Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do niche media free us from the status quo?

Adorno writes in two writings this week of how the culture industry “impresses the same stamp on everything” and perpetuates the status quo. I can see how this is still true, at least in some people’s opinion. In many ways, our TV shows, movies, books, news stories, etc., offer a few variances on similar themes over and over and over again. (When you’ve got to make money on a movie and you've find a formula that sells, why vary?)

But I wonder about today’s niched, networked society and what Adorno would say about that. In the media business, we focus on our generalized and niched audiences. On the one hand, the Lincoln Journal Star has to serve a very general audience. We are supposed to provide news and information that interests and is relevant to all the people of Lincoln, Neb., whether that reader is an 86-year-old lifelong Nebraskan or a 20-year-old UNL student who recently moved here from out of state, or anyone in between.

So in addition we provide products that serve niched audiences in hopes of reaching more specific audiences with news (and advertising) they want. So we offer sports and health magazines and other special sections. We used to produce a Spanish-language newspaper. However, one of the most important aspects of these niche products, at least to the Journal Star bottom line: keeping these products profitable. Some are; some aren’t.

Another challenge: In a networked world, if the major media companies don’t or can’t provide this news, someone else will. If you’re a 20-year-old Lincolnite with a huge interest in the most cutting-edge dance music now being played at the biggest clubs in New York City (for example), you can find blogs and information all over the web for that; you can find all the right people with all the right knowledge on Twitter and Facebook. You don’t need to find that news in the Lincoln Journal Star. And often these bloggers (or tweeters or Facebook friends) are (usually) blogging or writing for free, so they don’t have to worry about staying profitable.

(I use that example for a reason. When I spoke to a journalism class about my work in the Journal Star’s features sections, one person in the class urged me to include more news about New York City’s dance-club scene. That, he said, would make him buy the paper. Further proof that we can’t keep everyone happy all the time.)

So I guess the question is: Do niche news / information providers mean that the culture industry these days isn’t so much about toeing the line? Or does the ever-present need for most media providers to stay profitable perpetuate the status quo?

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't find any other way to post, so here we go...

    When I read these articles the argument that springs to my head is about cultural elitism. From the very beginning, the assumption forwarded by Horkheimer & Adorno (1969) that there are superior cultural artifacts vs. those "less worthy" is immediately limiting. The rhetoric used in trying to "illuminate" the fearsomeness of the culture industry sounds a lot like fear-mongering. Look to this passage from Adorno (1991) as an example, when talking about the cultural industry, "It lives parasitically from the extra-artistic technique of the material production of goods, without regard for the obligation to the internal artistic whole implied by its functionality, but also without concern for the laws of form demanded by aesthetic autonomy" (p. 101). Words like "obligation", "laws", and "demanded" try to lend the idea a necessity that it does not earn on its own accord. A response to this style of thought is that counter-cultural movements and publics exist and are created to check back against the very "scary" potential outcomes articulated. Ultimately, one can reject most of the problem with individual autonomy. While the authors would likely respond that the culture still exists and is driving the decision to reject it, that proves the shifting, insidious, snobbery of it all. It either exists and can be accepted or rejected or your acknowledgement of it is useless because we lack the agency to emancipate ourselves from its "tyrannical grip". I am a simple debater, but pick ground and let the opposition have some. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. You tell me.