Friday, September 24, 2010

The Rise of Digital Media

For the people and by the people...The digital revolution is dynamically changing how we interpret our world.

Individuals now broadcast personal stories, angles, and opinions from all corners of the world in real-time. The balance of power in media has shifted away from print and to digital content. The flow of advertising dollars confirms this trend. The old print behemoths are giving way to, and in many ways relying on, more nimble, localized outlets to better serve Upton Sinclair's “fair body of truth.” The new media, with sparse editing and oversight, relies on self-policing to judge its merit. It requires a more self-reliant reader.

The large, traditional print outlets are evolving from paper behemoths to online broadcasting machines…employing a heavy dose of pictures and video to add power and titillation to their stories. In the digital world, the ability to use headlines and pictures to grab eyeballs is as important as the stories. The larger media outlets are well positioned to take advantage of this new medium because they already have the journalistic resources in place, as well as a brand and reputation.

Consider this headlining article from today, September 24th, 2010.
It reports on an 18 yr old Sengalese immigrant who was stabbed to death on the campus of Regis College. The post contains details of the family’s back story, reactions, quotes and a surreal photo of the grieving mother holding a computer showing an image of her now deceased son on the screen. He was found dead at 5:00 in the morning and seven hours later the site had a full report on it, complete with pictures. This isn’t national news or even impacting Bostonians day-to-day lives, but it’s headlining…because it’s local and compelling. This is the old media outlets niche, and where they can succeed online. now features many “neighborhood” sites within its main site. It’s nothing new. Since its inception, news publishers understood that “the subject of deepest interest to an average human being is himself; next to that he is most concerned about his neighbors.” (Walter Lippman, Public Opinion, p. 210). This old idea is now being applied in the digital arena.

Most online publishers don’t have an editorial staff like the major media outlets. Even the most irresponsible and erroneous material can be broadcast by rogue publishers. The obvious danger here is that an uninformed reader may have trouble deciphering fact from fiction. The positive side to this same coin is that we are able to access unfiltered news and gain a broader perspective. We can look at a story from more than one side and avoid being lulled into the naively comfortable notion that only one true version of an event exists.

WikiLeaks is spearheading this new form of psuedo-journalism. They operate under the belief that “the best way to truly determine if a story is authentic, is not just our expertise, but to provide the full source document to the broader community.” They are willing to publish material that other traditional media outlets won’t. It allows us to more deeply investigate major stories, reported on by established media outlets, but lacking some ugly truths. The current Wiki reports on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq affords us a rare glimpse into the realities of the situation on the ground. These are written by soldiers and intelligence officers who witnessed these accounts first hand. There’s no editorial angle.

In the wild world of digital publishing, it is up to the reader to make intelligent, independent judgments. Are we up to the task?

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