However, the differences between 17th century amateur reporters and 21st
century citizen journalists go beyond stark polarities. The former were
contributors to the new media of their age but over whose operation, growth
and development they had no influence or control; their 21st century counterparts,
on the other hand, are contributors to a new media which they themselves
are creating. What started out as people's desire for unfiltered, independent
self-expression is threatening to overthrow the old order in the world
of media. How
The old media model was/is based on assembling
disparate and varied information - news reports, share prices, weather
reports, crosswords, classified ads, sports scores, horoscopes etc. and
selling this ensemble to readers. Today that cornucopia is being unbundled:
content is cut loose from the formal wrapper, messages from their media
container. (Note the dire fate of newspaper classified ads, financial
information, product reviews, real estate and job ads as they become Craiglisted
This unbundling has serious implications
for the economic foundation of the media business as we've known it. For
the journalists employed in these institutions, two critical changes,
among many, stand out: their roles as gatekeepers between you and the
world outside your window is irrevocably undermined and the line between
themselves as producers of "tydings" and the former audience
as consumers has become blurred.
There's a big misconception among professional
journalists that the new media is about news. Wrong. It's about self-expression,
it's about participating in defining and shaping the information/communication
environments in which we live. The various forms of digital media - blogging,
podcasting, social bookmarking and networking etc - are merely the means
and the channels for achieving this. An entire generation - call them
the digital natives or the new Corinthians - is creating an open, collaborative,
networked communications infrastructure in opposition to the closed, top
down, hierarchical traditional media organisations which have dominated
the media universe since the 19t century.
Demanding that these digital natives adhere
to old methods of discovering and learning about the world won't do. They're
crafting their own methods, thank you very much. Ten years ago Slashdot,
Kuro5hin and others pioneered peer-to-peer coverage of technology. Stories
gained credibility through the trust and reputation of peers. Digg has
added collaborative filtering via powerful algorithms; Del.icio.us lets
you organise the world via shared social taxonomies. Even some of the
backend functions of the news business have been socialised: Wikipedia
for reference, Answers.com for expert sources, Flickr for pictures.
All these new ways of understanding, making
and managing media are only a specific case of the mass participatory
culture made possible by digital technology. All of a sudden, unprecedented
numbers of people can express themselves and connect with each other on
a global scale. And here's a salient feature of this mass participation:
it's organised activity without a central organisation. More precisely,
it's a self-organised collaborative endeavour in which people combine
their ideas, knowledge, talents, skills without an hierarchy controlling
and co-ordinating their activities.
Confronted by a disruptive technology, process
or service, the disrupted party has only a limited number of responses:
they can ignore it - not a viable choice for survival; they can try to
destroy it - this is the "kill the messenger" option which may
destroy the messenger (e.g. Napster) but fail to kill the message (i.e.
file sharing); they can posit competitive offerings - but note the fate
of newspaper "facsimile editions" versus RSS; or they can co-opt
or embrace the new - note media mogul Rupert Murdoch's "Damascene
conversion" and his subsequent moves in the digital media space.
It is hard for a mature, long-dominant culture
to make radical changes to its ideology and practice. And that's why many
newspaper groups still cling to the command and control model even as
their businesses head for the butchers4 and their customers "head
into the cemetery". Bold and adventurous though he is, Rupert
Murdoch has only chosen co-optation (buying the number one social networking
service MySpace); however, full embrace of the new world is a revolutionary
step, a rupture in the old order. Anyone doubting the difficulty of such
a move need only look at the upheavals and dislocations being experienced
by the UK's Telegraph Groups as it re-engineers it news gathering/reporting
processes towards a networked journalism model.
The momentum of change is with the new Corinthians.
The open source ethos and method of work/production, which began in the
periphery with collaborative software development, is moving to centre
stage by way of the blogging revolution and open standards in web services.
In tagging, syndication, ranking and bookmarking we have the rudiments
of a peer-to-peer trust, reputation and recommendation system well suited
to self-regulating collaborative networks. These could be taken as
analogous, but not identical to, the "checks and balances" of
traditional journalism, but we shouldn't belabour the points of difference
In mainstream media "editorial authority"
is concentrated in the hands of a single, all-powerful person whereas
in social media it is distributed among many voices. This could be seen
as a weakness and critics point to it as the Achilles heel of Web journalism.
Yet in many instances, the networked world, e.g. the blogosphere, has
proven to be much better (and quicker) at correcting errors, falsity,
lies and distortions than the mainstream media.
As the number of people who participate in
open, collaborative, networked communications increases, the veracity
of messages will improve and the need for corporate gatekeepers and standards-setters
will decrease. Will we all become Corinthians then?
[copyright 2006 Milverton Wallace]