What is Mainstream?
by Dino Corvino on September 21st, 2012
The only time I listen to the radio is in the car on the way to work. I decided in high school (after being a lifeguard force fed WIFC all summer) that I did not want to listen to the radio. But, I tune in most mornings and listen. Recently I listened to Jerry Bader and a man Brian Sikma take a Marshfield reporter named Logan T. Carlson to task. I found the attack to be very demonstrative of a question I often wonder about.
Bader and Sikma made constant reference to the “Mainstream Media” in what can only be considered a denigrating manner, as if somehow the mainstream media was incompetent and a negative thing. And this made me wonder, what is the mainstream media? And I wonder this both as someone who has worked in media most of my adult life and as someone who is acutely aware that words have meaning.
Logan Carlson is a young reporter for the Marshfield newspaper owned by Gannett. After just a bit of digging it appears that Carlson has been assigned the education beat, and he seems to be pursuing it with a bit of vigor.
According the website for his newspaper, the Marshfield News-Herald has a afternoon circulation of 8,755. The City of Marshfield has a population of roughly 19,000 people. So, within Marshfield the newspaper reaches less than half of the population. If we factor in children, let us say that the newspaper reaches half. If we add a few thousand people who look online, but not that many since the Gannett firewall took over, we can safely say that the paper reaches maybe 10,000.
Jerry Bader on the other hand is carried by three stations. WTAQ in Green Bay. Green Bay has a population of 105,809. Jerry also appears on WHBL in Sheboygan. Sheboygan has a population of 49,135. And Jerry appears here in Wausau. Wausau has a population of 39,213. This is without factoring in the reach of the transmission to supporting communities. This is a grand total of 194,157 people. Even if we discount the roughly 50% like happens with the Marshfield newspaper we are still 97,078. If you factor in visitors, people on the internet, I think it is fair to say that the radio station reaches 100,000 people every day.
100,000 people is ten times more than 10,000 people. It used to be that mainstream was a measure of people reached. The Rolling Stones are a more mainstream band than The Jesus Lizard. You know the model.
So, by that model the mainstream is Jerry Bader. He has a considerably larger reach, listenership, and by extension influence than Logan T. Carlson.
Now, the issue that Bader and Sikma had with Carlson was his unwillingness to pursue a story about this or that. Apparently there is a left wing conspiracy, a liberal media bias, or a mainstream media something or other in play. There was a bit of a back and forth on twitter, and Sikma and Bader took to the airwaves to talk about the mainstream media, and they elevated this guy Carlson as the poster boy.
You see, according to them, Carlson was a college democrat, helped with his county democratic party, and this all discounted him from having journalistic judgement. On a side note, I really thought it was something that they failed to mention that Logan did two tours in Iraq. So, instead of the Pavloving thanking a soldier for his service, they just forget to mention it. (So thanks for your service, Logan.)
But, this brings me back to this idea of what the mainstream media is these days? You hear it in almost a constant drumbeat from Rush, O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity, Palin (though she does the even cooler LAMESTREAM media), Coulter, Malkin and all the rest. Rachel Maddow talks about the Beltway media.
What does Bader mean? I think Bader means that the voices of the right have taken on this sort of outsider status, this almost martyr or victim mythology. They have claimed this sense of disenfranchisment for themselves. Even thought Rush is the largest radio voice in the country, and Fox has a massive share of the cable audience each night for Hannity and O’Reilly. They invoke this idea that the news is not covering a story or not covering it properly. And as a result the people are not learning what they need to learn about something.
I hardly find this to be true. Further, I hardly find it close to true in the case of Jerry Bader. I am not sure when the last time a Democrat was on his show, even to disagree with Jerry and have a back and forth discussion on something. But, I know I have heard from a Republican governor on his show.
So, has the word “mainstream media” been used by the right leaning media in this country long enough now that it is a negative? When I say “mainstream media,” does it mean something different than when Sean Hannity says it?
How can Jerry Bader or Rush Limbaugh invoke this sort of mythology of outsider when all the numbers indicate that they are the largest voices in their markets, with the largest reach and the most significant influence? So, does Mainstream just mean Democrat or Liberal at this point? Are people like Bader, Limbaugh and Hannity on the outside looking in?