If the Internet is not a medium, then exactly what is it? The answer may help put your future in perspective.
I had the good fortune to be at Jeff Pulver’s 140 Character Conference in New York City. Among the speakers were journalism professors Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis. While they didn’t speak together, their ideas did dovetail.
“The news,” according to Rosen, “is older than journalism.” But even today it boils down to what is happening and why should I care. He painted the picture of an old, small fishing village. News in that community was self-informing. Later, the first journalists were hired by private entrepreneurs, but not to publish news, but rather to keep the news of what could affect commerce private.
Somewhere between the early trade days and the London Times (around 1760), there was a growing opinion that the public needed to be informed. Fast-forward past radio, television and to the current day. The medium is the message, said Marshall McLuhan, but what happens when the medium is something else?
Jeff Jarvis developed an interesting thought from conversations with Doc Searls of Cluetrain Manefesto fame.
We look at the Internet and think it’s a medium. “No, the Internet is not a medium, and if you think it is you bring a lot of baggage and damage with you. That in fact, the Internet is a place. It is a place where people connect with each other, with information, with actions, with transactions. The Internet is a Place.”
The Internet is a place. Think about this: it changes the basic approach that you should be taking to it. Research firm Gartner had a clue of this several years ago when they identified “Generation Virtual” as having no demographic, nor sex nor geography – and members of ‘Gen V’ would as soon reach across the world for assistance as across the street. These users see the Internet as a true place.
Well, the Internet has bad places, may be a common retort. In Javris’ explanation, if you find something objectionable in New York City, does the whole city lack merit? No, just avoid the bad areas when you can.
The power in social media is people sharing information. News organizations are scrambling for readers and ratings as they try and grasp with the emergence of people informing each other, just like in Rosen’s small fishing village.
Things are backwards, says Jarvis: The reporter writes, prints, and then, when everything is done, it is tossed to the readers/listeners for comments which frequently draws the … (grasping for political correctness here)… the less than desirable comments.
“We need to move our public up the chain… We have to open up our process. Once we do that we change the nature of the interactivity we have.”
The workflow in the newsroom needs to be changed in a way I’ve already seen at one college radio station:
“Imagine the reporter starts the day saying ‘what should I do today?’ [Imagine them saying to you] I’m your journalist, what do you want to know, what do you need to know. Discussion ensures and it leads to a story. Then imagine the reporter says ‘Here’s what I’m working on.’
“What the reporter should be doing immediately is asking ‘what do you know, what don’t you know, what do you want to know and who knows what? Who should I ask? That is happening today, happening magically on Twitter.”
How would this change news? Not just national coverage, but regional, local and hyperlocal coverage. Make no mistake, there are towns with a few thousand people or less with their own news source.
The process opens, and according to Jarvis, becomes more transparent. When the media says, “I want to hear what you want to hear, I want to know what you want to know… It gives trust both ways. And more important than anything is it leads to collaboration, and collaboration is more productive”.
There are several presumptions that thinking about the Internet as a place also brings. One, you’re working in a wise crowd. For the most part, that will likely be true. Two, the news is not about content – the news is a product. Three, Twitter is a sharing environment based on listening. Most important, Twitter, Facebook and the like are about people and collaboration, and that is where the magic is.