When I heard that some obscure woman from Alaska had been selected as the Republican Party's vice-presidential nominee, my first reaction was not to check the cable news channels, or even the internet news sites. No, my first reaction was to go to YouTube.
By doing so, I was doing what the majority of people now do, using the internet to go straight to the source, unfiltered. I wanted to get my own sense of why this woman had been plucked from obscurity. On YouTube I knew I would be able to cut out the intermediary. And to understand Governor Sarah Palin, you really have to see her in action.
Such is the warp-speed of the internet that I got plenty of material. In the six-hour lag between her name being announced and me catching up, the news cycle was already in its fourth phase.
The first phase comprised video clips of the governor, posted on the internet, giving various speeches and interviews. Next came older news clips from Alaska, local stories that would never have made it out of the state had she not suddenly become a national story. Then came the pundits, pronouncing on the merits of the choice.
By the time I had arrived, the fourth phase had already begun: parodies - a specialty of the internet - ran riot of this gun-toting, child-bearing, church-going, small-town American hockey mum, who is now the phoenix of the 2008 presidential race.
All this in the first six hours after the announcement.
Three years ago, Hollywood produced a TV series, Commander In Chief, starring Geena Davis, who, at 49, played the fictional role of Mackenzie Allen, a former member of Congress, university chancellor and mother of three children who became the first female President after the elected president died in office. Compared with Sarah Palin's Alaskan saga, that storyline is tame. And Palin, at 44, is even younger, while the real-world Senator John McCain is 72 and has had cancer.
Once again in America, fiction flounders in the wake of reality TV. So does the traditional media. When I wanted to get an unfiltered measure of Governor Palin, the last object I was going to trust was the world's most famous news brand, The New York Times. In February, the Times published an egregious hatchet job on Senator McCain, a carefully constructed, front-page insinuation of an illicit affair that had never happened. The story was loaded with conflations, innuendos and anonymous accusations, and it buried emphatic denials and disputations at the bottom, far from the front page.
This was the same newspaper that had buried the real, and the true, adultery and sexual harassment stories that had threatened to derail Bill Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination. People remember such things. And they notice news stories that read like opinion pieces.
Little has changed at the Times since the McCain hatchet job. The difference between the paper's coverage of Governor Palin and the parodies of her on the internet has been only a matter of degrees. You can see that the fix was in when the Times, and Obama-adoring journalists, kept mentioning Palin had not written her powerful acceptance speech, while failing to mention that all the candidates delivered speeches that had been scripted for them.
Governor Palin's shortage of heavyweight experience is self-evident. She may burn in the heat of the campaign. But if the non university-educated white voters who make up the largest voting bloc decide they want a real-life version of Mr Smith Goes To Washington (James Stewart's classic portrayal of the naive but incorruptible reformer appointed to the US Senate), Sarah Palin is going to have a popular legitimacy that transcends her limited resume.
This is what the Times, and the bulk of the Obama-infatuated traditional media, have failed to capture - or perhaps don't even want to capture. It is why Palin received the most visceral crowd response to her equally visceral acceptance speech when she set her sights on the news media: "Here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
It got one of the biggest responses of the night. Everywhere there are signs of growing cynicism with the media: an unwillingness to pay for what can be obtained free on the internet, a refusal to shuffle through the old media information portals, and a contagious knowingness and irony about the traditional media's self-proclaimed role as moral guardians and custodians of the public good.
All these elements have contributed to the rapid decline of the New York Times Company, like the decline of all other media companies that have failed to adapt to the tsunami of change. On Friday the share price of the New York Times Company fell to $US13.57 ($16.73). Five years ago it was $US48. The company's market value has slid to $US1.95 billion (or half the size of Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald, which aggressively expanded and diversified its income stream over the same five years).
No company invested more in its journalism, or had a more famous and prestigious brand, or took itself more seriously, than the Times, yet this year it laid off 100 journalists. Three years ago, the company shed 500 staff, including 45 in the newsroom. When even the most famous brand in journalism is slashing staff, losing market value and attracting widespread criticism for bias, it underlines the reality that the cost structures and privileges of the old media are being swept away.
You don't have to look far. Organisations like the Sydney Morning Herald are not merely in a battle for market share. They are in a battle for survival.
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