Palin & Co.: Vote with your clicks
Jun 10, 2011

Palin & Co.: Vote with your clicks

As the sometimes tedious nomination process for the 2012 GOP nominee continues along we have been treated to the usual asymmetry in the media's attention to this process towards the 'celebrity' candidates. First is was Trump who, while never considered a serious candidate and eventually laughed off the trail after the birth certificate emphasis, enjoyed far more attention in the media than perhaps all other candidates combined. Now we have Palin flirting with a run in a bus tour that is drawing throngs of 200 reporters following her and pushing so many essentially countless stories about her to the top of the google news rankings.

It is sometimes said that this is a problem with the media that it is focusing so heavily on these celebrities while ignoring more important stories or issues about the nomination process or anything else for that matter. This focus is perceived to be manufactured by the media and to some extent it is. However, a major cause of media focus on these celebrities is simply the fact that people read those stories at higher rates (and thus provide higher income) and so these are the stories they present.

A common misconception about the media is that it is perceived to be a fundamentally passive and unidirectional experience. Various media is presented to us and we sit back and consume it, so the thinking goes, and there is not that much of an active feedback mechanism.  However, the reality is that behind the scenes the act of media consumption is very much noticed by the media and the entire media gets tailored depending on the patterns of consumption by society.

Before the Internet, this occurred in limited ways such as a newspaper or magazine noticing what issues sold more and realizing the front page stories on those days were more popular by readers and more likely to sell a newspaper. Today with the Internet, any webpage that presents media does extensive analysis to know precisely what kinds of stories are the most popular. Even on my humble blog, it is trivial to determine what topics and posts are the most popular, what terms google most frequently finds my blog with, and the like. It follows immediately that everybody knows that stories with 'Palin' in the title simply get more clicks (notice that I did precisely this even though I could have given a more generic title).

The bottom line is simple: what you click is essentially a vote of endorsement for the media to present that kind of story to you. Given this, one must be cognizant of the fact that our actions of media consumption have an effect, as an aggregate, on the relative emphasis of different media stories. Whenever one reads an irrelevant gossipy story about Trump or Palin's latest escapade (I cannot claim I am not guilty of this), one is essentially voting for more stories about these celebrities. Some people love them. Some people love to hate them (hello!). But the bottom line is lots of people like to click those links and read those stories.

If one agrees with me that this emphasis, which pulls attention away from legitimate political issues at must be considered seriously towards celebrity irrelevance, is a bad thing then we have an imperative to simply disengage ourselves from this irrelevancy and not click the links. Not just our sake - although it helps us as well - but for the sake of shifting the national conversation. If the media notices more people clicking on links that offer comprehensive discussion on legitimate issues and less people clicking on political celebrity irrelevancies then the resulting mix the media will offer us will change to match this.

Finally, blaming the consumers of the media for the way the media is should only be considered one part of the story. Consumer feedback is a bottom up effect on the media. There are also many top down effects that relate to ownership, access, consolidation and homogenization, and many other factors often discussed on this blog. I am not attempting to suggest the bottom up influences tell the entire story, but merely that they are the part which we directly and actively influence when we make the decision to click, or not to click, a media link.

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