Never has so much been written about so little that’s been read by so few

Most people would say that shitting on your own doorstep is a bad idea…but here goes anyway…

Steven Stark of the not-particularly-reputable Boston Phoenix has written a piece that (mostly) hits the target on something that’s been concerning me for a while now: internet punditry in relation to the 2008 US presidential elections. Frankly, many of Stark’s points could apply equally to the print and broadcast media (particularly in the UK, where coverage is for the most part just plain offensive to anyone with even a little in-depth knowledge of the candidates, issues and processes), but Stark is right – the sheer volume, novelty and speed of internet commentators makes them worthy of special comment.

The problem seems to be two-fold. Firstly, there simply isn’t enough ‘news’ going on (and there aren’t enough astute commentators either). Secondly, the constant need to report something drives the pundits to fixate about deeply unimportant events in an effort to sustain public interest. They may commission a new poll or sponsor a debate just so as to be able to report it. In the worst cases they simply make things up.

(a typical online pundit at work)

Take the debates as one example. I can’t find a reliable figure as to how many there have been so far – my guess is upwards of 15. As Stark notes, in real terms these debates have been watched by ‘virtually no-one but those directly involved in the process’. I count myself in the 99th percentile of US politics nerds and I have so far watched 3. But after each debate the pundits complusively evaluate and comment on the candidates’ performances – despite the fact that statements of substance are few and far between.

Perhaps it’s a one-off ? This campaign is unusually long and unusually crowded with candidates. Perhaps next time, with an incumbent president running, the commentariat will be much more circumspect.

Or perhaps it’s actually a good thing? Despite any problems, the internet is allowing more people the freedom to express and to read about a wider variety of opinions. In time, as the medium becomes more established, the quality of comment will rise.

Maybe.

Stark concludes, ‘Smug, snide, and self-congratulatory to a fault, the vast Internet “mediacracy” have created a largely imaginary political world that has made the quality of our civic discourse not better but worse.’ Commenting on ‘real time’ events is often speculative and sensationalist – and because all the other journalists read the blogs, the herd mentality of political reporting has actually worsened. Uninformed opionion becomes conventional wisdom in minutes rather than days inside the new electronic echo chamber (to borrow Stark’s metaphor).

But what of this particular doorstep? I’d like to think we take a slightly more detached view (cooler heads have often prevailed by the time we get round to writing), but in terms of valuable and insightful comment I realise our grade so far is probably along the lines of ‘must try harder’.

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