Media? What's that?

There is so much confusion on the future of media, journalism and news — demonstrated with utmost clarity (or lack thereof) here in a Spiegel interview with Chris Anderson, Wired editor and respected author of the Long Tail.

In a fairly grumpy interview, Anderson himself seems to get confused — at first refusing to use the terms, then appearing to concede. I wonder why? Time zone issue? Woken up for the interview at a ridiculous time in the morning? Or is it because dislike of media (mainly traditional media) is all the more vogue these days?

This is how the interview starts:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let’s talk about the future of journalism.

Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don’t use the word journalism.

SPIEGEL: Okay, how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.

Anderson: Sorry, I don’t use the word media. I don’t use the word news. I don’t think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like ‘horseless carriage’.

SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use?

Anderson: There are no other words. We’re in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don’t have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words. Here at Wired, we stopped using them.

More here…

I think Anderson is right up until a point. And we know the line: Thanks to the levelling effects of the internet the media game is wide open and set for massive fragmentation. It’s easier than ever before for human beings to produce and distribute their own media about the broadest or narrowest of topic. There’ll be audience out there, somewhere online to consume it. In many respects, any company online pushing information is a “media company”. All online companies are media companies… has that eroded or changed the meaning of “media”? Is the concept of a “media company” problematic in this context? Maybe.

But take the words “journalism” and “news” however. I’m not so sure these are outdated terms. Technology has changed the production, distribution and platforms of these disciplines, but at essence the core values stay the same. Everyone and their cellphone or blog or website is a potential reporter or columnist and we have Google to filter — but surely we still need reporters to co-ordinate, filter, contextualise, understand, fact-check, and add a further layer of credibility in the face of waves of digital information.

Comments (3)

  1. Neal wrote::

    And let’s not forget the one key ingredient a journalist brings to a piece of journalism – an expert opinion!

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 10:57 am #
  2. Kat wrote::

    What I’ve been wondering about is how media is affected (if at all) by online companies producing content. It may be not be news in the traditional sense but Quirk’s newsletter gets sent out with content for example – and the connections we make makes it worth the investment although we don’t get direct revenue from it. That suggests one model to me… (although I wouldn’t equate it to a media house at all).

    Clay Shirky said we don’t need newspapers but we do need journalism – and I agree – I’m just not convinced journalists will manage to be seperate entities in the traditional sense.

    I think there are so many models going forward that what is needed is tons of start-ups to try them all out. I would hope that journalism as a field survives.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm #
  3. matt wrote::

    @Neal — well, you can get expert opinion from other sources too… ie you don’t have to be a journalist to provide an expert opinion and write it well. In fact, “opinion” is one area it falls down a bit, because there is nothing unique that a journalist brings to this. In fact experts in the field know more about their subject than journalists per se…

    News reporting however is different as it requires co-ordination, access, infrastructure, team work… ie some kind of corporate structure and professionalism.

    @Kat — Quirk is a classic case: ie a marketing/web dev/consultancy — who is publishing. Agree with Clay. Journalism doesn’t have to be practiced exclusively by “media” companies.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm #