Jay Rosen on ‘audience atomization overcome’

Pressthink’s Jay Rosen writes about spheres of consensus and deviance, drawing a model created by Daniel Hallin for his 1986 book The Uncensored War

In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized— meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition. In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the “echo chamber,” which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

That the internet allows for horizontal communication among both the blogging commentariat and the general public is hardly a new idea; nor is the argument that the media has always defined a sphere of consensus and pushed ‘deviant’ ideas away from itself a new one.

What Rosen fails to do is to address either (a)the ‘echo chamber’ problem in any detail; or (b)the usefulness of consensus as something to deviate from.  ‘Audience atomization overcome’ is a natty phrase, and the piece has been getting a bit of play in the blogosphere, but without some discussion of the implications of overcoming atomization (the two points above) it’s not really all that useful.


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