While 2011 saw the proliferation of social media, blogs, Tweets and an explosion of devices to carry forth all the digitized infotainment, it also reflected the ever-existing divide that separates us. Not unlike Google+, that was launched this year to rival Facebook and their demarcated circles, cloistering friends and acquaintences, the social divide that played out in the real world encampments—from Occupy Wall Street to squatters on the streets of Jerusalem—coalesced in cyberspace.
2011 will be remembered as the year real world, social revolutions were pulled together and formed via a grassroots, ground up effect aided by social media, then posted on social media for the purpose of being broadcast over social media.
Twitter Revolutions became the connecting fiber that captured the groundswell that were personified in real revolutions, starting with the spark lit in Tunisia last December that culminated in an election there and spread like a flame to Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Libya, Syria, etc.
Yes, Twitter and Facebook are not new. But in 2011 they became the way to gather en masse, coalesce and became mainstream. The medium was not novel, but its impact is what changed, due to their proliferation and adoption.
Following the money, one can see it in the business deals that were made.
2011 was the year Huffington Post was acquired for $315 mil. by AOL.
Interestingly, the Left leaning Huffington Post came about to counter what had been the previous go-to website for breaking news, The Drudge Report. Yet, while Drudge remained and still remains a 90s style site offering a smorgasbord of news with a rightward slant, HP lifted the mantle left by Air America’s collapse in early 2010 to fill the vacuum it had left. HP was also established because it saw the rise of talk radio as a medium of the Right, eight-years of Bush and a need to build up a medium to counter that brand of politics. While HP has been around since 2005, it became part of the mainstream media and helped usher in a torrent of others.
Similarly, news sites like The Daily Beast were no longer new, but qualitatively improved. 2011 was the year social media sites like TBD attracted reporters like Peter Beinert from The New Republic and Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish from The Atlantic and Howard Kurtz from The Washington Post. At the same time, while new, new media like The Huffington Post joined with just plain new media like AOL, The Daily Beast joined together with an old media outlet, Newsweek, a shell of what it had once been and a questionable alliance more in keeping with the AOL/Time Warner kind.
As sites like HP and TDB became more mainstream, traditional media had to shore up its younger audience and attempted to do so. 2011 was the year NBC hired Chelsea Clinton as a special correspondent. Likewise, Jenna Bush Hager also works as a correspondent for NBC’s Today Show. And Meghan McCain is a contributor on MSNBC.
Not unlike the way, in a previous media era, Commentary and Dissent were bastions of oppositional polarity, today on cable television that same dynamic is illustrated no better than the rivalry between MSNBC vs. Fox News with both occupying and gaining an audience on social media as well television.
This widening divide is no accident either, but ever a reflective shift in how media is consumed. In a June 2011 interview, MSNBC President Phil Griffin stated that “MSNBC has established a sensibility, a position, a platform” and that “MSNBC is really the place to go for progressives.”
Ironically, the MS in MSNBC that originally stood for Micrsoft (which now has no stake in MSNBC) faded back allowing for other tech titans to occupy center stage.
No one showman did that more in 2011 than Glenn Beck. His show on Fox aired its final episode on June 30th. His mix of moral lessons, outrage and apocalypse captured the hearts and minds of an alienated mass of society. While his love of Israel was also apparent, as he made a much-hyped trip to Israel in August called “Restoring Courage.” Upon his return he launched GBTV, a new live HD Video Network, featuring his two-hour daily program, plus a full slate of original Glenn Beck Programming, news, documentaries, reality and behind-the-scenes shows. Just this month, GBTV ordered its first reality show, “Independence USA” that follows a dad, Frank Belcastro, as he and his family learn to live “Off the grid,” for when society collapses.
Within this great divide, if there was one individual who brought us together in 2011, it was Steve Jobs. When he died in October, it was not like the death of a CEO, but a rock star. Indeed the outpouring one saw on social media reminded me more of John Lennon’s passing than a businessman.
Each of these individuals (and there are others) reflected a discontent with society and sought to rail against it from the very positive, creative and least political in Steve Jobs, to the more extreme ends of the spectrum of Occupy Wall Street to Tea Party movement.
The manifestation of discontent with society on the ground, was echoed in the media, finding outlets where they existed and creating them where they’d not. Look for 2012 to bubble up ever-increasing, separated circles.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at [email protected]