November 4, 2012

Exercising our franchise

The other day I was chatting via email with a friend of this region who has since moved away. Rick Leibowitz pondered why politicians no longer cultivate the median voter. There was a time when both political parties more clearly vied to represent the vast middle. Now, it seems like there is no good alternatives for the centrist vote. I began to wonder why.

My conclusion is that there are fewer who speak to and for the middle. I think technology is the reason.

As the world became more complex, our representatives educated themselves so they could make the decisions and compromises to help our nation navigate through the pitfalls of economic, social and global policy.

Then, the media served the very important role of the interface between our leadership and the public. Society was divided into four estates. The first estate and the second estate compromised the clergy and royalty that governed civilization. The public comprised the third estate. It was this fourth estate, the media, that offered a bridge and voice between the others. It took this responsibility seriously.

Indeed, our media were once energized by the passion of a few editors motivated by their commitment to the public and by the support of the center of mass of readers willing to subscribe to their newspapers and brochures. These original purveyors of the news had to be sure to best represent what the broadest public needed to know. Newsprint and distribution were expensive, and hence broad appeal was essential for their business model to work.

The broadcast industry tinkered with this model, but did not fundamentally change it. Still, distribution through local stations and antennas was relatively expensive. Because it is difficult to exclude any customer from drawing a signal from the airwaves, this new broadcast industry had to generate income from advertising rather than from subscriptions. And, because advertisers needed to sell their products to the greatest mass of customers, the emphasis on broad appeal was maintained.

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