A fine 1997 documentary about obsession has a title well suited to the media landscape in this election year: “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.”
As John Herrman writes, one of the great unexpected influences on the election was openly partisan, shock-oriented news sites like Breitbart.com and ForAmerica.
These sites, he says, serve to energize and validate their readers, as much as to provide them with information about the world. And they do it thanks to the publishing reach of social media like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter, which enable readers to repost stories at the click of a button, usually to share with like-minded friends in the same social network.
Most of the mainstream media, John writes, looked at this social media-based action and “was on the outside, fighting its way in.” It didn’t make as much sense in a traditional business model to seek maximum velocity (often thanks to sensationalism) for their stories, in exchange for a few pennies from a cheap web ad, or the chance to sell a T-shirt.
American journalism has also traditionally seen itself as generally nonpartisan. Previously, there might have been a difference in how a fact was interpreted, but in the new game the facts themselves seem to be in play.
Even if traditional news organizations wanted to become partisan, socially oriented sites, it would be traumatic for staffing, range of coverage and a host of other things. The political sites are narrow, with small staffs. With this election over, they may soon see a lot less traffic.
Unless, that is, the new sites are able to sustain their momentum by making other stories political, or making politics even more media-driven than it already is. Or, perhaps, by extending their reach into other areas.
All of those are possible; on Thursday, there were reports that Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart who in August took a leave of absence to be chief executive of Mr. Trump’s campaign, was being considered for the job of White House chief of staff.
For certain, these sites, and their influence, aren’t going away.
In the original “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control,” those capabilities belong to a robot that looks like an insect, and is described by its creator as a relentless “walking machine that doesn’t worry about stability.”
That description might also work for the current media world.