Between May 3rd and 4th, the We Media Global Forum took place in London, with the aim of “bringing together the trailblazers of the connected society - the thinkers, innovators, investors, executives and activists seeking to tap the potential of digital networks connecting people everywhere.” Hosted by The Media Center (http://www.mediacenter.org
), a US-based non-profit think tank, in association with the BBC and Reuters, topics discussed included the power of trust in the media and citizen journalism. Speakers at the event included the actor and activist, Richard Dreyfuss , Jean-Marie Colombani, Chairman & Publisher, Le Monde, Wadah Khanfar, Director General, Al Jazeera and Mark Thompson, Director General, BBC.
What is immediately clear from such a gathering is the global effect that digital technologies are having on the broadcast medium. In many ways it shows how technology is having a profound influence on how we interpret global events. As we discussed before on these pages, the concept of Citizen Journalism saw its genesis in the horrors of September 11th and the repercussion from that event, namely the invasion of Iraq and the July bombings in London. Suddenly global networks and internet sites were broadcasting content that was shot on handheld cameras and camera phones. The internet was abuzz with blogs and chatroom comment discussing the War on Terrorism, often contradicting the established news networks with reportage coming from connected citizens on the front. The debate threw into sharp relief the growing public consensus that the mass media was no longer trust-worthy and was too deeply tied into vested interests.
Whereas the sixties exposed the state propaganda machine, the noughties have perhaps exposed the capitalist propaganda machine where the media moguls do the bidding of the state so as to guard their expanding empire. This distrust has had serious implications of course for professional journalists who are, unfortunately, tarred with the same brush as their media owners, regardless of the fact that their editorial sanctity may well have remained in tact. Many a journalist has now thrown invective at the “blogging” phenomenon, claiming a lack of objectivity and balance in their amateur reportage.
But these are just teething problems at the birth of a “New Medium”. As the television evolved, each decade saw new claims for its degenerative state. When Radio Teilifís Éireann launched in 1961, President Eamon de Valera in his opening address went on to say that "like atomic energy, it can be used for incalculable good but it can also do irreparable harm". Ironically, this was followed by a message from Cardinal d'Alton, making it clear who was in control. The broadcast medium is an apparatus that is perhaps always controlled by someone’s agenda; that is the nature of a regulated “one to many” medium. However, the exciting thing about the New Medium is that technology enables it to be a truly pluralistic and democratic medium.
In many ways it can be described as a “self-regulating” system. For instance, in the case of weblogs, where they are unreliable or badly maintained, they will inevitably drift down the meta-search index to oblivion. However, when a blog captures the popular imagination, it will rise up the index. The same goes for websites and podcasts. Great journalism will always find readers, viewers or listeners – and the fact that they are an empowered and global audience is one that should be embraced, not feared.
For print journalists, the New Medium offers them a new outlet for their ideas and thoughts. Whereas before they were constrained by column inches and sub-editorial guidelines and interference, the web enables them to engage in discourse and to accept challenge outside the safely editorialised letters page of their newspaper. That is why journalists should look to the “blogging” medium as a necessary and synergistic addendum to their print work – and as a way to build their own brand and audience outside the confines of their proprietor.
It strikes me that the “blogging” phenomenon is having more of an impact on print journalism then they would care to admit. Is the scramble for highly subjective columnists like David McWilliams, Eddie Hobbs and Kevin Myers not an example of “blogging” taking root in the industry that once so despised it? Certainly, McWilliams is a savvy operator when it comes to spreading his brand across multiple media, with each feeding the other. He is an author, a journalist, a current affairs television host and a consultant to boot. Not to mention that his website acts as a catch-all for his prodigious output. Could this be the same man who claimed not to understand what Digital Media was when he hosted the Digital Media awards some years ago?
So in short, it is not to say that the broadcast media as we know it will become obsolete; far from it. However, it does need to engage with the New medium if it is to hold on to its mass appeal. Broadcasters who do not understand how the New Medium works will suffer in the long run. And no, It is not just about providing websites, podcasts, blogs and chatrooms; it is about empowering your audience and allowing them to create content themselves. Journalists take note. We Media is on its way.