What has stepped into that void is the New Media. They have become the de facto news source for many people. For a large number, this is an upgrade since this new source is more "honest" and less restrained by corporate influence or political bias. It is more relatable since it is not written by stuffy academics who don't live in the real world. On the flip side, this New Media also has virtually no accountability at all. You can say whatever you want in a blog or on a facebook post and no one can do anything about it. If you pulled that stuff in a newspaper or on a news broadcast, you would get sued for libel.
So, now TMZ is considered a legitimate news source, frequently quoted by mainstream news outlets. It, in reality, is a gossip site. But they have tons of contributors, so they can get places that ABC can't. They also can accuse people of all kinds of stuff that isn't verified, since they aren't "mainstream media." Take the Carrie Prejean case - the former Miss California whose personal religious beliefs came under fire by Perez Hilton (another New Media maven). She has gone rounds with the Miss USA group, swapping lawsuits. Last week, all the lawsuits were mysteriously settled. No one knew what exactly caused the quick settlement, until TMZ announced it was the appearance of a sex tape of Prejean. Everyone went, "Oh, okay. Now we understand." Every single story I saw mentioned how TMZ verified the tape's existence. When did TMZ become a legitimate source? They also played the same role when Erin Andrews of ESPN was victim of a peeping tom this summer - verifying the tape.
So there is now this parasitic relationship between Old Media and New Media. The traditional sources of news are relying on the newer ones frequently for news and verification of stories. They also know that many younger people actually trust TMZ more than CBS - or believe Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert over Brian Williams of NBC. [Most young people have no clue that the larger players in "New Media" are owned by "Old Media" companies, anyway. Fox owns MySpace. Google owns YouTube. NBC owns Hulu.]
Here's my problem. Bias is always going to exist in media. You cannot report a story without your perspective playing a part. And all news outlets play the "yellow journalism" game every day - playing up shocking stories over boring stories. Take a look at CNN.com some time. They always push the more scintillating stories up the chart. Why? Money. They get paid by advertisers for clicks. And there is more money in clicks on pages further into a website. CNN may get 5 cents for an ad view on page one, but get 20 cents for an ad view three levels in. So they want to drive people further into their site. So they push the crazy stories. All websites do this. It's how newspapers ran for decades - push the big nutty story because people want to read it.
Well, in New Media, there is a different bias also prevalent. It is viciousness. There is an ugly edge to these sites. Some of it is that they writers and editors are people who were shunned by mainstream media sources. Maybe they weren't good enough or popular enough. Maybe the didn't get hired, or they didn't get the degree they needed. Now they are going to take it out on the big dogs. They are relentless in their criticism of people in leadership or in the public eye. But it isn't just criticism trying to make change. It is just vicious attacks - lashing out to hurt or to make the attacker feel better. And it even happens when one of these New Media types reaches a level of success - they become targets as well. Every movie, book, television show, comic book, album that comes out faces acerbic commentary. Entertainers have to deal with dozens of sites ripping into them in a mean-spirited fashion. If I had to come up with one word for the tone of the Internet, it would be sardonic -- bitterly and mockingly sarcastic.
One example is Deadspin.com. This is a site that is supposed to "cover sports coverage." It was created to talk about the sports coverage out there - like ESPN, CBS, etc. The site, first of all, is owned by Gawker Media - which also owns a lot of very unsavory sites. But it has a very nasty edge to it. A couple weeks ago, ESPN personality Steve Phillips found himself in a big problem where his mistress went psycho and told his wife that they were together. When Deadspin confronted ESPN to validate the rumor, the Worldwide Leader denied everything. Then it hit the newspapers everywhere. Deadspin got furious at ESPN for withholding info. So they went into attack mode - and they started airing unsubstantiated rumors about multiple ESPN personalities and executives. They outed affairs and behaviors. All because they got scooped on a story.
How is that responsible? How can that level of viciousness be okay for a "news outlet." Deadspin hides behind the fact that they are a glorified blog. But shouldn't there be some responsibility? Another example is with Bill Simmons - ESPN's most popular writer. Simmons himself circumvented the usual process of getting hired. He started his own sports blog in Boston. Finally, he got to be so popular that ESPN hired him. Now he is a massively successful writer and media person. His articles get more hits than any other sportswriter. His podcast is the most listened to sports podcast in America. He just wrote a second book - The Book of Basketball - that hit #1 on the New York Times Nonfiction chart. He has reached a level of huge success. Instead of being happy for him - a regular guy who made good - he has become a major target of places like Deadspin and bloggers everywhere. They relentlessly ridicule him. They slam his characteristic writing style. They rip into his love for Boston sports. Personally, I think it is because they are all jealous.
I like Simmons. He is one of my writers that I read all the time. I bought his book the week it came out and I love it. It is a very thorough and entertaining look at basketball. But he gets ripped constantly about his book signings or his "selling out" or his opinions. I don't like everything he writes - his morals and mine are light years apart. And, sure, I think he is a little hung up on himself. But this is a guy who worked hard and made his dream come true. He's doing well and creating very enjoyable stuff. So, naturally, he deserves to be tormented and hated.
I write a blog (actually I have three). I use Facebook and Twitter. You could say I am a "New Media" member, since I don't have a journalism degree but still write my opinions out there. I write books for Defender Ministries, even though they are not put out by a mainstream publisher. I hope to circumvent some of the traditional methods for a writer - especially a religious writer. But I hope I never reduce myself to the level where I would be so vicious and hateful. I try hard to make sure I don't go over the top. Yes, I have written things in my blogs that I would never say to someone's face - like Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Billy Donovan, Ronald McDonald. I just don't think I have ever been vicious out of jealousy or spite. And, quite frankly, I can't stand reading things with that bent. I fear that this mentality is only going to get worse. The more popular these sites become, the more they are validated. Unfortunately, that means the mindset becomes acceptable as well. It doesn't make for a pleasant or beneficial experience for anyone.