Below, the part that touches on this blog's theme:
Witt: So do you think the people will be better informed than they are now? The public and the public’s fear, or less informed or you just don’t have a clue?My gut reaction? This is absolute crap, the idea that people will be better informed because they no longer "depend on a single elite" for information. But it's possible my gut reaction comes from bad sushi or my previous life as a journalist or my years of studying and doing research on how people learn from the media.
Rosen: I think it’s going to be better.
Witt: Why is that?
Rosen: Because we don’t have to depend on a single elite for our information.
Witt: So do you think that’s already happening? Or do you think….
Rosen: Yeah it is already happening.
In fairness, the bulk of this interview is not about how and what people learn from the news. Neither guy is an expert on the topic. It's more about where journalism is going and what it all means, and neither dislike the old mainstream media, they're just pointing out the obvious changes driven in a large part by technology. So let's give 'em both some leeway here.
And then again, let's not, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about.
First, there is some evidence that political knowledge has been decreasing, not increasing, as all these new media non-elite sources come to fruition. Cause-and-effect? Too early to say. A lot of political knowledge comes from incidental learning, the inadvertent exposure to information, mostly from TV for people with little interest in public affairs. In this brave new world, with so many choices, these are folks most likely to go elsewhere for entertainment rather than consume -- even if half-heartedly and accidentally -- the news.
So our brave new media world in which a million information sources bloom, for a large chunk of society that might as well be happening on the Moon.
Now, if we're talking about the chattering class, the political junky, that sliver of Americana who find politics not only interesting but as necessary as oxygen, yeah I think you've got something here. But this is a mistake these folks often make, of generalizing from their own interests or those they hang out with over lattes. A metro-centric viewpoint. My own reading of the vast literature of how people learn from the media and what they do with that knowledge suggests the more you fragment the media world, the less learning that will occur, and an awful lot of that learning will be dysfunctional and misinformed.
People will feel they are informed, even when they are not -- the empty-calorie hypothesis.
So I'm not sure exactly where Rosen comes up with the idea that people are, or will be, better informed in this new media landscape. You could fashion an argument that younger people might be more drawn into this fragmented news environment. Given they tend to be the least informed, we might see some improvement there, and any improvement among young citizens will help. But I'll be honest, other than a blip in the 2008 election, the data don't really support this conclusion. Yet.
You might also argue that people will be become better informed about what they're truly interested in, which is a riff on the V.O. Key/Doris Graber/etc. argument about the public's knowledge being greater than what we give it credit for, if we only asked the right questions. But such balkanized knowledge and issue publics (which may or may not exist) do not serve a democracy well, so maybe new media will increase some knowledge for some people about some things, but the outcome isn't pretty, at least according to most political thinkers.
Of course, it may mean no change at all. The public's knowledge about public affairs remained largely unchanged for decades. And while it seems to be inching down a bit of late, that may merely be a statistical blip and nothing to do with the changing news landscape. But it most certainly does not mean that people will be better informed, not from what we're seeing so far.