Why Mainstream Media No Longer Matter

Mainstream media no longer matter. I’ve defended them, criticized them and pulled for them to survive. But cable news has become background noise. Newspapers are in their death throes. Infotainment, reality television and celebrity gossip have become the profit centers for too many journalistic enterprises.

I’ve also been critical of mainline leaders for not being media savvy. Well, they’re still not. But it matters less today. They have alternatives, and they should use them for all they’re worth.

Last week the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church met in Bethesda, Maryland and conducted a week’s worth of church affairs. They:

  • pledged to raise $75 million to eradicate malaria

  • launched a $20 million dollar media campaign that announced the church is taking a serious look at how it goes about serving people and carrying out ministry

  • had prayer and holy communion with migrant day workers standing in mist-shrouded parking lots

  • agreed to rollback their salaries to last year’s level, in effect, taking a salary cut to witness to their concern for people struggling in the global economic crisis

  • agreed to raise $5 million to complete a $20 million campaign to pay pensions to clergy and surviving spouses in developing nations who have no retirement benefits. (This is a first among religious organizations. There are no reliable pension programs in religious groups in the developing world.)

  • commissioned a working group to devise a plan to reorganize the thirteen-million member global church.

These actions received virtually no coverage in mainstream media. They won’t sell papers or draw viewers. None of the bishops has the media clout of a celebrity megachurch pastor. But they have the capacity to activate a network of significant depth and reach, far beyond the capabilities of celebrity clergy.

What United Methodists call “the connection” is an organizational network that is the envy of many who tell me they can only dream of what they could do with such an organizational capacity behind them.

The bishops’ actions won’t divide the church, so by the standards of conflict hungry journalism, they’re not news. But they are relevant and they will capture the imagination of the thirteen million members of the church. And this leads me to a reluctant conclusion. These thirteen million people around the globe don’t matter that much to mainstream editors.

For the most part, we haven’t seen ourselves in their editorial decisions for years and that makes their journalism irrelevant to us. But more significant, they’ve been replaced. Google, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Yammer, YouTube, blogs, email. You know them well. Effective, viable alternatives.

I did five interviews in two days. Only one was with a mainstream journalist. But every story was posted and twitted. We were in the top tier of Google searches. Bloggers commented and linked. Websites I’d never heard of reviewed our releases and linked. Almost immediately I began to get reaction.

I still want solid, quality journalism to survive. But because they’ve made the editorial decisions they’ve made, because there are alternatives, because they’ve made themselves irrelevant to most of us in the moderate middle, mainstream media no long matter as they once did.

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