This past week has been an interesting one for the news business, a.k.a. the practice of professional journalism. For an observer like me, it was a treasure trove of brilliant signage, beaming billboards pointing this way and that on the highway to tomorrow.
The public — what Jay Rosen once brilliantly coined “the people formerly known as the audience” — will have their cake and eat it too, thank you very much. The Web has won. Long live the Web!
You see, one-to-many, “mass” media lacks the sideways corrective nature of the 3-way Web. The path to truth is just as it always has been — with weeds scattered among the facts — but that’s assumed today by increasingly savvy participants. This assumptive acceptance exists everywhere, it seems, except with the legacy producers, who, if they jump into the same weeds, find the rug pulled out from underneath them over and over and over again. The result is a foolish attempt to summarize based on rumor, scanner traffic, tweets and attempts to deceive. Denizens of the Web know that there are countless disenfranchised Nigerian princes who need help with their fortunes, but legacy news people must “vet” everything. CBS anchor Scott Pulley tried the high road approach Friday night and seemed boring and uninformed as a result. NBC rolled in high gear and seemed much less constrained and more current, but even they couldn’t keep up.
The Web won, and who is the Web? As Kevin Kelly once brilliantly noted, “We Are The Web.
Many years ago, I wrote “The Evolving User Paradigm,” which I believe continues to be the greatest disruptor of all of the Web’s disruptions. I’m making these numbers up, so you’ll get the point: By its nature, mass media must always assume an average audience IQ of, oh, about 80. The Web doesn’t have to do that, because its ability to correct sideways and the resultant ability to cater differently to different tribes (while wannabes can listen in) makes it unique in the history of communications. Every time somebody participates in any form, they get better at it. I’m serious when I say that we’re going to have to teach basic journalism to everybody, because everybody is a journalist, or perhaps better, capable of performing an act of journalism. My vote is for elementary school.
One other thing of note. All this corrective and other participation will continue to put pressure on Washington with regards to an infrastructure that can handle it. In The Shame of Boston’s Wireless Woes, Anthony Townsend wrote: “Almost immediately after Monday’s tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, the city’s cellular networks collapsed.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by the collapse of Boston’s cellular networks. The same thing happens every time there is a crisis in a large city. On an average day, Americans make nearly 400,000 emergency 911 calls on their mobile phones. Yet during large-scale crises this vital lifeline is all-too-frequently cut off.
To the extent that archaic broadcasting “competes” with wireless companies for bandwidth, who do we really think will win that battle?
Yes, folks, journalism — like every other institution of the modern era — has changed (or is changing) forever. I’m excited to see how we work all of this out, and I’m not afraid of it one bit. Why? You can argue all you want about the selfish nature of humanity, but events like what happened in Boston this week prove that we’re also in it for each other. That simply cannot be said of corporate America or any cultural institution that results in power to the few.