What makes the new media interesting?
For some, it's the many new voices who can now find an audience. Whether it's a blog, podcast or Twitter feed, the new media is less about the consumption of content and aimed much closer to the reality that anyone who has something to say can now publish their thoughts -- in text, images, audio and video -- instantly for the world to see (and it costs next-to-nothing). Along with that comes an equalized back and forth with the audience. It's that pure concept that drives the thinking and revision of definitions of media and journalism by people like Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and others. The real question about new media is this:
Is new media really something new and different or is traditional media working hard to bend it to their will?
In the landmark business book, The Cluetrain Manifesto (co-written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger), the concepts of audience, media, brands and broadcasting were dismantled and redefined. Many see The Cluetrain Manifesto (which was written in 1999 and published in 2000 -- yes, over 11 years ago) as the genesis of social media. The book was written around 95 theses, and it's numbers 37 to 39 that shine a light on the struggles that new media have to gain true respect:
- 37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
- 38. Human communities are based on discourse -- on human speech about human concerns.
- 39. The community of discourse is the market.
Does that sound like traditional mass media and journalism?
Traditional media still prides itself on some very traditional values:
- The ability to give the audience not what they want, but what certain editors feel the audience needs to hear.
- Quality production -- from slick video cuts to super-human voiceovers.
- A place where advertisers can confidently intersperse their messages.
- Talent that acts as if it is above the audience, instead of a part of it (how often do journalists take part in their own discourse?).
- Quick, short and snackable pieces of content for an ever-busy audience.
New media prides itself on different values:
- A platform for anyone to share what is of interest to them.
- There is no audience -- in the traditional sense of the word. The audience is a community with a shared interest in the discourse and growth of the community.
- Quality production -- but one that is based on the human voice and feel instead of a manufactured/generic one. The truth is that production can even be less than stellar so long as the quality of the content and discourse stands.
- A place where advertisers can confidently intersperse their message to a highly engaged and caring audience.
- Talent (or the creators of the content) are nothing without the community. If those two are not intrinsically connected, the platform fails.
- The content can be quick and short, but it can also be in long-form. Digital removes the challenges previous established by the media in terms of page size, show length and limitations of the like.
One media is based on rules. The other media is based on passion.
What if we abolished the concept of "new media"? Could we not say that we have "mass media" and that we have "me media"? If you look at mass media's attention to these new media and social media platforms, what we find is -- more often than not -- a copy/paste job. They take what they've published or broadcasted to the masses and simply dump it on a website or turn it into a podcast.
In turn, if you look at the newer media platforms (yes, I would include The Huffington Post in this lot), what you see is something completely different. Where else could something like Lost At E Minor live? This popular online publication looks at pop culture through the lens of art, design music, photography and memes. The discourse lives within the sharing of the content to other platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc...) and within the comments. The culmination of this content drags the audience members to other links of interest and thinking around the topic. While some traditional media outlets have integrated many of this functionality, it's worth wondering if they've done so out of an understanding of how media has changed or as a reaction and financial need to seem relevant (yes, things have changed since the ascent of blogging, but not much).
It's a media posture change.
As traditional mass media leverages social media as an extension of the distribution network to increase audience and the advertising that goes along with it, the "me media" publishers of the day see the opportunity to build a new culture around areas of interest, that are discussed and debated in a human voice with the raison d'être to have a laser-like focus on the discourse. While the "me media" culture synchronizes almost perfectly to the vision laid out in The Cluetrain Manifesto, traditional media companies may have adapted their content and newsrooms for these new channels, but still, fundamentally, struggle with the new media posture as core to their culture and business.
This begs the question: will the future of media be about the size of the audience or the value of the discourse?