Frank Rich: the internet as a ‘workaround’

Prominent New York Times columnist Frank Rich this Sunday wrote about Americans’ fickle interest in international news. As political and social events unfold everywhere but here, we don’t recognize the players and we know almost nothing beyond what we can see happening before our eyes. The protesters are on the bridge! The protesters are still on the bridge! Rich laments the near-blackout of cable news station Al Jazeera English due to U.S. Islamophobia. He’s right about all that and right to be mad as hell about it, too. Then he starts talking about the internet.

He writes that American TV watchers can’t tune in Al Jazeera English, the clear best outlet for news about the clash in Egypt with its many Middle Eastern bureaus and local-language-speaking staffers. So in order to get the good Al Jazeera news, they apparently had to go fiddle with wires and knobs in their kids’ rooms to get transatlantic signals from the intertubes! According to Rich, what we did was we “tracked down” the Al Jazeera site online and in doing so managed a news-consumer “work-around” like something out of MacGyver.

Unable to watch Al Jazeera English, and ravenous for comprehensive and sophisticated 24/7 television coverage of the Middle East otherwise unavailable on television, millions of Americans last week tracked down the network’s Internet stream on their computers. Such was the work-around required by the censorship practiced by America’s corporate gatekeepers. You’d almost think these news-starved Americans were Iron Curtain citizens clandestinely trying to pull in the jammed Voice of America signal in the 1950s — or Egyptians desperately seeking Al Jazeera after Mubarak disrupted its signal last week.

Of course, it’s deeply lamentable on many levels that just because people like Bill O’Reilly think Al Jazeera is anti-American, ComCast, DirecTV and Time Warner believe Americans don’t want the channel or might be afraid of it. Yet who’s strictly watching TV for news anyway other than O’Reilley’s army of senior citizens, including maybe Frank Rich?

According to a recent Pew study, 41 percent of Americans get most of their news from the web, a figure that is up 17 points since 2007. In 2010 the internet surpassed television as the main source of news for people younger than age 30. Since 2007, the number of 18- to 29-year-olds citing the internet as their main source has nearly doubled, from 34 percent to 65 percent. Over the same years, the number of young people citing TV as their main news source, dropped from 68 percent to 52 percent.

Among Americans ages 30 to 49, the internet will soon surpass television as the main news source. Now 48 percent say the internet is their main source, a number that is up 16 points from 2007.

For Americans ages 50 to 64, the internet is replacing newspapers. TV is still first as a news source but they split about evenly between newspapers and the internet as their second source of news.

It’s Americans over 65 who were doing the internet “workaround” and “tracking down” the Al Jazeera English website this week. According to Pew, that demographic overwhelmingly gets its news the old fashioned way: passively.

For those of us blissfully unattached to TV cable world, we got our news last week the same way as always, through the tender mercies of our internet providers and, to a more glaring extent than usual, according to the whim of political and corporate power-holders who never want the public anywhere to know what they know.

Demand Al Jazeera here, if you still watch TV and you want access to news from the Middle East reported by Middle Easterners.

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