During a recent Critical Issues lecture, the professor asked me if I thought the growing popularity of web communities was evidence that the public had lost faith in mainstream media. I believe I sputtered something at the mic, but the question got me thinking and I would like to respond to it more fully here.
I believe that the answer is yes, and that the public's lack of faith in mainstream media outlets comes from two sources:
1. Unavoidable byproducts of having big media.
2. Big media getting lazy and not doing its job right.
The first source directly led to the formation of Fringe. There's been some speculation in the literary community that big media (aka corporate bookstores) ran a lot of independent bookstores out of business. These independent bookstores were the main subscribers to literary magazines, so when the bookstores collapsed, many journals went belly-up. It sounds like regular capitalism at work, but this had disastrous consequences for journals catering to specific niches and minority groups.
Big media is concerned with eyeballs, which translate into profit, and niche journals don't have as many eyeballs. This might not have been a problem for small publications catering to latino writing or feminist writing, except that the literary market isn't very large to begin with. So these tiny journals went under, unfortunate because many of them had given writers like Sandra Cisneros (early pub credits in Revista Chicano-Riquena and Nuestro, both now defunct), Dorothy Allison, and many many others their crucial early publication credits, which often help writers get noticed by larger publications.
We founded Fringe because we worried that the dearth of niche publications would have a trickle-up effect, making it harder for minority writers to get published early on, which would make it harder for bigger publications to notice them, which would homogenize literary culture at the upper levels. (Check the NYT's hormonally imbalanced, melanin deficient list of best books to get a sense of the homogenization.)
Did the corporate bookstore say to itself, "let's screw over minority writers"? Of course not. But the unintended effect of big media has been to make the already fiscally unfeasible print-jounal model even harder to sustain. And so we turn to the Internet, where space is cheap and circulation costs nonexistent.
I'm guessing that other media -- newspapers, music, etc -- have followed the route of the literary journal. Corporate media caters to the most marketable and mainstream group, but many individuals want to read about their specific interests. As a model, MSM hasn't yet found a way to fill the void.
I'll cover source #2, the way MSM has actively broken the trust, in my next post.