Professional/amateur isn’t mass/personal

Can we please bury the term “consumer-generated content” and never let it see the light of day again? It’s being used with increasing frequency, I believe, and it’s foolishly blending two separate events taking place in our culture.

It re-frames the personal media revolution (PMR) into a mass marketing sub-category, and it’s confusing an awful lot of people. Re-framing is a clever marketing tool that’s been around for a long time, but this time all it’s doing is fooling the re-framers. So let’s take a step back this morning, take a deep breath, and THINK about this.

I’m on a panel in New York on Wednesday called “The Intersection of Blogging and the Mainstream Media.” An intersection assumes a crossing of one form or another, but I view mainstream media and the PMR as running along parallel lines. Their relationship is symbiotic, so they do touch each other, but they never really intersect. This is why I don’t think one will ever fully supplant the other.

Whenever mass media speaks of so-called “consumer-generated content,” it does so with an assumption of co-opting such media for its own purposes. In this sense, everybody works to serve the interest of mass media, and in the case of everyday people, that usually means for free. This is why every news organization solicits pictures and accounts from people during major news events. It extends their content reach and it’s cost-effective. Mass media lives in a world of content and consumers of content, so it’s understandable that somebody would stand up in a meeting (with a parenthetical light bulb above his or her head) and say, “I’ve got it! When the audience makes ‘content,’ we’ll call it ‘consumer-generated.’ ”

This may make them feel good, but it misses the point of the PMR, because the difference here is one of amateur versus professional, and that’s profoundly different than mass versus personal. This is the problem with re-framing the personal media revolution into the meme of consumer-generated content. They’re two different animals. Professional versus amateur. Mass versus personal.

Media 2.0 is personal. That’s what makes it 2.0. Media 1.0 is mass, and it doesn’t play well with the personal. One is top-down; the other is bottom-up. It has nothing to do with amateur versus professional. Are J.D. Lasica, Dan Gillmor, Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Tim Porter and a host of others “amateurs,” because they blog independent of the mainstream? Am I? Is the Nashville blogosphere — as demonstrated via Nashville Is Talking — a bunch of amateur wannabes? I don’t think so.

None of these exist to provide “content” for mass media.

And the personal media revolution goes far beyond bloggers and blogging. MyYahoo, MyMSN, Microsoft’s prototype, Google News and any of the multitude of RSS aggregation systems all allow the individual user to customize their own media bundling. This is the essence of the personal versus the mass, and it’s why it’s so foolish to re-frame it with such a fraudulent and condescending term as “consumer-generated content.”


  1. fabulous blog!

  2. You draw a key distinction. And you’re right: consumers sending in cell phone pics is obscuring everything.

    The bid for trust is different in “mass” vs. “personal.”

    Passage about this from my Bloggers Vs. Journalists is Over paper:

    Writing about the Iraq war in his blogger’s manifesto (2002), Andrew Sullivan explains the advantages of the stand alone style in blogging:

    The blog almost seemed designed for this moment. In an instant, during the crisis, the market for serious news commentary soared. But people were not just hungry for news, I realized. They were hungry for communication, for checking their gut against someone they had come to know, for emotional support and psychological bonding. In this world, the very personal nature of blogs had far more resonance than more impersonal corporate media products. Readers were more skeptical of anonymous news organizations anyway, and preferred to supplement them with individual writers they knew and liked.

    It’s not all about providing good information. Responding when people are “hungry for communication” also builds trust online. In certain ways, which we have yet to learn much about, the stand alone journalist may be easier to trust than a corporate provider.

    Click my name for the paper.

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