It could seem like it’s only very recently that mainstream media has caught up to the fact that there’s this whole new media world existing out there in cyberspace: or at least, only recently that they are starting to get rattled about it.
In fact many journalists - who after all are generally computer and Internet-savvy people - have known about blogs, news sites and opinion-gathering sites for quite a while and of their potential for breaking news stories (think of the Drudge Report for instance).
What is new perhaps, is both the proliferation of such new media - especially apparent after September 11 - and the associated fact that the targets and goals of its practitioners have grown, as curiosity about the new media has increased. There are all kinds of people from all walks of life, and from all kinds of backgrounds, blogging these days and the best blogs and opinion sites attract many readers.
It’s still very much a male-dominated world, but I think that’s because blogging replicates the “old-media” combative world of the opinion column, not a place that’s proved particularly congenial to women, who generally tend to be less confrontational (if no less opinionated) in their approach to public issues. But women are also putting more than a toe into the briny waters of the brave new world.
I’ve had a fair bit of writing experience in new media, both in contributing to online magazines and blogging, as well as reading a wide range of sites and blogs. There’s also been a fair amount of “convergence” for me, in that things I’ve written in “old” media outlets such as magazines, newspapers and so on, have ended up on the Internet, being “reprinted” and also discussed. The whole experience has brought up a number of interesting issues.
First of all, as a reader, it has expanded my reading experience, rather than narrowed it. I can now read newspapers and magazines from around the world online, as well as blogs, and am not locked into a particular newspaper’s editorial bias. I haven’t stopped reading newspapers - though I’ve probably bought fewer of them - preferring to read many online. But I have extended my subscriptions to print magazines, especially those like the Atlantic Monthly where the old journalistic virtues of thoroughness of research and investigative reporting are still uppermost.
However, it’s also had the weird effect that we hardly ever listen to radio any more, at least in terms of news, when before we would have clicked on both morning and evening. Perhaps it’s radio that’s going to be the most immediate sufferer in the fallout of the new media, at least in terms of news gathering. The immediacy of radio, and its nimbleness in updating stories, was once what gave it a huge advantage over print - an advantage that, of course, the new media have captured.
TV, of course, had an advantage in terms of images, and though that’s been under assault from the Internet’s video clips and immediate uploads, it still hasn’t eaten completely into that particular comparative advantage. What the new media’s exploding popularity has done to print and broadcast media is to begin to force it to re-evaluate itself - long overdue in many consumers’ opinions.
The big problem for “old” media in dealing with “new” media is that, at least certainly in terms of the English-speaking world, the modern trend (encouraged by media courses in universities) has been for an “opinionated” tone to creep into just about every piece of journalism. Writers seem to imagine that their thoughts on a given topic are of equal importance to their readers as the actual facts of the matter. The true reporter is a rare bird indeed these days, and worth his or her weight in gold.
By its very nature, however, and by the internal closed-shop culture it inhabits, news media tends to only give space to a limited number of opinions. And so, if subjective opinion dominates the mainstream media, then it begins to look lame indeed beside the very much more wildly diverse, individualistic and opinionated new media, thereby losing its advantage.
People have lost a great deal of trust in the mainstream media because they believe it peddles opinion and bias much more than it reports fact. I believe that newspapers, radio and TV can only cope with the assaults of the new media revolution if they return to a less opinionated and more thoughtful and accurate ideal, with opinion firmly placed in the space devoted to it. A good journalist - who is different from an opinion columnist - ought to be able to check his or her ego firmly at the door, and be open to the world he or she is reporting on, not constantly booming in an echo chamber of opinion. Good feature writing and investigative reporting as well as straight reporting are the huge advantages the “old” media still have over “new” media; and before it’s too late, those ideals should be restored.
Those are my views as a reader and a consumer of the new media. What about as a writer and a creator? Well, I’ve had a rather mixed experience there, more mixed than as a reader (which I would say by and large has been a positive experience).