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.
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