The End of Mainstream Media and the Dawn of the New Frontier | Opinion

Nearly every mainstream media player predicted a clear and decisive defeat of Donald J. Trump leading up to—and all throughout—2020, as if the 2016 election had been a collective illusion. Few in media were willing to call out the obvious—that polling is based on faulty data and survey methodologies—because of their unabashed bias against the president.

While the election results remain unclear, there is a growing recognition that the pollsters and media prognosticators were way off the mark once again, and have damaged their credibility among most Americans to the point of no return. Now, the question is whether there will be accountability.

In short, the media's day of reckoning is coming. This election will serve as the tipping point when media outlets finally give way to a new frontier. The Wild West of new media is upon us.

Historically, the lack of alternative media has made it challenging for people to obtain information and discern bias and legitimacy. Discerning bias wasn't as necessary in the past because the media typically provided clear sources—not the anonymous ones that run rampant today—and applied a relatively objective filter for quality. Such is not the case today.

Two forces have emerged that are changing the media landscape.

The first is self-inflicted: mainstream media's own censorship and bias.

Social media companies have censored everyone from thought leaders like Dennis Prager to Christian philanthropists like Tim Tebow to the president of the United States and, most recently, Maria Bartiromo, one of the most reputable journalists in the business. And yet they don't censor statements that actually incite violence, like Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei's calls for the genocide of the Israeli people.

Mainstream media have routinely followed suit. Even the non-partisan (but, like, what does "non-partisan" even mean anymore?) Pew Center released a study finding that 62 percent of the coverage of President Trump was negative, whereas only 20 percent was negative for President Obama (and 28 percent for both Presidents Bush and Clinton). Astonishingly, only 5 percent of the coverage was positive for Trump, despite his administration's historic achievements on unemployment and Middle East peace deals.

For more than two years, the mainstream media had Americans hyper-focused on an investigation into Russian collusion sparked by "evidence" that was since debunked and never should have been considered legitimate in the first place. Millions of taxpayer dollars and countless hours were spent on a faulty investigation that distracted from real, substantive news, issues and ideas for the future.

social media
A photo taken on October 21, 2020 shows the logo of the the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook and Twitter on a computer screen in Lille. Denis Charlet / AFP/Getty

But the straw that broke the camel's back was the media's outright censorship of last month's Hunter Biden scandal. With the exception of Fox News, mainstream news networks almost completely covered up one of the biggest "October surprises" in political history.

Although this might not be their intent, the mainstream media act as if the public is stupid. Why else would they publish stories that blame Trump for the worst unemployment numbers in America's history? Do they think the public isn't aware that we are in a pandemic?

The second force is external: technological change.

The Pew Center estimates that 96 percent of individuals between age 18 and 29 have a smartphone. That's 92 percent between ages 30 and 49. All of us can download content from anywhere, at any time. Moreover, there are also many more channels for accessing content.

Revolutionary media models like Substack are arriving on the scene as traditional media continue to decline. Unlike modern mainstream outlets that require some degree of homogeneity—not only implicitly but also at times explicitly—among their employees, platforms like Substack empower content producers and give them greater incentive to attract readers. This trend will speed up after the election as more and more journalists (and even media founders) realize the current level of editorial homogeneity is unsustainable.

Additionally, new social media players, like Parler, are growing in popularity in proportion to claims of anti-conservative media bias and censorship raised against social media giants like Twitter and Facebook. For example, Maria Bartiromo just announced that she's moving from Twitter to Parler.

A recently released white paper elaborates on these technological changes, explaining that the way we are going to interact with technology in the future will be through voice. No longer will we need to touch an iPhone to get things done—we will speak to it. Decentralized voice technology will unleash the creativity of the American people, allowing everyone to participate in a new season of the digital economy. By reducing the barriers to entry and providing a more reliable, higher quality and more engaging solution, voice technology will accelerate the move towards media decentralization.

To be clear, mainstream media were already facing significant challenges prior to the 2020 election. But their recent behavior and failure to learn from the 2016 election and all that has happened since ensure that drastic changes are coming. Obviously not everyone is going to become a Ben Shapiro, with nearly 2.3 million YouTube subscribers, but everyone will have the opportunity to release and consume content without the stamp of approval that mainstream media has traditionally provided.

Greater competition, lower barriers to entry and more engagement. That is the future of the news media post-2020. How it all evolves from here is uncertain, but we believe it will fare better than the current mainstream media monopoly.

Christos A. Makridis, PhD is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University, a non-resident fellow at Baylor University, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a senior adviser at Gallup. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @camakridis. Kenny Cunningham is founder and principal of Cunningham Communications and Chief Operating Officer of the Article III Project. Follow him on Twitter @kennycunningham.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.