Briar Patch Research

Sorry for the lack of written output here over the last few months.  I figured you just did not need another heaping serving of bad attitude.

PLEASE: Read someone you don't like-- watch some news you can't stand, and make damned sure your personal, corporate and political messages are going out on EVERY single channel your audience might be using.

First, let me say upfront that I am a news junkie.  I fully subscribe to what we used to call Niven’s Law, which went something like “The only thing that will harm you faster than something you don’t understand is something you don’t know.”  The news comes on when I wake at 0500, and lulls me to sleep at night… I have usually worked alone, and just like hearing people talk in the background, I guess, and besides, I spent most of the last 20 years making a fair living at being able to extract critical action triggers (“Nooz youseguys can use”) from the background noise faster than my coworkers.

I had some conversations this holiday season and recent neighborhood events that shocked and scared me.  I found that a bunch of my closer friends have essentially given up on hearing any news at all, except for sports.  Many had dropped their cable TV packages and got their entertainment from Hulu, YouTube, and other sources.  Spin, the noise of politics and sensationalist reporting is driving people back into their comfort zones—all were deeply concerned about politics, but no one wanted to hear about it anymore.  For those with grandkids, “I Dream of Jeannie” reruns seem a whole lot more family friendly than CNN or MSNBC.  Several specifically mentioned that the news was giving their children nightmares.  At least two couples said they had cancelled their cable TV packages entirely, and were accessing information solely over the web.  I had never even heard of the entertainment programs they reported watching.

Demographically, the group was mostly 55 to 60 year old Caucasians and “latinos,” fairly evenly split by sex, overeducated, financially conservative but socially liberal.  Some thought they would eventually die on the job, some because of finances, some because “they had no life” other than work. Politics were all over the place, but none had ever failed to vote.  The social links were through being neighbors, with some having a shared history of leadership in the scouting movements or local sports, and being old friend’s new spouses.

I was fairly certain that this was happening with “youngsters” but was completely unaware that it had spread into what I would call “The Voting Class.”  Part of me wants to say that they are just being rational, and it is far to early to be concerned yet, as NEITHER party has, in fact, picked their candidates, and almost anything could happen by November.  Another part of me, though, is almost gibbering in stark, primal terror. No wonder politics seems so weird right now—no one is paying attention to anything anyone outside of their “in-group” says.

When I was a mere slip of a Westchester lad, and TV still new, we had three networks, maybe a public channel, and if the wind was right (literally) some local stations in other cities… I think 8 stations all told.  There were two major newspapers available, plus other with varying degrees of finer focus.  We bought the New York Times, Daily News, Reporter Dispatch, Patent Trader and North Castle News.  Most had a “recognized” spin, but offered some degree of balance. Pretty much everyone was getting the same news, at mostly the same time.  

This is no longer the case:  broadcasting passed seamlessly through narrowcasting to microcasting.  You can get more news than you might want to consume without EVER encountering an opinion at variance with those you already hold, or having your ideas challenged, or even encountering the faintest hint that your facts might be, shall we say, suspect?  Each clique will grow to be more like itself, until there is, finally, no room to maneuver, or compromise or coexist.