The new mainstream quot;mediaquot;

by Beacon Staff • October 3, 2007

That's the gist of what Katie Couric had to say after she jetted back from Iraq a few weeks ago.

In 1968, Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam and commented on the war, saying it could not be won. President Lyndon Johnson famously responded, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.,Iraq isn't as bad as we thought.

That's the gist of what Katie Couric had to say after she jetted back from Iraq a few weeks ago.

In 1968, Walter Cronkite returned from Vietnam and commented on the war, saying it could not be won. President Lyndon Johnson famously responded, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

And he had.

Couric's influence as anchor of CBS Evening News is vastly smaller than Walter Cronkite's was in the 1960s. Couric is a null factor on what was once the mightiest American news network, and it's not just CBS struggling.

The networks are withering and looking at their lowest numbers in years. And what's even worse, they are losing the public's trust.

As more political commentators continue to refer to blogs for information, more bloggers will become political commentators in their own right. With their sheer volume, they will make "the media" more eclectic than ever.

Their credibility and readership will continue to grow and affect politics in ways we cannot currently quantify. The media is no longer a hyper-consolidated corporate monolith.

Twenty years ago, the three major networks dominated. CNN, the sole cable news network at the time, was only seven years old and barely a factor. The late 80s saw the waning years of a media paradigm that both shaped and reflected American political discourse in ways it never will again.

A Pew Research Poll released last month found more than half of Americans think news organizations are "biased, inaccurate and don't care about the people they report on."

One fourth of Americans use the Internet as their main source for news-and of that share, the poll found, 53 percent fault the news organizations for "failing to stand up for America." Whereas Americans affectionately called Walter Cronkite "Uncle Walter," today's news organizations are trusted by less than half of the country.

Then, blogs entered the picture. In 1999 there were about 50 blogs online, and since then the blogosphere has grown at an astronomical rate. There are now over 10 million blogs on the Internet.

The costs are so minimal that a number of prominent opinion journals have developed their own "in-house" blogs. Of course, all the major 2008 presidential contenders have established blogs as well.

There is mounting evidence that these now affect the political landscape in ways no media form has since, well, Walter Cronkite.

Many journalists and opinion leaders rely on blogs for the local knowledge and policy expertise some bloggers possess, and for the speedy publication in reporting breaking developments.

In 2003, New York Times managing editor Bill Keller said, "Sometimes I read something on a blog that makes me feel we screwed up."

Prominent media journalist Howard Kurtz regularly quotes elite bloggers in his "Media Notes Extra" feature for The Washington Post.

Keller, Kurtz or anyone with a browser can extract information and analysis so fluidly from blogs because of what University of Chicago political science professor Daniel Drezner calls "skewed distribution."

Even though the blogosphere sees around 275,000 new posts daily, they are easy to disseminate because a few elite blogs command attention.

Matt Drudge's Drudge Report, for example, functions as an information aggregator and "summary statistic" for the blogosphere, acting as a hub for many other blogs. In a 2004 report titled "The Power and Politics of Blogs," Drezner said when elite blogs concentrate their efforts on a breaking or underreported story-as did Drudge when he broke what would become the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998-the message flows horizontally from these hub blogs.

Together they can have an impact on public discourse at large. There's no way Couric can keep up.