Commentary

What Exactly Is Mainstream Media?

Last week, the Republicans accused the mainstream media of being propaganda agents for Democrats and the left.  The attacks elicited enthusiastic applause. Sen. Marco Rubio later asserted that the mainstream media is the “ultimate Super PAC” for liberal Democrats. They kiss up to Democrats and liberals.

What, these days, is the mainstream media? I have no idea. To increasing millions of people,it’s not CNN or “The CBS Evening News” or The New York Times. It is Vice. the Onion and The Daily Mail U.S. Website, or it propaganda video from Republicans, Democrats, Breitbart or MediaMatters.

For increasing millions of people, mainstream media are the stream of media you choose on Twitter, Facebook, email or YouTube video, even user generated video. Information flies at us in very short bit and images and it’s as perishable as an ice cream cone in July.  

It was easier to point to mainstream media a few years ago when we had the last remnants of a national audience for news. In an era of social media and almost total media fragmentation, there is no first source for information that everybody uses.

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There’s no real mainstream media, just an illusion of it, a memory of what it once was that we pretend is still significant.

Newspapers had a combined circulation of 62.3 million in 1990, when the population was around 248 million; they have a circulation of 40 million today in a nation of 350 million; those people are generally older--and usually much older--than the demographic advertisers care most about. Newspaper circulation has declined 17% in the last decade. Newspaper readers are an anachronism. Odd ducks. Yet newspaper ads and their readers supply 80% of newspapers’ revenues.  

Politicians still go hat and hand to get newspaper endorsements, though fewer and fewer people read the paper or trust it or think it is as good as it once was, and the politicians themselves (so they say) hold papers in contempt. It’s theater.  
The tweet that says “CNN is reporting. . . “ has more impact than the story itself, which comes and goes. All that anyone is looking at is the headline or the link on Twitter. The story itself is kind of wasted.

pj@mediapost.com

2 comments about "What Exactly Is Mainstream Media?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 3, 2015 at 8:40 p.m.

    The mainstream media outlets are generally accepted as the New York Times and Washington Post, from which NPR, ABC, NBC, and CBS take their cues.  The AP is also ideologically aligned with NYT and WAPO.  I agree that social media, Fox News, Drudge, and talk radio add contrary voices, but elite audiences still believe that if the NYT doesn't report something, it simply didn't happen. So who cares? Well, it's evident to me that on most mornings, the Today Show and Good Morning America seem to work from the same script, sometimes using the same talking points gleaned from these dying newspapers. Circulation has no real effect on their ability to steer the story, because the right people still believe every word that's fit to print in the old grey lady.

  2. Randy Kirk from Randy Kirk & Associates, November 4, 2015 at 5:50 p.m.

    Really? NY Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN. Do they have less influence today than 10 years ago. Yes. Do they still have MAINSTREAM domination. Duh. But if they continue to color the news through ommission and slanted coverage, they will slowly disappear.

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