Radical disruption or the new normal?


Hank Green (on the left) is a flag bearer for Nerdfighteria. He’s also intelligent, funny, and – with his brother, John (on the right) – one of the most-watched vloggers on YouTube.

This latter role is what helped land him a spot interviewing the President after the 2015 State of the Union address. Live. At the White House.

Outrage ensued.

Some of this was predictable: self-appointed guardians of American dignity railing against the usurper in office. Most of the criticism, however, came from our reliable friends in mainstream media, reacting to upstarts that don’t even use terms like “mainstream media.”

As in so many professions, the media world no longer can be neatly divided into elites and disrupters. One big reason is the changing nature of the audience.

I see it in undergraduate students every day: Well informed, civic-minded Americans acquiring information about the world from media and sources they trust.

Those sources have real people’s names – like Hank Green – not three-letter acronyms. They speak from the heart, with passion and transparency. Most of all, they maintain an objective authenticity that allows them to say revealing, natural things like “I don’t know” and “I feel” while delivering their message.

Green’s essay about fallout from his White House sojourn begins with a headline that includes language not commonly seen in the New York Times. As well it should. The approach is charmingly, authentically true to the enthusiasm of Green’s on-screen persona.

Granted, vloggers are performers. As is everyone else on screen, whether intentionally “acting” or not.

Jean Giraudoux wrote: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” The bon mot has become holy writ for generations of broadcasters and their consultants. It’s possible that Green and his peers are shrewd manipulators of their naïve fans – but I doubt that is the case.

Instead, I see nerdfighteria and other followings that have emerged around “YouTube celebrities” (more dismissive, MSM terminology) as true communities. They share a passion, a culture, and communicate frequently – using media and devices that keep in touch, 24/7.

This is what scares mainstream media. A history of differentiating themselves with diffident, bloodless reporting (or full-throated, partisan bellowing of recent years) has left them with audiences composed primarily of the old, the bored, and the unreasonable.

Where are the younger readers/viewers/doers? Who is informing them? More and more, it is authentic, transparent voices like Vlogbrothers, The Young Turks and SourceFed.

If those names are unfamiliar, you should be watching more YouTube.