13 June 2007

social media and predictions

Richard Stacy was generous enough to supply more detail to the post I wrote earlier that riffed on his predictions about media in the next few years.

I would say you are half right. There is definitely a lot of puffery and punditry around and much overblown talk of change. However, as you say, the facts are that the basic rules of communication and interaction haven't changed. Influencers will always be influencers even if the channels to reach them (and the channels they then use to reach others) change.

But the really big thing that has changed is that it now costs virtually nothing to distribute content whereas previously it cost a huge amount of money. The old media model therefore had to be a mass model. Now you don't need to be mass to be media - and this has turned the whole economics of the media on its head. There still will be a demand for mass content - but there is now a huge new competing media space which is based around the needs of, and produced by, the individual. This is a fundamental, game changing shift.

If you think this through and recognise what was built on the old media model (marketing, mass communications, the practice of democratic politics) you will start to understand the revolutionary nature of what is occuring. But don't just take my word for it - Rupert Murdoch is in the same place, so is the Economist, so is the Director General of the BBC. Check out what they have to say.

I think we're seeing the mass media outlets he's talking about already making awkward lurches toward mass distribution of user-generated content, like CNN's "i report." We're also seeing writers pooling their talents on outstanding blogs like Green Options to create professional and worthwhile content at a significantly lower cost. So from the business side I can understand the prediction - indeed, Stacy calls it "dusted and done."

However, I think we have to do a better job convincing journalists -- the people who excoriate bloggers and social media types at every opportunity - that these shifts in the business model of communication won't mean the end of journalism. As much as I like to give journalists grief for their "bloggers aren't journalists" complaints, they do have a point. They will have to shift their business model but I sincerely hope they will continue to be significant, even leading, producers of content.

The NYT-owned Boston Globe closed its last three foreign bureaus earlier this year in a cost-cutting move. BBC has also cut bureaus to save money. Will consumers of content be just as happy with the individual contributions of "citizen journalists" that lack the resouces that even a mid-sized paper can bring to bear? Will they be as well served?

Let's not lose sight of the fact that a robust fourth estate with the resources to support true investigative journalism does indeed have its benefits. Yes, indeed, all systems go with the rise of the individual content generator and the democratization of communication and ideas. But the idea that one delivery model of content replaces the other is, to me at least, a disappointing and even dangerous thought.

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