Post-Pundit Era

Perhaps we’re kinda in a post-pundit era. Pundits used to have a lot of influence, but since 2013 or so, not as much. Through much of the 80′s and 90′s, pundits dominated the newspapers, radio, and TVs, their opinions broadcast to a Zingiest that eagerly spread the word, as well as influencing policy. Thomas Sowell, through his widely read books and columns, played a role in creating Reganomics, but nowadays one would be hard-pressed to find a pundit that influenced Obama as much as Reagan was influenced by by Sowell and Laffer.

One could argue that the first shoe to drop was the decline of talk radio and newspaper circulations and subscriptions, as a consequence of the internet era. As information became more disseminated and fragmented, the influence of the handful of so-called ‘mega pundits’ became diluted as thousands of smaller pundit such as bloggers and podcasters competed for people’s attention. Suddenly, the opinion pages of the WSJ and NYTs were read by fewer people, and fewer people care what Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman have to say, unlike in the early 2000′s when those mega-pundits had much more influence on the ‘national debate’.

Online, on major communities like Reddit and Hacker News, I can hardly recall anyone referencing anything written or said by a major pundit. For the ‘right’, no mentions of anything by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly. Likewise, no mentions of Paul Krugman, Maureen O’Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Thomas Blow, all of whom write for the biggest newspaper in the world, The New York Times. Ross Douthat is a notable exception, because he taps into these ‘shared narratives’ probably better than any other pundit.

The second shoe to drop, and a much more recent development, is the post-2013 rise of ‘intellectualism culture‘, as I alluded to in Alt-Right and Internet Journalism, consequentially lessening the viralness and influence of 80′s and 90′s-era partisan punditry, which has given way to ‘shared narratives’ and a more introspective or nuanced writing style. Although Ann Coulter articles are shared among conservative communities and websites, her articles almost never go viral on major social bookmarking sites. This is because her articles (as well as the same for leftist pundits like Krugman) are perhaps perceived as too opinionated and shrill, not intellectual or nuanced enough. Rather than tapping into a ‘shared narrative’ or using data visualizations, these pundits are just preaching to the choir, which was an effective strategy as recently as a decade ago, but will fail to expand the underlying message that the pundit is trying to convey to a savvier audience that has become deaf or repulsed by demagoguery.

Let’s say you want to ‘raise awareness’ (which is a hackneyed expression, but raising awareness is what pundits try to do) about America’s immigration problem. The pre-2013 approach would be to write a divisive opinion piece, replete with hyperbole and metaphors (such has referring to immigrants as ‘hordes of invaders’), and such an article would be widely read and well received by those already in your ‘tribe’, but it be very hard to get the article to go viral elsewhere. The post-2013 approach would be to ditch the hyperbole and opinions and instead create an article full of data visualizations that shows many immigrants are coming to America and how the native population is being displaced, and so on. The latter has a greater likelihood of going viral and, ultimately, raising awareness about immigration.