Until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly, when one heard the term “the media”, one inter­pret­ed that to refer to things like radio, tele­vi­sion, and print (specif­i­cal­ly news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines). The term was more nar­row­ly inter­pret­ed, as well, as news agen­cies work­ing in those media.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, the role of “the media” was to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion. Process­es exist­ed for receiv­ing, edit­ing, and dis­trib­ut­ing that infor­ma­tion. Because of the expense in start­ing up a news­pa­per, or a radio sta­tion, or a tele­vi­sion net­work, it was pro­hib­i­tive for the aver­age per­son to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion to an audi­ence, par­tic­u­lar­ly a large audi­ence.

The inter­net changed all that.

Not at first mind you. Even when the inter­net emerged, it was an obscure tool used only by ear­ly adopters. Indeed, tools exist­ed to pub­lish con­tent, but audi­ences were small and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge had a steep learn­ing curve.

It wasn’t until a dozen years or so ago that it all began to change. Peo­ple were online, but activ­i­ties were restrict­ed to main­ly brows­ing and email. Short­ly after the turn of the cen­tu­ry and the col­lapse of the dot-com bub­ble, Web 2.0 sites began to emerge.

Web 2.0 changed the inter­net because it made the inter­net more con­ver­sa­tion­al and col­lab­o­ra­tive. It became eas­i­er to con­sume and pro­duce con­tent. Web­sites sprout­ed and invit­ed peo­ple to con­tribute con­tent (via com­menters or authors) for lit­tle to no cost and to con­sume con­tent for lit­tle to no cost.

Since then, a new group of media has emerged: social media.

As the name sug­gests, “social media” dif­fers from “tra­di­tion­al media” in that it is more social.

Unlike tra­di­tion­al media, social media does not act as an infor­ma­tion gate­keep­er. Any­one has the abil­i­ty to pro­duce, dis­trib­ute, and con­sume infor­ma­tion.

Just as the print­ing press took con­trol away from the church 500 years ago and put it in the hands of the com­mon peo­ple, so too has social media empow­ered the aver­age cit­i­zen.

Now any­one with a cam­era-enabled smart phone can be an on loca­tion reporter. If some­one sees a vehi­cle col­li­sion, for exam­ple, on a major city road­way, they can take a pho­to, and tweet it out to their 700 fol­low­ers, who can retweet it, there­by quick­ly expand­ing the poten­tial audi­ence of that con­tent.

Like­wise, any­thing any­one shares can poten­tial­ly receive feed­back and com­men­tary from hun­dreds of peo­ple instan­ta­neous­ly, some­thing that nev­er hap­pened tra­di­tion­al­ly.

Grant­ed, there is some over­lap today with tra­di­tion­al media out­lets also hav­ing social media accounts, which they use to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion. For the most part, how­ev­er, they still fail to ful­ly har­ness the poten­tial of social media.

TV net­works, radio sta­tions, and news­pa­pers pri­mar­i­ly use their social media accounts to dri­ve traf­fic to their web­sites. They still try to main­tain their role as gate­keep­ers by con­trol­ling what infor­ma­tion is shared. Some even going so far as block­ing or delet­ing com­ments from peo­ple who ques­tion mis­in­for­ma­tion or miss­ing details in the con­tent they pro­duce.

There is lit­tle focus on con­tent cura­tion or col­lab­o­ra­tion. As a result, the gen­er­al public’s faith in their abil­i­ty to pro­duce con­tent erodes every year, while cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists con­tin­ue to increase fol­low­ers and engage­ment.

This trend will always con­tin­ue: pref­er­ence will con­tin­ue to side with those who col­lab­o­rate and share and will shy away from those who con­tin­ue to con­trol infor­ma­tion.

It’s been over a decade since social media began to emerge, and every indi­ca­tion points to it becom­ing more per­va­sive and crit­i­cal in how we con­sume infor­ma­tion. There’s a rea­son we hear about the death of news­pa­pers but we nev­er hear about the death of social media.

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness. Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

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