June 29, 2005

The Audience is Talking Back

John Markoff's story in the Times today explaining the rise of user-created content on the Internet is rife with lessons for newspapers, especially those who still think the future of journalism lies in the practices of the past.

Here are a couple. Markoff writes:

"The new services offer a bottom-up creative process that is shifting the flow of information away from a one-way broadcast or publishing model, giving rise to a wave of new business ventures and touching off a scramble by media and technology companies to respond."

Lesson for newspapers:

Static media has lost every race for audience attention in the last half-century. Television stole time away from newspapers. The Internet steals time away from television. The interactive Net, one created and shared by users, will divert attention from the "broadcast" Net. To participate in this next layer of media, newspapers must become information resources rather than simply creators and journalists must become more transparent and connected to compete for credibility in a world of "we media."

Markoff writes:

"'We are now entering the participation age,' Jonathan I. Schwartz, the president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems, said on Monday at an industry conference in San Francisco. 'The really interesting thing about the network today is that individuals are starting to participate. The endpoints are starting to inform the center.'"

Lesson for newspapers:

Listen to the audience. They are telling you they want change. Remember the tag line you hear in movie theaters that use the THX sound system created by Lucasfilms? "The audience is listening." Now, the audience is talking back. Media that listen to, encourage and participate in that conversation will maintain relevance. Those that don't, will wither. [Read: Blogging the Beat.]

Markoff writes:

"Many Internet developers think that the Internet's new phase will shift power away from old-line media and software companies while rapidly bringing about an age of computerized 'augmentation' by blending the skills of tens of thousands of individuals."

Lesson for newspapers:

Use your platform, reach and resources to enable creation of a new "mass" made up of tens of thousands of "class." People want to participate in media - music, photography and, for newspapers, journalism. That doesn't mean we abandon the principles of journalism. It simply means we change the way we practice it, viewing the public not as a recipient, but as more of a partner.

Finally, a reminder for newspapers of the true power of the Internet - its connectivity. Here is a snip from the Pew Internet Project's 2005 report (PDF) on the state of the Internet:

"The internet is more than a bonding agent; it is also a bridging agent for creating and sustaining community. Some 84% of internet users, or close to 100 million people, belong to groups that have an online presence. More than half have joined those groups since getting internet access; those who were group members before getting access say their use of the internet has bound them closer to the group. Members of online groups also say the internet increases the chances that they will interact with people outside their social class, racial group or generational cohort."

To borrow a phrase from Hodding Carter and convert it into advice for newspapers: Don't reflect the community, be the community. [Read: Don't Reflect the Community, Be the Community.]

Posted by Tim Porter at June 29, 2005 08:46 AM