Access isn’t power anymore

Access isn’t power anymore

: An important change has come to the relationship of media to power to people:

It used to be, until very recently, that the press had access to power and that, in turn, is what gave them power.

But now those in power have cut off the press’ access. See how the Bush White House has successfully reduced leaks and whispers and locked down its control. See how FCC Chair Michael Powell tried to refuse to take phone calls from citizens when he appeared on Ronn Owens’ show (but Howard Stern broke through).

This same thing happened much earlier in show biz; I witnessed it when I was at People in the ’80s: When the stars realized that their faces and stories sold magazines, the power shifted from journalists, who controlled access to the audience, to flacks, who controlled access to the stars. The stars were now worth more than the audience.

So now access is locked down. Reporters can’t get to those in power except when they want to spin. Magazines can’t get to stars except when they have something to promote. Business reporters have trouble getting to corporate heads, who now hide behind SEC rules to control access.

At the same time, the internet means that media no longer controls access to the audience. Politicians, marketers, celebrities, anybody can now bypass the media and go directly to the people and the people can respond.

Nobody has access.

So now everybody has access.

This means, you see, that you and I have almost as much access as the big-time reporters (read: nearly none). And because we can write blogs and get read in the halls of power and quoted in media, we have access to power through a side door. And with the internet, we have access to audiences we can build overnight; they’re not huge, but they’re growing.

Jay Rosen writes about this — more eloquently and intelligently, of course — in his post-election post about changing roles in news:

: Washington journalism likes to imagine itself the Administration’s great adversary, but most of the time it relies on access journalism– not the adversarial kind. “Sources make news” is the first tenet in that system, and that gives sources power. But access journalism makes less and less sense when there is no access, and sources rarely deviate from the party line. The White House press corps has always been based on access, so much so that the alternatives to it have almost been forgotten. I think there will be pressure to abandon the whole dream of press access under Bush, and re-position some forces accordingly.

: Interesting, then, what Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee said at PressThink this week: “When my colleagues complain about a lack of access to Schwarzenegger at his media events, I ask, is that kind of access really critical to our doing our jobs? Is it our job to get close enough to describe the color of his tie, or his interaction with a voter, or is it our job to deconstruct the governor’s (or president’s) policies and proposals, their effect or potential effect on the public, their cost and consequences? Sure it’s great to have an interview with the man, or fire away questions at a press conference, but I think good journalists are capable of informing the public without the benefit of these tools.” He’s thinking of alternatives to access because he’s already realized it: Arnold is post-press in his political style.

We rethink what access matters. We rethink the power that access accords. We rethink our jobs and what reporters should really be doing (just because 15,000 reporters get access to the political conventions, does that mean they should go?). We rethink the ability of the rest of the people — us — to have access to news and information and viewpoints and audience and power.

: That’s only one of Jay’s points. He also summarizes the important changes that have come to the scene during this election, including the likely growth of opinionated, even opposition press. More on that later.