On August 14, I published “Chief Judge of 9th Circuit: ‘1984 is here,’ especially for poor”, two days after a ruling of the 9th Circuit Court, which essentially legalized warrantless wiretaps on cars – even if it’s in a person’s driveway (Well, that is, unless that person lives in a gated community). Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote an eloquent and controversial dissent, filled with references to Big Brother, and accusing his fellow judges of “cultural elitism” – this, coming from a Reagan appointed nominee.
I was shocked by this drastic ruling and Kozinski’s headline grabbing dissent, but moreso, I was perplexed it didn’t make any headlines (other than a few legal blogs). How could I – a professor of English, with very little experience in the legal beat – be the one of the few to grab onto this story?
Ten days later, on August 25, Time Magazine covered the story and it exploded, appearing in numerous outlets – Reuters, CNN, The Huffington Post, as you can see here. Finally, the story made it into the major news cycle – if briefly.
The Google Tracking Chart, below, shows how many sources covered the story by date. As you can see, before Point A (Time Magazine), the story received little coverage, with under four sources: following the Time publication, the story proliferated and now, there are over 80 articles on the story, not to mention blogs that link to it, and innumerable shares on Facebook and Twitter.
This data shows us that major corporate outlets push the debate – the bigger the source that covers a story, the more other sources will track it. Clearly, my blog did not – and could not – attract that level of interest. In a way, this data could show that our media is truly top down – the bigger, the more corporate the source which covers the story, the more other sources will follow the story, creating a news echo chamber. Robert Greenwald’s OutFoxed makes this case well, that corporate outlets can drive the debate, drive the coverage, and thus, drive the public mind. The Manufactured Mosque “debate,” which Fox gave persistent attention to, no doubt exemplifies this, as hundreds of news outlets are still tracking it, according to Google Tracking.
If this is the case, then our media landscape is bleak, and the supposedly participatory internet is nothing but an illusion. While it appears we have a voice, through endless comments and blogs, while it appears we are a part of the media, we do nothing more than feed into the corporate stories which already dominate the headlines – we become, in essence, de facto PR agents for the corporate news.
Yet, another way to look at this is that grassroots media efforts may also influence the debate: I posted the report on Daily Censored and Op-Ed News, and linked it to my Facebook account; 2 weeks later, beyond the number of individual reads of the story, the article had been shared well over 200 times on Facebook. If each person’s Facebook network has at least 130 people (which is the average, according to their stats), then the story reached over 20,000 people – without any sort of advertising, or corporate sponsorship.
The success of this story may also show that grassroots, independent media may be able to push debate into the corporate media, where the power clearly lies; perhaps, as David Mathison claims, we can “Be the Media”. According to a March 2010 PEW study we no longer passively receive information, but are actively participating with media, as evidenced by those 200+ readers who chose to share Kozinski’s dissent. Indeed, every month, Facebook’s 500 million users share “30 billion pieces of content.” We can be the media.
While there is no way to know if the story I shared had any impact on the larger dialogue, what this shows is the potential for grassroots media to influence debate, to influence what stories the major media outlets cover, and to push stories which individuals find important into the spotlight.
Let’s hope your story is next on this evening’s news.