb, the less we understand. The New York Times has given up any pretense of objective reporting and is now the interpretive organ for the cult of identity and the progressive left.
Fox News has long made a good living playing the same part for the unreconciled right, but zoomers and younger millennials have little interest in the pronouncements of people with trained voices and unfashionable hair.
The new mediators offer themselves as storytellers and interpreters, our local guides through the jungle of contemporary life. They make no claim of objectivity and their ideologies encompass the political spectrum. On the left, for example, the “Young Turks” headlined by the verbose Cenk Uygur (affectionately known to readers of DMF as Cunk Yogurt) and his skinny chick sidekick have become the mouthpiece of the communist-oriented Justice Democrats. The Turks boasts there own fledgling network and more than 5 million subscribers on YouTube alone, far more than CNN’s average cable audience.
Then there is young lass Bari Weiss, having worked at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, comes from old media, but she understands the changed landscape and seems to have the right mix of talent and ambition, and a healthy Substack. Though fairly centrist in her politics, Weiss is a fierce advocate of free speech and an unrelenting opponent of the cult of identity. She strikes me as a dragon-slayer and a voice to be heard in the coming years.
Then there is Ben Shaprio. Full Stop.
We go to a purveyor of information as we go to a doctor, because we believe both to combine special knowledge with high integrity. At a time of institutional breakdown this can only be a personal assessment. Institutions are depositories of reputation. They garner trust over long spans of time, often generations. The journey is strewn with the carcasses of experimental forms that succeeded briefly, then failed for good. (cue laugh track) Then there are the CNN+'s that just fail coming out of the chute.
With the institutional future of media, as with every evolutionary process, many are called but few will be chosen.