Commentary: Changing media landscape no friend to unity

Toward the close of the presidential campaign, some respected journalists of no special political bent denounced the news media for tilting unfairly toward Barack Obama.

Harold Evans, ex-editor of the Times of London and one-time editorial lord of the New York Daily News, wrote in the Guardian that "the coverage has been slavishly on (Obama's) side." On ABC News.com veteran technology writer Michael S. Malone wrote that the favoritism had gotten so bad he was, for the first time, ashamed to be a journalist.

To me, the criticisms were obsolescent. The media they were complaining about - the broadcast networks and prestige newspapers - are outlets that fewer and fewer people pay attention to. Looking ahead, the media world that Obama will have to engage as president is in nobody's pocket. It's a fractured and fractious online and cable universe with little capacity for coherent bias - or, more disturbingly, for civic coherence of any kind. These new media aren't polarized, at least not in the traditional sense.

Increasingly, the media the public relies on for news and topical commentary don't sell recognizable political polarities at all. They're carving out far more surgically precise brand identities in a marketplace that rewards loud, strong-minded, sure-footed, narrow-casting, which encourages an unshakable loyalty to whatever fragment of perspective and audience particular outlets hope to profit from.

The news media are in a major, historic transformation, away from a commercial dependence on drawing large, diverse publics so that broad-market advertisers can make their pitches, and toward a hyper-targeted industry consisting of myriad channels, their audiences differentiated by age, ethnicity, race, religion, cultural predilection, neighborhood - and political preference too, of course.

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