YouTubers Got To Interview The President Because They're More Legitimate Than Traditional News

from the among-the-disrupted dept

If there’s one overarching theme of this blog for the 16+ years that it’s been around, it might be “disrupted industries behaving badly.” It seems to be a fairly constant theme. And the news business is no exception. And, boy, have they been bitching and whining about it a lot lately. If you want to see the quintessential example of clueless self-pity, it has to be Leon Wieseltier’s recent NY Times whinefest, Among the Disrupted. Wieseltier is definitely among the disrupted, having recently lost his longtime job at the New Republic as part of a publication-wide freakout over the fact that the new management (led by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes) wanted to try to make the magazine a bit more relevant to the younger generation. It is a paean to elitism, eloquently insisting that without the cultural elite guiding the way, the digital riffraff online will never understand the true cultural meaning of anything.

A similar piece appeared last week, in the SF Chronicle, by Jon Carroll, in which he does his best impression of telling the digital kids to get off his lawn, while trying to come to terms with the fact that those darn kids today just don’t really trust or believe in the “real media” any more (though he seems to use a rather arbitrary description of who is good — Al Jazeera — and who is crud — Fox News).

But to see the truly hysterical old media in action, you need to just pay attention to the collective freakout over the White House’s decision to let three YouTube stars interview President Obama. It quickly became an easy punchline for sneering elites that this was somehow “beneath the dignity” of the White House. Much of the focus was on one of the three, GloZell Green, a comedian who does funny stuff on her YouTube channel — including silly challenges, like (the one that everyone keeps bringing up) taking a bath in cereal.

Hank Green, one of the other two YouTubers who took part in the interview has hit back with an absolutely fantastic post explaining why it totally makes sense for the White House to have such YouTubers interview the President, rather than the mainstream media. And it’s because most people don’t think the mainstream media is legitimate any more. It’s lost its legitimacy, because the facade of what the news does has come down. The traditional news report — what Jay Rosen has repeatedly referred to as “the church of the savvy” or “the view from nowhere” — focuses on playing up their own connections and insiderness, rather than honesty and earnestness.

But these YouTubers, by contrast, are real — and people trust them and view them as legitimate because they’re real. As Green writes:

I think sub-consciously they understand the really terrifying thing here. Glozell and Bethany and I weren?t put in a chair next to President Obama because we have cultivated an audience. We were put there because we have cultivated legitimacy.

The source of our legitimacy is the very different from their coiffed, Armani institutions. It springs instead (and I?m aware that I?m abandoning any modicum of modesty here) from honesty. In new media this is often called ?authenticity? because our culture is too jaded to use a big fat word like ?honesty? without our gallbladders clogging up, but that?s really what it is.

Glozell, Bethany and I don?t sit in fancy news studios surrounded by fifty thousand dollar cameras and polished metal and glass backdrops with inlayed 90-inch LCD screens. People trust us because we?ve spent years developing a relationship with them. We have been scrutinized and found not evil. Our legitimacy comes from honesty, not from cultural signals or institutions.

And with young people having no reasons to trust those cultural signals that we older folks were raised with, this is the only thing that works for them anymore. Our values and interests mesh with theirs enough that they?ve come to trust us. They trust us to make content that they will enjoy and they trust us to be the kind of people they can look up to. People who betray that trust risk losing everything that they have built.

What’s amazing is that the Carroll article I mentioned earlier actually is an almost perfect mirror of Green’s article in some ways. They both mock the fakeness of Fox News. And they both admit that people now trust their friends and social media contacts more than such news providers. But in Carroll’s world, this is dangerous and a sign of the people today not wanting “content” but just snippets:

People don?t want content anymore. They want diversion, and there?s plenty of that. Even the occasional discussion of public issues is diverting; have an opinion, post and go. The formats do not encourage complex discussion, and wit is prized above knowledge.

People don?t care what the media say. They care what their friends say; they get what information they get from people just like themselves. They don?t buy the new, friendlier one-to-many model; it?s still just strangers babbling. You know your friends; you trust them. If they say a restaurant is good, it?s good. If a media site says it, who cares?

Of course, it?s not as simple as that. We?re in a transitional phase; old-media outlets may be shrinking but they still make a lot of money, while the business model for digital publication is a work in progress. But the trends are clear. Objective reporting is now considered impossible, so why bother? And equally: Why bother with complexity?

It really seems like Carroll and Green are discussing the same phenomenon, but from very different perspectives. Green is surfing the wave, while Carroll is being dragged under by it. And, frankly, Carroll is wrong. People absolutely do want “content.” They crave it. What they want is honest content — and that’s the point that Green is making. They care what their friends say because that’s honest, and as even Carroll admits in his piece, the media doesn’t do that very well.

But from honesty can come complexity. And investigative reporting and a variety of other things. Carroll argues that this new wave has killed off such investigative reporting, but that’s ridiculous and wrong. He whines about crusaders, but it’s those crusaders who have taken a deep interest in key issues that allows them to do the investigative reporting that needs to be done — and to do it in a manner that people trust. Because it’s real. Glenn Greenwald isn’t a traditional investigative reporter, but he’s built up a mountain of trust, because his own personality shines through in everything that he does. Agree with him or not, no one can deny that Greenwald is quite real and unlike the interchangeable heads seen on cable news. And the same is true for other “real” figures that the traditional media likes to mock, like Jon Stewart or Jon Oliver. They take different paths, but they really connect with their viewers. And it’s the same for the YouTubers that the White House invited in.

The legacy media players may not like it, but mainly because it rips down the facade they’ve been living behind for so long. The facade that pretends they’re all about “objective news reporting” when the reality has long been that they’re more focused on being seen as important. The gatekeepers of the news. But the news has no more gatekeepers, and the public seems to prefer honesty, rather than made up objectivity. The view from nowhere now means that many people (especially younger people) see those newscasters as being nowhere at all. And that’s why it completely makes sense for the White House to reach out to those people who are real, who have built up trust, and who will continue to be real, even if they ask questions that the mainstream media considers beneath them.

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Comments on “YouTubers Got To Interview The President Because They're More Legitimate Than Traditional News”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No, no, it was just a typo. The guy’s right on the money.
All I get from most traditional news media is the feeling that they’re treating me like a vaguely disinterested idiot who needs to be constantly re-reminded what the story of the hour is every three minutes, and and to have everything explained to me in small words in a loud voice.
People don’t want contempt any more.

Anon says:


>(though he seems to use a rather arbitrary description of who is good — Al Jazeera — and who is crud — Fox News).

It’s true, though – Al Jazeera is actually pretty good news, and fox news is crud. I suspect the English News watching public in foreign lands are a more edujumucated crowd than thet there Fox bunch. By definition, they’ve likely learned English as a second language.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

One missing point

This is an excellent analysis, well said. I only have one thing to add:

And with young people having no reasons to trust those cultural signals that we older folks were raised with, this is the only thing that works for them anymore.

Not just young people. I’m a couple of generations removed from that age group, but I too have no reason to trust those cultural signals and instead decide what sources to trust based on the honesty and accuracy of their journalism. On that front, the old-guard journalism industry is, by and large, a failure.

Further, I’m far from the only person in my age group that feels this way. While admitting selection bias up front, I would say about 2/3 of the people my age that I know feel the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One missing point

I agree that it is no longer just young people. When I look around this site, or many of the other places I go to that are NOT mainstream media, I get news of government corruption as opposed to poor quality reporting from the mainstream that doesn’t seem to want to cover the real issues. I can get that at any glad rag. I’m not interested in dumb crook news, human interest used for filler, nor do I believe most of what the government has passed out for propaganda to them. Too many times I’ve seen mistakes from the groups that are supposed to have fact checkers that shows up just to be a copy found on the internet by anyone.

I’ve seen enough of how that plays with major media parroting what ever the current stance is only to find it a lie (not honesty btw). The authority has been tarnished in a way that very few with objective view points can believe. It’s not one source, it’s come down to damn near all of them.

These correspondents and reporters need to go take a real close look in the mirror. The reason more than just the young no longer trust you, is because the bias is more important than the story and it is plainly evident.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One missing point

I envy the generation that got to witness the news media reporting a war (Vietnam) from a non-government-approved/non-stage-managed perspective.

Or the news media covering the US embassy prisoners in Iran, as today the mainstream media dutifully complies with government orders to keep silent about all news of captured US citizens.

Sadly, those days of press freedom may never happen again. Since news coverage of the Vietnam war took down a sitting president, all we get post-Vietman is ’embedded’ reporters and sanitized, ‘on-message’ news. And since news coverage of Iran embassy POWs took down another sitting president, all we get post-Iran is silence whenever Americans are taken prisoner. (I’m still trying to find out the name of the ISIS prisoner who White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough accidently let slip live on ABC’s “This Week” — a name-slip widely reported, yet never repeated by any mainstream media.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: One missing point

I envy the generation that got to witness the news media reporting a war (Vietnam) from a non-government-approved/non-stage-managed perspective.

Exactly. All you have to do is look at the lamestream liberal media’s softball treatment of Obama to see the media is now a mouthpiece for the government. Obama got hammered in the debates because he couldn’t answer the hard questions because he was never asked any by the media. Well except by Fox, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t answer those questions.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: One missing point

Oh Obama’s not even close to the only one to get the soft treatment, this site is littered with examples of people in various government positions making blatantly false claims and having it just taken as fact by the sods ‘interviewing’ them, or giving them a stage to speak from.

The press on both sides have collectively lost their spines, and become little more than mouth-pieces to whoever feels like using them, as they’ll just parrot whatever they’re told without question in almost all cases.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 One missing point

“Oh Obama’s not even close to the only one to get the soft treatment, this site is littered with examples of people in various government positions making blatantly false claims and having it just taken as fact by the sods ‘interviewing’ them, or giving them a stage to speak from.”

The name “Bush” comes to mind…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: One missing point

Exactly. All you have to do is look at the lamestream conservative media’s brickbat treatment of Obama to see the media is now a mouthpiece for the corporations.
Obama succeded in the debates (and won the elections) because he answered the intelligent, hard questions while his opponents could’t even offer a coherent response to the most basic of questions beyond vague “bumper sticker” slogans.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 One missing point

Wow you must have been watching a different version of the debates than I did. Obama had no details or depth on anything. Romney could answer in depth. The polls showed Romney slaughtered Obama. In fact, after the 2nd debate the only thing the media could say about Obama’s performance is he didn’t get killed as bad as the first. So I guess people like you are why the media is like it is; always tryign to rewrite history.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: One missing point

Add me in. I’m not what seems to classify as young there but I also don’t trust the traditional outfits. Anybody can parrot the news or simply report on a fact but few are willing to give the proper attention and scrutiny. It’s kinda like sports. Sure you like to hear your team hired X player but what does that mean to the tactical structure of the team? What does that mean in the long term, how will this new piece attach to the whole, was it a wise choice? Why? etc etc etc

So the Govt took Y course of action. Are there Constitutional implications? Is it ethic? Why? Can it be done in a more efficient way? Why? Is it just a fruit of some partisan bickering? etc etc etc

Makes it much, much more interesting when questions are raised and the journalists conduct analyzes on them.

RonKaminsky (profile) says:

Re: One missing point

I’ll have to add myself in as old and distrusting, but I have to also add that in this new day and age, I have the constant fear that as my own information source curator, I will eventually get stuck in a self-made bubble world.

I suppose that’s better than being stuck in an externally imposed bubble world, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Like those who believe that 1950s era TV accurately portrayed family life in shows like Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best, Mr. Carrol and others seem to have a fuzzy golden reminiscence of a mainstream media that never actually existed.

No Millennial coined the phrase “yellow journalism”; no YouTuber invented “If it bleeds, it leads”. Media has always been as sensational and lurid as culture has allowed.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I thought the article was more about the legitimacy that was granted to elder NEWS media by the public, not about the amount of truth they delivered.

American TV NEWS has always been corporate backed, but the public was far less aware of the connection and could be lied to easier prior to the internet, because they had no real means to verify the information being disseminated by the elder NEWS media.

Old media thus had a good name and was trusted – people believed they were reporting the facts, and to a large extent, they were doing so, far more than today.

However, the modern media is, as was stated in the linked article by Hank Green, hiding behind the Elder NEWS Media’s Good Name, pretending to be the same institution, but has become 100% dependant on corporate funding and 100% obedient to corporate needs and resorts to actually lying outright to please their corporate masters quite often.

Young people have simply noted the dishonesty too often to trust the media anymore.

I don’t think media is actually much less honest today than it was 30 years ago, but the public certainly had more trust in the media back then than it does today.

As far as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best and other TV sitcoms and series are concerned, that’s not the NEWS media.

That was simply the style of social engineering propaganda of that day, and such tripe is still being produced and shown on TV today, although today its more about owning the newest technology/fashion to increase sales and turning in your neighbor for strange behavior to increase surveillance legality and hiding from the army of terrorists and drug dealers that inhabit every second house/building in the world to increase “War On” type budgets and to legitimize torture by the good guys to get info.

The difference is precisely as you noted yourself. Modern culture simply “allows” the NEWS media to be more lurid and less honest today, but the point being made was that the young public has lost all trust in that media and it does not appear that new NEWS media is even remotely capable of getting that trust back.

And that is a good thing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree with all of this. I would add, though, that as bad as the older news was, it was objectively better than what we have now.

The number of outlets that unabashedly engaged in yellow journalism were relatively few and well-known as such. I mean, all outlets had “yellow” moments, but some were nothing but sensationalistic. Nowadays, it seems, this ratio has reversed. Most outlets — even the ones that had a strong editorial slant — were more mindful of things like truth and accuracy than they are now.

This is not to say that the “golden days” of journalism were days where the news was all unbiased and correct. They are only “golden days” in comparison to what they have become.

michael (profile) says:

Old media = money

“The facade that pretends they’re all about “objective news reporting” when the reality has long been that they’re more focused on being seen as important.”

I don’t think this is the problem. Sure, they might want to feel important at the level of the individual journalist. But the primary difference between Big Media and a YouTuber is money.

The YouTuber might make $40-200K and be perfectly pleased by that because they’re getting paid to do what they like doing.

OTOHm Big Media looks at what they make today and asks, “What can we do to triple that in 5 years?” No indiginity is to great — and no selling out is too transparent — as long as the profits go up. Exhibit A: The once-great 60-Minutes, who are now a joke thanks to pandering to the government, where they used to be our most reliable watchdog.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think you hit the trust issue right on the head. I don’t trust the views of mainstream corporate news media. Take the recent flareup with the war in Ukraine. I read quite a few Reuters articles today. Every single one of their articles was Western leaning in their reporting. Such as only reporting casualties for the Ukraine government side. Constantly blaming Russia for supporting the Rebels, while failing to mention NATO “advisers” supporting the Ukraine government.

That’s why I no longer trust any mainstream corporate news. All mainstream news is politically or corporately motivated propaganda news heavily pushing the establishment’s side of the story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Media bias tends to be more about the things that get left out of a story, compared with outright lies and distortions (which in any war always run rampant).

In the case of the Ukraine war, it’s a very easy solution: read Russian sites like or which report the other side of that war. Of course these sites can be just as one-sided as the US media (in the opposite direction) and so by reading both sides, it’s much easier to try to piece together a somewhat-accurate version of events.

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