If there’s an analogy to this phenomenon, it’s probably the open-source software movement, which tends to produce far more reliable products via the same process of distributed criticism and relative freedom from groupthink. But I’m afraid that the internet’s threat to cocooned old-media organisations is far greater than the threat that Microsoft poses to Linux.
That’s because writing software is hard. Journalism — particularly journalism practised as it’s practised at CBS (or as the similarly humiliating Andrew Gilligan affair demonstrates, at the BBC) is easy. Those who have lived within the comfortable big-media cocoon have done so not because they possess unusual talents, but because they have had access to the tools for disseminating news and opinion, tools that were until recently so expensive that only a favoured few could use them. They had the megaphone; the rest of us did not.
Those days are over. Nowadays everyone has a megaphone and those with something interesting to say often discover that their megaphone can become very large, very fast. Meanwhile, those in the legacy media are discovering that their megaphones are shrinking as the result of journalistic self-abuse. With the tools now available to everyone, the biggest asset is credibility, something they have already squandered in the belief that no one would know the difference.
Nor is this phenomenon likely to be limited to the US. The Gilligan affair, and the attitudes and behaviours it exposed, has seriously wounded the credibility of the BBC, and there seems no reason to think that other broadcasters across the world, whether state-affiliated or merely oligopolistic, are likely to do any better. As always happens when the comfortable are afflicted by competition, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this phenomenon. But given the performance of these dinosaurs over recent decades, there seems little reason to mourn the change.
Open-source journalism trumps big media dinosaurs. Now who could’ve imagined that a few years back?