The Role Mainstream Media Really Plays in Our Society Today

Yesterday we looked at why politicians can now get away with ignoring the news media: the mainstream media is much less influential than it used to be. One reason is that news consumers use the Internet to create their own channels. The once powerful media are reduced to competing with their own readers for mental space and relevance.

The politicians highlighted were Republicans. But their Democratic opponents are surely in the same situation. Whether their base votes for them in sufficient numbers or not, the mainstream news media are much less likely to influence the decision than in the past.

So if traditional mainstream news media are no longer as directly influential as they used to be, what role do they actually play? Here are suggestions from three people who work or keep an eye on the news:

Loss of advertising revenue has freed journalists from intermediate constraints

Media researcher Andrei Mir, author of Postjournalism and the death of newspapers (2020), points out that advertising accounted for the bulk of media revenue during the 20th century. Advertisers didn’t dictate the content, but they chose media that people buying their wares were likely to read.

Professional standards in journalism stemmed in large part from the need to keep news content free from this influence. Thus, most journalists were in favor, at least in theory, of having both sides of a controversy heard.

Then, says Mir, the century-old business model collapsed in about a decade:

Google and Facebook have delivered the fatal blow. It became apparent to advertisers that the old media offered them an expensive and ineffective method of bombarding their target audience. By contrast, Google and Facebook knew the preferences of billions of people and provided each of them with personalized ad delivery. In 2013, Google alone made $51 billion in ad revenue. That year, US newspaper advertising revenue was $23 billion, and the global newspaper industry collected $89 billion in advertising revenue. The Google-Facebook duopoly surpassed 60% of US digital advertising market share in 2018. It became increasingly clear that old media had little chance of competing with digital platforms.

Andrei MirHow the Media Polarized Us” at city ​​newspaper (Summer 2022)

By 2016, ad revenue had all but ceased to exist. One of the results was that journalists, who were generally more progressive than most of the public, were no longer restrained by the need to appeal to large audiences. Twitter has become a journalist’s new point of reference and presenting both sides of a controversy is derided as a mere “both sides-ism”

Increasingly, traditional media offer social elite on news

Investigative journalist Matt Taibi sees the Gray Lady (The New York Times) these days like the weather vane of elite opinion rather than middle class opinion:

…the Times has become a place where the public often learns of key facts, pressing international controversies, or trends in American thought only after they have been deemed fit for public consumption by an unseen higher audience… With companion media like the Washington Post and The Atlantic (as pure a reflection of establishment thinking as there is in America), the newspaper in this sense fulfills the same function that the Izvestia once served in the Soviet Union, informing us little or even less than nothing on current events (“Can NATO exist long?” was one of Pravda’s last questions in 1991), but gave us comprehensive, if often coded, portraits of the thinking of the ruling class.

Matt TaibiThe New Kremlinology: Reading the New York Times” at Traditional knowledge news (July 12, 2022)

Compared to a century ago, those who read The temperature do it primarily to learn elite thinking. There are now many other sources of information as such.

What is gone is gone forever. What will replace it?

Ancient New York Times journalist Bari Weiss (now independent) talks about her own journey and points a way forward:

Finally leaving the old media forced me to confront certain realities. Among them: The Washington Post isn’t the same place that broke Watergate, and the New York Times isn’t the same place that got the Pentagon Papers.

Bari WeissThe Washington Post’s Descent into College Antics” at Common sense (June 7, 2022)

And the way forward? Weiss, leaving Le Time launched a very successful newsletter, with 180,000 subscribers. This is boutique news, but it’s news for those subscribers, not for an increasingly isolated elite.

Next: Which media models can survive in the digital age?

You can also read: Why Politicians Learn to Ignore the News Media Successful politicians now think they can get away with ignoring the mainstream media. Could they be onto something? Journalists are far less likely than average Americans to think they should inform both sides, and the public has lost trust and interest in the news media.


The newsletter group is creating alarm and censorship demands Substack is spilling a lot of ink these days – sparking both readers’ hope and old media’s twist. The surprising thing about “controversial” Substack is that it’s a restoration of the very old idea that we should pay a small amount for the content we want.