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Thursday, 8 June 2017

The public sphere feedback loop and the internationalisation of media outlets

I was having a quiet beer with a friend yesterday at a bar overlooking Darling Harbour. We could hear the rain thundering on the metal roof of the building and see the water outside dimpled during the intermittent downpours. At one stage the conversation veered to a friend of his who is prone on similar occasions to repeating the tropes we are used to hearing from the mouths of radio shock jocks like Ray Hadley, right wing notions often coined in the offices of the IPA and volunteered for public consumption also by journalists working at The Australian. We had a bit of a laugh at his expense.

But of course those outlets are primed to produce such content because it is profitable for them to do so. There is a feedback loop in the public sphere whereby the public grants approval - by tuning in or clicking on links - to the media outlet(s) that give them material that conforms to their own views of the world. Rupert Murdoch has made a fortune out of catering to the idiot middle class, for example, through outlets such as Fox News in America. Whoever you are there is something for you nowadays, even if you are a neanderthal with pretensions to the status of homo sapiens.

Which makes me wonder how the internationalisation of news outlets might be working to homogenise and normalise public spheres around the world, bringing them into closer consonance with one another. We've seen in Australia for example The Guardian opening up offices in Sydney's Surry Hills. In fact the person tasked with orchestrating this advent - Kath Viner - is now in charge of the outlet's global operations. How has opening an Australian franchise affected the way of operating of the British masthead? The New York Times is mooted to be on the verge of opening up here as well. What will that mean for the American public sphere? How can the feedback loop work to make public spheres around the world more conscious of one another?

In the food industry, to look elsewhere, there is a lot of localisation going on. We see it with McDonald's, where you can buy local types of burgers - such as the Mega Teriyaki in Japan - only in local outlets. But Starbucks has apparently started selling flat whites in its US stores, showing how one country can influence another. (Flat whites were invented in either Australia or New Zealand, depending on who you believe.)

In the public sphere the currency in use is ideas, and ideas are more fluid and unpredictable than hamburgers can ever be. How might Australian ideas about gun ownership, to take one example, affect the way the New York newspaper covers the issue in America? Can the public sphere feedback loop operate across borders? Can what readers click on in Australia affect how subjects are written about and covered in the United States? What does that mean for citizens in each country?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Interesting set of questions. Some comments:
- "How can the feedback loop work to make public spheres around the world more conscious of one another?" - we don't have one public sphere even here in Australia, we have 2 or more. Certainly the US has seen increased political polarisation - and negative partisanship. This does lead to cross-media echo chambers.
- What does seem to be happening is that groups with similar aims are forming global networks - including, ironically, nationalists. Environmentalists, capitalists, Minecraft fans. And Australians tend to play significant roles in these networks because we are native English speakers who are geographically peripheral - and we know it.
- I'm not sure how many Brits read Australian news stories in the Guardian - I'd like to see some data. Why don't you ask them for it? SO I am unsure that Americans will pay much attention to Australian stories in the NYT (imperial metropoles are typically unconcerned about the provinces).
"Pankaj Ghemawat has some useful data about the extent to which we are actually globalised - key observation being that we are only "semi-globalised" across a range of metrics (trade, international communication) - and that most people overestimate how globalised we actually are."