BitDepth 783 - May 24

The shift in media from traditional channels to digital is likely to accelerate with the growing interest in tablet PCs and their more agreeable consumption factor.
Media 3.0
The next major media channel is likely to be personal, electronic and delivered to a tablet. Pulse software aggregates RSS feeds and Facebook notifications into an interface designed for quick browsing. Image courtesy Pulse.

Today’s era of turbulent media evolution won’t last as long as the first one did. The slow shift in mass audience from printing presses to radio signals to broadcast television took almost a full century, the migration of the power of the press to an audience engaged in information aggregation is already underway.

The position of media practitioners at the turn of the 21st century has been compared to scribes when Gutenberg got his press going.
Some of the similarities are compelling. Until the middle of the 15th century, the responsibility for transcribing the collective knowledge of the known world from one volume to another rested almost entirely on the skills of monks. The power and the responsibility for the continuity of information was entirely in their pens.

Movable type made it possible to not only do the work of scribes, but to multiply that capacity on an unimaginable scale.
That fundamental paradigm shift held for almost a century until Internet based publishing became accessible to anyone with even a basic connection to the web.

The changes in information distribution today won’t take place at the leisurely pace that movable type replaced calligraphy on paper. 
In just three years, it has become possible for a normally well-informed to gather all the information they might need using a mix of RSS feeds and the right connections on Facebook and Twitter. 

Some of the most intriguing software today is already automating that process, bundling multiple user selected inputs into something that’s beginning to look a lot like a custom built media aggregator.
Over the next five years, a generation will come of age with an entirely different understanding of what the word media means. Just as intelligence is something quite different from scholarship, journalism is not the same thing as media and these young people will have different expectations.

Recently, I attended a World Press Freedom Day discussion which was almost unanimously ignored by the people it was intended for. Most of the media in attendance were there for a story, not to contemplate their future.
MATT got it wrong, and while I serve on that executive, I did not agree with their position. The future of media is not a matter for media managers and publishers, who have strong and vested interests in maintaining the status quo in local media for as long as it remains profitable. As long as shareholders are happy, there are no discussion points available on the matter.

Trade unionists get it completely wrong as well. In applying traditional collective bargaining techniques to uniquely individual challenges, they are confusing the very different demands of a business which depends on exceptional contributions from creative individuals with the traditional processes of commerce, which shoehorns people into corporate roles that fit the gearing of the business. 

Putting storytellers on the street to make their point with placards is a strategy that’s simply incomprehensible to me.
Most media workers get it wrong too. Far too many people with potential have embraced a role as cogs in the modern media engine, filling the spaces between the ads with what, in the days of typeset copy and hot wax, was known as “matter.”
They are, of course, encouraged to do so by media managers who meet talent with indifference and enthusiasm with irritation. Everyone blames the other parties in this equation, and nothing gets done.

This wouldn’t have been so bad as recently as six years ago, but these deficiencies come at exactly the time when the information consumer has an abundance of alternatives with even more on the way.
The power of the press is no longer in the hands of those who can afford one, and even a medium as primitive as Facebook’s notes can attract a critical mass of attention with minimal effort and zero expense.

Meeting these challenges demands entrepreneurship and engagement, which have not, traditionally, been part of the journalist’s toolkit.
But tomorrow’s media consumers will demand the authority and excellence of their journalists, and successful media packages won’t be based on the serendipity of the news, but on informed, professional interpretation and expansion of it. 
Each media outlet must face the challenge of establishing itself as the definitive source of authoritative, professional and compelling source of information in the modern world or drown in a growing deluge of increasingly acceptable crowdsourced information that’s being offered for free.

To meet that fundamental change in circumstances, professional media must bring its A game and I fear there simply isn’t critical mass of players available anymore. It would be easy to blame the People’s Partnership Government for hiring away the best media practitioners it could find, but by that yardstick, corporate Trinidad and Tobago should receive even more stick for first hiring the most capable professionals in the business over the last five decades and then hiring them before they even tasted local media as a career option.

There’s at least one story about the success of Gutenberg’s press that’s stuck with me as relevant to the changes we face today.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg faced outrage at his technological advancement, but his most popular work inspired the Bishop of Strasbourg to write and distribute a statement supporting the value of the newly printed Bible and Gutenberg’s invention. That document was printed to reach a broad audience, perhaps the earliest known instance of the medium as message.

In 2011, the lesson is being driven home almost daily that content can thrive without advertising, but advertising, at least the classic model of the last century, cannot find an audience without piggybacking on content.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge how we each gather information today and realistically contrast that with the operational unreality of today’s media, which still operates as if there were two daily newspapers, one television station and a handful of radio stations. 

If we do not align the distribution of our work with the distribution channels we find most useful, then we run the risk of being the talented and capable scribes of today, pressing our pens to the task of creating work for an audience that has moved on to more efficient, cost-effective ways of being informed.

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