Evolution of Online Political Journalism: Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up

In the late 90’s and up until around 2009, online political journalism and the propagation of news and information was a top-down down process. Internet political journalism was dominated by a handful of news sites such as CNN, Drudge, Fox, Huffington Post, etc., as well as bloggers and pundits such as Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. There was a symbiosis between the two, with news sites promoting/syndicating the bloggers and pundits or the pundits being employed by them. The news sites and pundits disseminated information to a predominantly low and average-IQ readership, hence top-down. Furthermore, the rhetorical style employed by such pundits tended to be very partisan and ‘low information’, eschewing nuance, charitably to the ‘outgroup’, and accuracy for directness and partisan loyalty. Years later, it still is this way.

However, in 2009 began two new trends: the consolidation of pre-2009 political blogs and outlets, which made the political blogging environment much more competitive and difficult for up-and-comers, but second, the rise of centrism and a more ‘nuanced’ form of online journalism that continues to this day, and has especially intensified since 2016. In the pre-2009 era, before the consolidation, it was possible to get stories and blogs viral with an overly partisan tone, but that changed after the consolidation, because the major media outlets had already co-opted the blogs or stopped relying on them. Established pre-2009 pundits who rose to fame with overly partisan style, which worked well before 2009, such as Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter, were able to retain their audiences. But the consolidation, as well as changing reader tastes and the rise of nuanced discourse, closed the game to newcomers using that same partisan rhetorical style. This necessitated a much more intellectualized style, with more nuance, the use of hedging language, less bombast, and a more introspective and sophistic tone.

The post-2009 rise of centrism and nuanced and intellectualized discourse means that writing styles that appropriate these ‘smart’ elements are able to go viral without the help of the mainstream media and pundits, because the high-IQ influencers, who as discussed above have bigger social networks and hence more influence than low and medium-IQ readers, disseminate such articles to their big social networks. This is due to the shared narrative concept, the idea being that the use of such narratives and themes, as well as an intellectualized writing style, allows the writer to connect with the reader in a way that would not be possible without such a rhetorical style. This has lead to the the inversion of the pre-2009 top-down hierarchy, ushering in what I call the ‘meme propagation process’, which is bottom-up. Rather than Reddit, Twitter, and 4chan regurgitating the news, they become the source of the news, which is then picked up by the mainstream media and disseminated to low and medium-IQ consumers of said news, such as on TV and on major sites such as CNN, Drudge, and Fox.

As an example of this bottom-up process, the Official Narrative by the mainstream media regarding Covington was debunked by the full video footage posted online on Reddit, Twitter, and 4chan that exonerated the Covington kids. This forced some retractions.

In terms of networking and prorogation, 100 Jordan Peterson viewers or >100k Karma Reddit users, who tend to have higher IQs than average, are more valuable than 100 Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh listeners. What this also means is, fake news on Facebook seldom reaches the mainstream news, because the meme propagation process only works for high-IQ propagators on sites such as 4chan, Reddit (such as The_Donald), and certain Twitter accounts, not Facebook. Due to an overly partisan style and the absence of shared narratives, there is no spillover, which means that content intended for a left/right readership does not spill over to the opposing side, further limiting viralness, which is why in spite of their huge audiences, content by Rush, Hannity, Coulter, etc., seldom goes viral, but stuff by Jordan Peterson does, or even a liberal such as Noah Smith. I can count on one hand the number of times online I have seen Hannity or Rush referenced, although Tucker Carlson, by employing a smarter and less overtly partisan rhetorical style, has made the leap to the online zeitgeist with much success. Such influencers are also why articles about seemingly mundane things, such as pop-up museums and super bowl bathrooms, frequently go viral along side stories about high-stakes political matters, if not more so, because such stories, even about mundane things, evoke social commentary, and readers can lend their own experiences and interpretations. Regarding Jordan Peterson, he owes his popularity not to the mainstream media or aggregators such as Drudge, but rather due to his high-IQ fans promoting his content on Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and 4chan, which the mainstream media then picked up on (bottom-up process). For something to go viral it must appeal to invaluable high-IQ gatekeepers who hold the keys to viral success (hence the need for certain themes) and pass through the gauntlet of fact checkers, so this imposes much higher standards for quality, but as far as rhetorical effectiveness, may lack the punch of content that is more partisan.