I have no doubt that the title gives away the game here. I’m about to discuss a topic that’s been flying around these internets for nearly the past week. If you’re sick of it, well, we’re talking about Iraq today, too. That’s fresh, right?
So, just to review, in micro: ESPN radio host Colin “Schrutebag” Cowherd instructed is listeners to overwhelm The Big Lead with hits, shutting it down. The Big Lead was out of operation for 2 days, while Schrutebag gloated. Everyone got mad about this, and ESPN radio has, apparently, instituted a new “zero tolerance” policy about this kind of malicious behavior. Schrutebag, meanwhile, faces no punishment, and has offered only the most meager of apologies.
There are questions as to intent. Was this a hit from the suits at ESPN, or is Cowherd just an idiot? I’m inclined, personally, to think that as a radio host, Cowherd is probably an idiot, and ESPN is far too ubiquitous and arrogant to trouble itself by shutting down one weblog. More compelling than the idea of Cowherd’s bosses telling him to attack a website, I think, is that there is such a conflict between the mainstream media and the increasingly vital blogosphere.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRINT
The rise of blogging over the past few years–and the change in blogs from being personal journals to micro-media on specialized content–is unique in history. Throughout most of western history, at least, only the priests and monks could read and write. Even the royalty didn’t know how, because they were too busy slaying foreigners to bother with those crooked symbols. Eventually, royalty picked it up (Charlemagne was the trendsetter, I think) and then things trickled down to the wealthy. By the time Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist a large percentage of the “middle class” also had a rudimentary education.
Despite all this, what people can actually read (outside of letters) has been controlled by the very wealthy. The printing press allowed for mass distribution, and the people with the most money decided what received the most distribution. The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated, and Time Magazineare all extraordinarily valuable businesses because of the size of the audiences they reach. Their value can be seen pretty clearly as Sam Zell (who looks like an extra for the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick) recently paid $13 billion for the Tribune Company, which operates a number of large-market newspapers.
A SHORT AND ONLY SEMI-RELEVANT DISCUSSION OF ZINES
In the 1990s, people who wanted to make something to reach larger audiences made zines. Zines, for the very young or uninitiated, are essentially niche-newsjournals, catering, often, to a small audience. They were often free, since the creators usually just wanted to “get the word out” about something or other. Some of these zines were particularly great, but you know how much information is left from these? None. Or close to none. I don’t even have copies of the zine I made, which should have been called “Mr Thursday’s Insane Rantings on the Evilness of Governments and the Total Awesomeness Of Black Metal”, but was instead called “Only on Tuesday Nights”, which was a joke amongst a group of about 8 people. I don’t even remember why the joke was funny. Oh, and by the way, if anyone knows where I can find a zine that was printed in southern California in the late 1990s and early 2000s and featured an interview with a super-cool, super-obscure band called Super Collider in one of their issues, I’ve been looking for that for, like, 6 years. No, I don’t know what it was called.
This is why zines didn’t work. What are we talking about? Oh, right, the history of media.
WE ARE INTERNETS, TAKE US TO YOUR LEADERS
Anyway, for forever and a day, the wealthy controlled the information that the populace reached. Now, however, the internet allows anyone with a pulse to create a decent looking website, and to upload it with any sort of information they want. And, what’s more, this information, provided at little or no cost to potentially vast audiences, is roughly as accurate as that which you’d pay a jillion dollars for. Wikipedia is free and created by users. It is also roughly as accurateas The Encyclopaedia Brittanica, which costs $70 a year, online. Sites like The Hype Machine and Pitchfork and dozens of others are more valuable resources for music news than Rolling Stone or MTV. ESPN and Sports Illustrated are losing ground to Deadspin, The Big Lead, and a ton of other blogs. Anyone who want to start a blog can do so, and they can cover anything they’d like, and, eventually, an audience will find them.
That’s the beauty of the internet. It’s almost a total meritocracy. If the writing is good enough, the creators talented enough, the audience will grow. Because there are so many sources of information, readers can just look around until they find a source that suits their needs. Newspapers are still dominant sources of information, but their sales are declining, and though ESPN is still omnipresent in the sports universe, they, too, are losing readers to smaller sites with better coverage of more pertinent, specific topics.
ON CONFLICT, BLOGGERS vs MSM
This is why Colin Cowherd’s attack on The Big Lead is so significant. It doesn’t much matter whether or not ESPN wanted it to happen, or if Schrutebag is just a fool. The event is representative of the precipitous nature of the mainstream media, and the bubbling uprising of the common man.
So, bloggers, keep at what you’re doing. The quality of the work of some blogs cannot be understated. Mainstream sources continue to misrepresent bloggers as a bunch of hapless nerds living in their parents basements, working on new dungeons for their Friday night D&D sessions. Bloggers continue to write fascinating stories on whatever pleases them. In the long run, the Curious Mechanism is putting our money on the success of our fellow bloggers. We’re not rooting for the fall of the mainstream media, but we’re glad to see that in numbers, indeed, there is strength.