What Is Mainstream Media?

deadspinI was reading this article when I came across an interesting fact that turns the tables on “mainstream media.” Here’s the quote:

“One of the favored criticisms of blogs in general by “mainstream” media is that blogs lack accountability. Backing into this, the definition of “mainstream” is entirely out of whack by those who toss it around. In August, [online sports blog] Deadspin had 22 million page views. On Wednesday alone, the site had over one million. If Deadspin is not “mainstream,” then virtually every newspaper site in the country is outside the mainstream as well. So are most television shows on cable, virtually every print newspaper in the country, and just about every radio show on Earth. So Deadspin rests squarely in the middle of the stream, occasionally urinating in the water as it goes past perhaps, but squarely in that stream.”

The author of this quip is a former Deadspin.com editor who attempts to provide some insight into the debate between “mainstream” media and the blogosphere, generally thought of as the un-mainstream, if you can call it that.

It’s funny, but mainstream media is actually taking a back seat to the un-mainstream these days and it makes you wonder what we really consider to be mainstream. Do we consider the newspaper that we occasionally read mainstream? Or do we think of our favorite blogs, which we check every hour, as mainstream?

There really is no right answer in this situation, but we have to take into account the facts of the matter. The fact is, there are plenty of un-mainstream sites (blogs) that are generating more revenue than entire news organizations. In many cases, these un-mainstream sites (think TMZ, Perez Hilton, Deadspin) operate on tabloid journalism, but do so in a way that compels us to follow along. We might not place these sites on equal footing with the nightly news or our local paper, but we trust their reporting just as much as we do the mainstream sources of information.

On top of that, these sites often start out as small operations run from home (not unlike this website). They begin with one or two people voicing opinions and grow from there. Ultimately, by negotiating advertising and linking to other sites, one can turn a hobby into a full-time job that produces an ever-growing amount of income.

So what becomes of the mainstream, then?

Society is changing, and with that change comes a certain level of tolerance for the un-mainstream media. An entire generation of young adults is accustomed to a different level of crudity in everyday life thanks to the internet and the desire to see, read, watch, or hear virtually anything, no matter how improper it may be. From endless amounts of pornography to insurmountable doses of violence to everything in between. Because of that fact alone, the mainstream media is tame, boring even. We don’t want to hear the legalese of Jon and Kate Gosselin’s divorce when we can read all the trashy details on a blog. It’s just that simple.

I liken it to our desire to gawk at car accidents on the road.

Our first thought when we enter a traffic jam due to an accident is anger. We’re angry that other drivers are holding up traffic by looking at this accident. As we move nearer to the scene of the collision, our anger is replaced by curiosity. By now, we are more interested in the wreck moving ever closer to us than we are the slow drivers in front of us. By the time we reach the crash, we have become like all the people we were upset with before. We slow down, pause, and glance at the wreckage, looking for blood, guts, a body, or anything else that might be out of the ordinary.

We have a similar mentality with media.

We respect the “mainstream” media and seek it out for our information. We watch the news on occasion and read the newspaper when we get a chance. We often get our first taste of a news story from the mainstream media, in fact. But then we want more. We need more information than the mainstream can give us, either because of regulations imposed by the FCC, or simply because it wouldn’t be appropriate for the mainstream to delve further into details. So from there we turn to the internet, the un-mainstream, and find what we are looking for. We get “the rest of the story” from less-than-reputable sources, but we trust and believe in them, despite the fact that they aren’t mainstream.

All of this is made more complicated by the number of accredited journalists who have been squeezed out by the mainstream media.

Where do these writers go when they can’t land a “mainstream” job? Naturally, they turn to the blogosphere. An increasing number of reputable reporters and columnists are forced into the un-mainstream either because of the economy or by choice.

Take Jay Mariotti, for instance. Mariotti was a longtime sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times until he quit last year and took a paying gig as a glorified blogger for AOL.com. His departure from the mainstream into the un-mainstream set a new precedent for journalism. It blurred the lines between what we consider to be mainstream, and what we see as being un-mainstream. Never mind the fact that Mariotti is often hailed as a complete d-bag, but that’s another story for another day.

Another thing that we often don’t realize is that mainstream media members are often tipped off by the un-mainstream. Because there is no standard or code of ethics for bloggers, many a story is created when a rumor is put into print by a pseudo-journalist. That blogger may not have sources or connections for interviews, but the mainstream media does. When a member of the mainstream media catches wind of this rumor, his or her first goal is to turn the hot topic into news by catching up with the person or persons involved in the details of the rumor. From there, mainstream news is created, all thanks to the un-mainstream.

There are those out there who scorn the un-mainstream and think it has no place in society. Foolish. If anything, society is content without the mainstream, rather than the other way around. The numbers support this fact, and it’s a dangerous subject for newspeople the world around. Readership of newspapers is down, viewership of news programs is down, and the number of visits to blogs and un-mainstream sites is up. It’s a back-asswards world we live in, but one that will not soon change.

What is mainstream media?

There may not be an answer.

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