OFF THE GRID

Pew Survey: The New News Is Elevator Music

Mar 2, 10 | 7:35 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Here’s the headline: “The notion that people have a primary news source, one place where they go for most of their news, in other words, is increasingly obsolete.”

This from a Pew survey of how people get their news.

What the survey shows is that, even more than a radical shift from traditional media to online sources—although it shows this, too—what has happened is that news has become a constant, plugged-in condition. We get it from wherever our attention is directed, or from whatever data stream our technology connects us to.

Sometimes we choose this stream, say, with regard to our political desires, but mostly not. Mostly it’s just happenstance or location or convenience—just whose news gets there first. News is background noise, barely conscious, subdural. It’s ubiquitous. It’s music.

This is surely not good for Rupert Murdoch, who wants to charge people for what, by its nature, is no longer a choice, no longer sought, no longer considered, no longer in any sense special, or exclusive, or unique.

Nor, perhaps, is it all the good for me—and Newser. Everybody in the news business is a utility—but without a monopoly.

Is constant news good for the nation? It quite contradicts an assumption about the news that has gained, since the advent of Fox News, the most currency. That is, people get their news from the source that most mirrors their political position. This is true, it turns out, only of the obnoxious. Most everybody else is more of a transparent membrane. All news, at least all the news that reaches them—an undifferentiated tale of tragedy, boredom, and novelty—flows in and out, like the tide, with something, we can assume, of a smoothing or homogenizing effect. The news may seem fractured, but, in fact, it is evenly distributed. It creates, if not a consensus, a conventional wisdom.

Among the other headlines, in addition to the continued erosion of print, the downgrading of radio, the continued strength of television, and the commanding presence of the Internet, is the new significance of mobile.

News, in other words, is what we do when we have nothing else to do (one reason, perhaps, why it is perceived to have no value). When we’re biding our time, struggling to be patient, filling the void between this destination and the next. News is, also, necessarily, shorter. Our attention concentrated. Efficiency, rather than content, is king. Print, is losing out because it’s longer, linear, physically difficult to manipulate, demanding active—you have to buy it, hold it, and read it—instead of passive interest.

Anyway, given all these new sources, this ease of delivery, this frictionless absorption of information, do we know more?

Well, more people seem to know a wider variety of things. So, possibly, we’re more interesting to each other. Our small talk is elevated.

That might, incrementally, be an advance for civilization.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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