The New Shards of Media Glass

The proliferation of small media shards means that common ground will be ever harder to find among American voters.

Reports of the balkanization of US news have been a staple of media observers for going on a quarter-century. But the problem–and it’s a big one–only gets worse, letting this journalistic subgenre bloom in countless directions. 

Axios has published a smart, fresh spin on the well-trod “shards of glass” terrain that separates American news consumers into 12 bubbles. It’s an incisive look at how the country is consuming news now that goes beyond the hoary Fox News-vs.-MSNBC writeups to also consider podcasts big and small, newsletters few non-subscribers have heard of and black and Latino journalists at legacy publications who are little known to the general public, but resonate with minority readers. 

There’s just a couple of footnotes I’d add to the Axios report, but first let’s get to their breakdown.

Men form the bulk of Axios’ eponymous “Musk-eteers.” They’ve stayed loyal to X amid a liberal exodus and similarly stuck by podcast megastar Joe Rogan throughout his controversies. Bari Weiss, a favorite among independents who decry Trump and wokeness in equal measure, is another of the Musk-eteers’ go-to commentators. 

Right-leaning men and women of a certain age flock to Fox News and Facebook, respectively, although Axios points to a constellation of Republican influencers outside those establishments, including banished ones like Tucker Carlson. “Liberal warriors” help keep the “New Yorker” and “Atlantic” off the old-guard-media extinction list. “MAGA mind-melders” treat Breitbart and Steve Bannon’s “War Room” as their town squares. And huge numbers of college students turn to TikTok influencers for news content. Addison Rae, a star of that platform whose content includes politics, often nets nearly 20 million views per video. That’s more than four times the current primetime viewership of Fox News, MSNBC and CNN combined. 

These and other splinters of the US media are all important, but maybe none more so than Axios’ last group, the passive-ists. Whether due to fatigue, irritation or having better things to do, these are the growing number of Americans who are less and less likely to seek out the news. 

According to a Pew survey, the number of US adults who said they closely followed the news fell by more than 25% between March 2016 and August 2022. The ratings collapse for election coverage earlier this year suggests this trend isn’t going away. A recent NBC News poll put voter interest in this presidential election at the lowest since 2004.

Given this, I’d add to the “passive” news consumers a category of people who actively avoid election and other news coverage

Other trends to watch include the surging number of people, across demographic groups, who are bypassing middlemen entirely and getting their news from friends and family on messaging platforms like WhatsApp. And the ongoing campus strife at Columbia augurs that the furor of many of the youngest voters over Biden’s handling of the Gaza war will persist through the summer conventions and beyond. 

The proliferation of small media shards means that common ground will be ever harder to find among American voters with opposing, and calcified, views. It also makes it difficult for one or several biased outlets to have undue influence on election results, which in these gloomy days qualifies as a silver lining. 

Perhaps the only events that could drown out the siloed media conversations and provoke a collective soul searching among voters is a guilty verdict in Trump’s hush money trial and, in the unlikely event it occurs before the election, those for election interference. 

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