Now, as is increasingly evident, the audience is invading the pitch. The old insiders' game is breaking up. And the former participants and stenographers are clearly ruing the loss of clubby exclusivity. On Twitter, they can be seen pompously blowing their whistles and citing rules that no longer apply.
There are a handful of these former mainstream media referees in social media, cutely patronising everyone with an opinion as "partisan" and arrogantly casting themselves as Mr and Mrs Reasonable. Worse, they seem incapable of seeing the pathology of their own supposed "non-partisanship".
The concepts of 'the view from nowhere' and 'false equivalence' are well documented by US academic Jay Rosen. But many Australian MSM journalists seem to be having difficulties getting their heads around the concepts, preferring instead to hide behind the shield of fake objectivity.
For those who aren't familiar with these terms, the 'view from nowhere' is the reflexive position taken by journalists in which they place themselves at the comfortable and non-controversial centre between polarised extremes. Because they are neither "that" nor "this", they get to call themselves “impartial.” As Rosen describes it, the view from nowhere particularly suits a two-party system because it posits there are only two views about any issue; this leaves them comfortably inside a beige demilitarized zone in the middle where Truth as Defined by Public Polling reigns.
"(The view from nowhere) is an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. Journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance."False equivalence is part of the same strand of thinking that announces itself as fair and even-handed but that is really about escaping the responsibility of judgement. It's the "on the one hand, on the other" school of reporting that grants equivalence to cranks against established and well researched fact. Think of the mealy mouthed news stories that talk about the "vaccination debate" (whose side are you on?) or climate change. It frankly suits the media to turn every issue into a bipolar circus even if "the other side" is occupied exclusively by nutjobs, cranks and conspiracy theorists.
In this world, journalists act as boundary riders, policing what is and isn't admissable in any debate and establishing the terms of our discourse. They proudly project themselves as virtual ciphers interested only in the Truth, while declaring that everybody else is playing grubby politics or crude partisanship. It's a neat trick and serves to control the rules of the game in a way that suits journalists and their corporate masters.
But as Rosen has described it, the view from nowhere really only dates from about the mid-20th century when the media sought out mass audiences and found it commercially useful to position its editorials as a kind of "Voice of God", an omniscient referee in the sky with no stake in the game. Prior to this, however, the press was nakedly partisan and would frequently publish outright falsehoods to push the case of the political or business class its publications represented. Rightly or wrongly, we now seem to be returning to that world, which is why individual journalists who cling to the romantic notion of themselves as above it all are having such a hard time adjusting.
If journalists are to succeed in a dis-intermediated world, they are going to have to stop seeing themselves as boundary riders, referees and disembodied voices of a superior being and get in amongst it with everyone else. That doesn't mean, by the way, that they can't be fair and balanced and accurate. But the notion of absolute objectivity or the journalist as outsider needs to be retired.
After all, there is nothing unique about their views. For the most part, they have no information that is not available to everyone else. Much as they might imagine otherwise, they do not dictate the terms of the debate. They are not 'in charge' and above it all. And even in their most studied 'objectivity', they can be as partisan as anyone.