Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Media bias, church-state separation etc.

A couple of things that I simply mentioned in passing in one of my earlier posts have suddenly acquired a life of their own.

Judge Richard Posner wrote a huge piece in the New York Times Book Review on – well, don’t hold your breath – media bias. Posner’s essay is long and a little unwieldy. Jack Shafer of Slate rips into it here. There are certain things in Posner’s essay that ring false even on first reading. For instance:

The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog.
And later:

How can the conventional news media hope to compete? Especially when the competition is not entirely fair. The bloggers are parasitical on the conventional media. They copy the news and opinion generated by the conventional media, often at considerable expense, without picking up any of the tab. The degree of parasitism is striking in the case of those blogs that provide their readers with links to newspaper articles. The links enable the audience to read the articles without buying the newspaper. The legitimate gripe of the conventional media is not that bloggers undermine the overall accuracy of news reporting, but that they are free riders who may in the long run undermine the ability of the conventional media to finance the very reporting on which bloggers depend.

First of all, as Shafer also points out in his article, most people haven’t even heard of blogs. I’m surrounded by fairly internet-friendly group of people – people my age, comfortable with the internet, who think email is indispensable and who use Google as the first resource for finding information – and most of them don’t read blogs. The ones who do know what a blog means sometimes start their personal ones or comment on their friends’ pages but political blogs are still the exclusive realm of political junkies. Most people who read the newspapers (online or paper) normally wouldn’t read the book reviews. It’s the same with political blogs which are too insiderish – I mean who wants to know that Michael Kinsley and Susan Estrich had a fight recently? – and just do not interest people, at least the normal kind (Abnormal ones, like me, on the other hand, love such juicy squabbles).

It is absurd to insist that the readership of the New York Times has decreased because of the internet and the blogs. If anything, the readership has increased. Many more people, who would ordinarily never even have considered buying the New York Times now read it online. And that’s leaving out people outside the US. No? (Of course – the question of how to make internet advertisements work or how to charge these new readers is still open. But I think the market will solve them in due course).

Well – the second article is one by Noah Feldman (of What we owe Iraq) – an extract of his new book (the man churns out books, apparently). Feldman has a solution to the church-state wars: strictly no funding of any religious institutions but let them display symbols all they like. In other words, remain firm on the important issues, give away on the less important ones. Slate, as usual, has a critique.

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