Television networks are powerful. Through their vast arteries flow oxygen-rich information that feeds the body politic and the Information Society. The networks control the flow of information — that’s their power.
When Al Gore ceded the most powerful job in the world because of information that he received from American television networks, he illustrated just how powerful the networks are. One would assume that the vice president of the United States has his own information network, and I’m sure he does, but when the big television networks said Bush was the winner, Gore bowed.
Of course, the networks were wrong. Hungry to be first with the news, then fearful of being last if another station took the initiative, the networks failed in their primary function. The networks are supposed to give us the right information in a timely manner, but what they did was give us the wrong information at breakneck speed.
We all realize the value of correct information. How many of us recognize the cost of inaccurate information? Have you considered lately the accuracy of the information on your web site or hard disk? Inaccurate information leads to bad decisions. If organizations truly recognized the cost of inaccurate information, there would be a lot more attention paid to what’s found on web sites.
With regard to the U.S. election, the television networks got it fundamentally wrong. Their robust publishing standards wilted under the heat of speed. But at least they had publishing standards. Much of what gets published on the Internet has undergone relatively little editorial control. The information on your web site may never affect the outcome of the presidency, but it might just affect who your next customer will be.
Don’t believe the hype about the Internet. It’s not a lame duck by any stretch of the imagination. The Internet really matured as a network during the U.S. presidential elections. As Forbes magazine put it, “Some 20 years down the road, media pundits will look back on the 2000 presidential election as a groundbreaking event. It will be viewed as the event that put the web on the map as a legitimate news and information source and clearly demarcated it as separate from the broadcast media.”
While television and radio gave a sense of the developing story, the Internet came into its own as a means by which the reader could “drill down” into a piece of information. You could track in great detail what happened in a particular state. You could get the background to a story and find out about the events that molded that story.
The networks control the Internet when it comes to news. The biggies — CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and CBS — dominate, just like they dominate the airwaves. The Internet and the television networks are working hand in hand. Far from the Internet becoming the voice of “new media,” it is, in fact, a means by which “old media” is exerting an even greater lock on its audience.
The networks are exerting more and more control on our lives. As we depend more and more on information, we will depend more and more on the networks to supply that information. And that information better be right.