What is Glenn Beck up to?
Last weekend, Mr. Beck was the unquestioned king of the airwaves. Love him (as many do) or loathe him (as many do), he held America with rapt attention during his I-swear-it's-not-political "Restoring Honor" rally. He had set the stage for some sort of extraordinary encore.
Was another opinionated website really what the world – and, perhaps more importantly, Beck – most needed?
Beck's career has followed a clear arc: He began in radio and has since moved into books and, of course, television. His migration now to the Internet suggests that he is trying to capitalize on the seismic sea change underway in the media.
“The Internet is an interactive medium for news and information, while television and radio, largely are not,” says Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media."
It is no accident that this move coincides with historically low audiences for the major broadcast television networks as well as basic cable outlets such as CNN.
“People are migrating to the online world and so it’s logical that this is where Beck would go,” he adds.
And while Mr. Levinson is a self-described progressive, he sees this as a good thing. The Internet news space has been dominated by progressive sites such as the Huffington Post, while conservatives have been more successful in radio and television.
”Beck’s move to the interactive world of online information is providing the kind of balance that a free, democratic society thrives on,” he says adding pointedly, “I disagree with just about everything he says, but his presence in the next landscape of information is both inevitable and important.”
Response may be slow at first, but because the Internet is interactive, websites tend to aggregate like-minded folks, he adds. “Beck’s success on the Internet will largely depend on his ability to get people talking back and forth,” he says, adding this is something Beck is already good at.
The interactive nature of news on the Internet is going to ensure The Blaze reflects more of the increasingly polarized Internet dialogue, says Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. – near the FM radio station, KC-101, where Beck was the morning show host in the 1990s.
“Glenn Beck has millions of fans, who already believe that what he says is fact, and for that reason, he warrants attention from journalists rooted in traditional practices of objective reporting,” says Mr. Hanley via e-mail. “Without question, Beck's foray into web journalism will spawn sites that serve as a fact-check on what is posted, but whether Beck fans would take that seriously is not even remotely open to question.”
This kind of polarization among the citizenry and its news sources is actually quite familiar, says Matthew Hale, Seton Hall University associate professor of political science and public affairs, who calls the opinionated blogosphere a return to old-time journalism. [Editor's note: The original version listed an incorrect field of study for Professor Hale.]
Before radio and TV, most big cities had many newspapers, with no pretense of impartiality or being "fair and balanced." Names such as the "Press-Democrat" or "Republican Statesman" made clear to everyone that the papers were biased and had strong points of view. Online news sources and more particularly blogs are often the same way. They are not meant to be neutral or even-handed, they are meant to put forth an agenda.
“The dangerous thing is that today liberals only read liberal blogs, conservatives only read conservative blogs,” Mr. Hale notes via e-mail. "Newspapers in the 1800s and 1900s were polarizing forces; today blogs are the same way. Mr. Beck is a natural for this medium, and in it he will be both loved and hated.“