Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under The Digital Age

President Obama was interviewed by some YouTube celebrities shortly after his State of the Union address. This was a little unusual, because he doesn’t usually appear on shows which end with the words “please share, like, and subscribe.”

These people don’t necessarily have educational shows; they aren’t journalists in any traditional sense of the word. One of them is a comedian as much as she is anything else. You can tell because one time she made a video of herself in a bathtub with cereal as a gag, and traditional media seems to have labeled her “the cereal lady.” Quaint and not reductive at all, guys.

One of the other YouTube celebrities, a guy named Hank Green, summed up his experience in a wonderful post on Medium called Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President. My favorite part is when he laughs at members of the traditional news, most of whom were laughing at the idea that the president would give an interview to kids on the internet.

“Legacy media isn’t mocking us because we aren’t a legitimate source of information, they’re mocking us because they’re terrified. Their legitimacy came from the fact that they have access to distribution channels and that they get to be in the White House press pool because of some long-ago established procedures that assumed they would use that power in the public interest. But those things are becoming less and less important and less and less true. Distribution is free to anyone with a cell phone and the legitimacy of cable news sounds to me like an oxymoron. The median-aged CNN viewer is 60. For Fox, it’s 68.

The Fox/MSNBC idiot machine is degrading a generation’s opinion of all news media. They watch John Stewart make fun of Fox News and they think “That’s what ‘news’ is” so they just disengage. This isn’t just bad for journalism, it’s bad for America. I might venture to say that it’s terrible and dangerous and frightening for America. How does a democracy function with no credible system for informing its citizens?”

Green’s account of his experience interviewing the president is charming and worth reading. He’s a skilled entertainer, which is why he has 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. His most popular videos have tens of millions of views.

His articulation of the media landscape’s generational schism is absolutely fantastic, and you have to read it. I think these sorts of differences mirror our extant generational divides in politics, foods, sports, and probably literally everything else. I’m sure people in the 1930s were aghast at how radio dumbed down the news; events were read aloud instead of printed on the world’s first mass medium, movable type. Heck, Socrates hated books centuries before the printing press was invented. Hand-copied texts were too mass medium for him.

Now we’re at the mass medium that supplanted the mass medium that supplanted the printing press which supplanted the hand-copied texts. We’re at YouTube. And look at Hank Green: at 2.5 million subscribers, his is an audience larger than virtually every cable news show. That Anderson Cooper guy? That Rachel Maddow lady? Sean Hannity? Add their ratings up and you’re close to this guy’s audience. That’s bonkers.

The information age has raised the exposure for publishing in a mass medium by an order of magnitude, while simultaneously lowering the barrier to entry to nearly zero. I can’t wait to see what’s next.