Monday, December 08, 2008

Fairnes? What's fairness? - Denyse O'Leary

Over at Future Tense, some of us have been blogging about the transitions that the publishing industry is facing. For example, Wendy Nelles notes that Thomas Nelson's recent layoffs represent a 9% decline in book sales.

There have also been cutbacks at Augsburg Fortress, and here is an item on the death of print magazines. I have written on how major media in general are in the tank, and what all that means. It is to that theme that I return again today.

Essentially, young people are not reading much print media. That should not especially surprise anyone - travelling the Toronto subway, I often see young people listening to music or texting each other, but almost never see them reading newspapers or listening to regular radio. Now and then I see a young woman flapping through a fashion mag, but the fashion writers are kidding themselves if they think that she is reading their work closely.

If anyone in a given subway car is reading a book, chances are it is a Bible or a Koran, or else it is "on the lit course." I think books like the Bible and the Koran will survive, because to those who read them, they aren't just books, they're Books. Ritual surrounds their reading. At my own (Catholic) church, for example, an elaborate procession bears the Bible to the lectern and everyone stands as the priest reads (and kisses the book). Similarly, at Simcha Torah, Jews dance with the Torah. That kind of thing hasn't changed in thousands of years and I don't expect it to. But typical print culture - tabloids and fashion mags, for example - is going the way of all mere culture ... into oblivion

A possible alarming development, however, is that old media might try to survive by getting government to give them an edge against new media. This morning, American columnist George Will drew attention to this possibility:
... these worrywarts say the proliferation of radio, cable, satellite broadcasting and Internet choices allows people to choose their own universe of commentary, which takes us far from the good old days when everyone had the communitarian delight of gathering around the cozy campfire of the NBC-ABC-CBS oligopoly.
I've heard enough about this revival of a so-called "fairness doctrine" from enough different sources that I don't discount it.

Essentially, the idea of a fairness doctrine is that - to be fair - we must make sure that everyone gets equal time to make their point in each privately owned medium. The trouble is, that, historically, such a requirement means that media avoid controversy. That's because determining who should have equal time and under what circumstances becomes an unsupportable burden and a source of unaffordable litigation. More to the point, the costs of getting into broadcasting/podcasting are so low now that almost anyone with a point worth making can just make their point online. It costs nothing to start a blog here at Blogger, for example.

If government sees a need for involvement, helping minority views (for example the views of persons with a disability) would make far more sense than a fairness doctrine. Such assistance would more effectively recognize the nature of the new media universe as well.

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

No comments:

Popular Posts