Sarah Palin's announcement that she is launching her own news channel that "really is a lot more than news" has quickly stirred up debate about not only the former governor and vice presidential candidate's relevance, but also the potential effectiveness of a low-budget Internet-only news source that, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf points out, is more expensive than Netflix.
"The production value is poor, the Palin syntax in some of the monologues suggests that lots of content isn't even scripted," Friedersdorf wrote in his review of the news site.
Most reviews of the site echo that of Friedersdorf, who considers himself to be no left-winger. But one conservative commentator in particular has grabbed headlines with her criticism.
Meghan McCain, daughter of once presidential candidate John McCain — who holds the distinction of introducing Palin to the wider political arena by selecting her as his running mate in the 2008 presidential race — has gone on record saying she doesn't plan to watch the Sarah Palin Chanel.
"I got all the Sarah Palin I need for one lifetime," Politico reports McCain as saying on her own news discussion show, "Take Part Live."
But in at least one respect, Palin and McCain are kindred spirits.
McCain's show, which airs on PivotTV, bills itself as an interactive approach to discussing the news, with panels that discuss issues of social justice with the hopes that viewers will be driven to action.
This approach to news, which in "Take Part's" case is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, implies an inherent flaw within the "mainstream media's" approach to the news: It doesn't solve any problems.
"Myth: I can't make a difference," a promotional video for "Take Part," declares. "Fact: You can by speaking up." "Take Part" exists to inform the viewer in a way that will stir them to action so problems can finally be solved.
Palin's channel echoes similar sentiments (as does Glenn Beck's "The Blaze" and Ronan Farrow's MSNBC program, "Ronan Farrow Daily") with declarations such as "this is a community where we're going to be able to share the issues of the day, and we're going to find solutions."
But activist journalism, at least in the way these news sites interpret the idea, is still an unproven approach to driving real change.
One issue may be that viewers are less interested in "calls to action" than these producers are willing to admit. "Ronan Farrow Daily," for example, has been on the brink of cancellation pretty much since the day it launched. While most critics point to a bad time slot and a confused tone as the reasons for the show's inability to connect with viewers, Farrow's attempts to rally the youth of today behind what he deems to be important causes has failed to catch on even in a world where virality is king, and time slots are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Popular share-worthy website Upworthy, for example, seems to act as a model for these news programs, promoting social causes that appeal to a large base of "millennials." But translating the largely passive act of liking a video on Facebook into a news model that analyzes the content and urges viewers to act on their emotions has proven to be harder than it looks.
The most successful of these activist enterprises has undoubtedly been Glenn Beck's "The Blaze," a rising media powerhouse that Friedersdorf calls "a role model for wealthy media figures who hope to monetize the cult of personality they've built up by expertly playing to the cultural affinities and anxieties of Red America."
But unlike Palin, McCain or even Farrow, Glenn Beck's station is built on the shoulders of his already existing reputation as a major media voice in political commentary. While Palin has held (and run for) major political positions and spoken at hugely successful rallies, her stint as a Fox News coordinator was only a part-time gig. Beck, on the other hand, has been a full-time news commentator since 2006.
But beyond whether or not McCain, Palin or even Beck's news adventures will prove successful, media moguls across the country seem to be willing to experiement with new approaches to news because the current model is slipping. As the Deseret News reported in June, television news is quickly losing the trust of Americans. Those within the changing media lanscape are increasingly turning to the Web to build viewership and engagement, even, as we see now with Palin, embracing the Internet to try to appeal to those who feel that the news they are hearing from the major networks no longer speaks to them.
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