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« Blogger Survey: The Media Battle Over Jerusalem, Part 3 | Main | Blogger Survey: The Media Battle Over Jerusalem, Part 4 »

Wednesday, May 12 2010

Is the Internet Creating a New Type of News Bias?

Wash_post_mobileHonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.

When it comes to the Internet, Marshal McLuhan was right: the medium really is the message.

That’s what the Washington Post and other heavyweights of traditional media are discovering as they struggle to create a vibrant web presence. The Post invested in building a strong stable of bloggers for its website.

The problem, as Politico reported, is that the success of the Post’s liberal bloggers has pushed the website to the left of its print edition:

The Post now hosts three of the strongest liberal blogs on the Internet, and draws a disproportionate share of its traffic and buzz from them, a significant change for a traditional newspaper that has struggled to remake itself.

The Post’s National Editor Kevin Merida said online readers have different demands than traditional newspaper readers.

“The web is a place where people want to come to the news of the day and developments in the political world and public policy from different vantage points, so you’re trying to offer people online a pretty robust smorgasbord,” he said

That smorgasbord, which can also describe the Internet itself, is increasingly guided by the “unseen hand” of user traffic and reader engagement. So the bloggers with the most traffic or the most incoming links or comments will ultimately rise to the top. Even an institution like the Washington Post feels the need to bow to reader demands at that level.

That may ultimately balance out when discussing new technologies, such as blogs, which are native to the Internet. But what about real news reporting? Will coverage of global issues, such as Israel, remain unchanged even as newspapers shift their emphasis to their websites? Unless newspapers are extremely careful, we may begin seeing a type of bias emerge – one driven by Internet economics, not the rules of the newsroom.

In other words, the medium is changing – we’re moving from print to digital – so how will that affect the message? As we see from the Washington Post’s recent experience, it is difficult to provide a balanced menu when the form calls for a smorgasbord.

Previously in Alex's series: Anti-Semitism and the New Mainstream Media



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