Media Darwins

Media Darwins

: Many of us are trying to figure out and explain the evolution in media that we’re witnessing — and that we’re participating in. We want to know what it means about media and about us.

See the latest exchange between Jay Rosen and Doc Searls on cold media (dry, institutional anchors and attempts at objectivity) vs. hot media (more bluster and bombast trying to change our opinions) vs. blogging (something in the middle: we engage in media and we get to change our minds ourselves). It’s a smart, telling, and true analysis.

But I still want to pull the stick back and look at this from a higher altitude (where the oxygen is lower — so, be warned, it just may make me stupider). And here’s what I think:

Media is getting personal

: Perhaps it’s as simple as that. Media was institutional. Now it is personal.

By personalizing media, I don’t mean customizing it (My Yahoo, Your Yahoo, All God’s Children Got Yahoos).

I mean humanizing it, taking on the personalities of people, not of institutions. Consider:

: The success of FoxNews can be attributed to the rise of the personalities and opinions of its anchors. See my lengthy blatherings on this; see Rosen’s cogent view of it; see Bill O’Reilly’s own take, too.

: People magazine personlized all news, for now every story has a People angle. I was at the magazine at this tipping point. Once was, a big TV show on the cover yielded big sales. That ended with the remote control and its revolution of choice. The institution — the show — no longer mattered. Now what sold was the event in the star’s life. It was personal. And soon, it wasn’t just entertainment but news of any sort that got that treatment in People and everywhere. News was personal.

: I was also at People during the VCR revolution and I remember watching the son of my friend Peter Travers (the man you can blame for making me a TV critic), watching himself on video. For me, at my age, being on TV was a big deal. For young Alex Travers, being on TV was just part of growing up; everybody does it. Media became personal.

: The latest trend that ate TV, reality shows, is all about bringing people just like us — the unfamous — onto TV and making them famous, making us think that that could be us up there. They make fame personal.

: When Steve Outing asked me why Koz — an effort to bring the Internet to local communities — didn’t work and why I think our attempt at using blogs to bring hyperlocal content online will work, I stopped and thought about it — a rare moment — and answered: “Personality.” Koz (and we) had tried to bring the local institutions — schools, congregations, teams — online. But institutions have no heart. People will bring their communities online. It’s personal.

: And weblogs, of course, make media personal to the extreme: We put our own personalities and opinions out there for the world to see. We mix up what we know with what we think and whom we like and who we are.

We become media….

We put the me in media

: (Sorry. I warned you that the oxygen was thin up here.)

I think this happened for a lot of reasons:

First, it could. We got choice with our remote controls and more cable channels and VCRs and the Internet; we could abandon big institutions for the things that we, personally, liked more. In a sense, weblogs are only the extreme extension of that trend: We don’t choose from among 500 channels. We become our own channels.

Second, the institutions bored us. Fox is more fun that CNN. Simple as that.

Third, ask Dr. Freud: We all have egos and given a chance, they will emerge.

: Can this trend go too far? Of course. All trends do. If all news becomes personal and opininated, it will be inefficient to get an answer to a simple current question: Enough with the commentary, just tell me: What’s the score?

But this trend will not go away, for whenever we the people get the power to choose what we want, it sticks. Whenever people get a taste of fame and attention, they don’t want to give it up.

Media is personal for good.

: UPDATE: Read the comments on this post; some wonderful contributions.

: UPDATE: I was remiss in not linking to the “me in media” tagline at Corante’s Amateur Hour because I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it. Done.

  • Lee

    In some ways you are on to something here Jeff. I have been thinking a lot about why I like weblogs so much. One of the biggest issues I have with media is the unfairness of it. Headlines, news stories and production pieces have a voice. Rather than the companies, both print and television, agreeing and admitting that these stories have a voice they protest long and loud that they are impartial or that they write these stories because somehow “I” want them or have a “right” to know. In many ways it insults our intelligence. They also dumb down the news because that is what they think we want. Maybe we do but Weblogs wouldn’t be on the rise if that were true. Weblogs are right out there. You know what people think, they don’t apologize for it. They link us to people, places and ideas that we want to read and hear about, know exist, but don’t know how to find.
    How would a middle aged, middle class woman from New England find a young man in Iraq who writes about what is happening in his world? Do I want to know this? Yes. Will Tom Brokaw show me this world? No. Newspapers which should write about this world do not do so either. Hence the rise of a new voice. I don’t think it is just because we want opinions. I think it is because we want broader stories.
    Media is becoming personal because the world is becoming smaller and we want to know more about our world. IMHO

  • Well put, Lee.
    It’s not just about getting a broader perspective (although that is always welcome) that drives the media to a more ‘persoanl’ style.
    I’ve discussed this with other folk plenty of times before, but one of the fundemental human drives is to be “on the inside” in any social organisation, from caveman to cheerleader to politician to Oscar Winner… Believing ourselves to be an “Alpha” makes us feel safer; it just does.
    The more personal an experience the media can orchestrate for us, the more “insider” we feel. Hence the popularity for things like “MTV Unplugged”.
    Increasingly to hold onto a customer you will have to give him the same feeling a 21-year-old has the first time a bouncer lets him through the velvet rope without making him stand in line.
    And yeah, I think blogs are good for this.

  • jen

    Agree, and agree, and one step more. Blogging does give us myriad voices to choose from, and we know exactly that, that they’re the voices of people with their own agendas and biases, not people pretending to be impartial. And it brings the media home, so that we are in the know, or feel like we are. But blogs also give you the chance to see for yourself. A post can have much bias, as much spin as a turntable, but (normally) it gives you links to the primary sources, so that you can read the article/study/poll for yourself. That’s one thing big media doesn’t give us, it filters and chooses for us. Blogs, and the Internet, give us a better chance to see the whole, rather than the excerpt. And maybe the increasing popularity of blogs will keep the mainstream media a little–maybe just a teeny bit–more honest, more “fair and balanced.” ;)

  • Well, I too think you are onto something in this way of stating it. “Wait a minute: the common thread is personal.” That’s a big idea. But also the revolution in personal control as behind it. The media had to become more personal because we had gained more personal control of how we use media. Thanks, Jeff. This is clarity enhancing.

  • That being said, I like a bit of ‘impersonal’ too… I’m happy to listen to Bill O’Reilly ranting on, however if The Economist started doing it I’d be worried. The latter’s sense of donnish detachment serves them well.

  • What wonderful comments, all. Damn, this is a fine new medium oozing up around us. Thanks for coming to the party. Thanks for bringing the fine wine. Stay awhile….

  • Aren’t you, and Jay Rosen, describing a moving target, as topics come and go, on our radar? This hunt for truth as a moving target is a good thing, in the sense that over time and space, the shift occurs, as the conversation gets closer to the truth. The process involves attempts to document the facts, interview people, whatever, typically by traditional media. But the institutions that document this have, at their most disconnected from readers, become boring. And so point-of-view reporting, whether shouting (authentic in the revealing of emotions), at Fox, or embracing conversation, on a variety of blogs, where bias is assumed, revealed, and the real topic is getting closer to truth, as the story emerges, the fact-checking continues, and the group churn occurs, becomes the most authentic, valued piece, after the basic facts.
    In that world, bias matters, but only as a part of assessing and rethinking each other’s views and furthering the conversation; it is one part of what we use to evaluate people, but not the only part. But the helpfulness, openness, and willingness to admit an error to get closer to the truth, of people’s reporting and discussing is the most important thing, and that’s why a variety of blogs are necessary to evaluate issues, along with traditional media.

  • Sky TV in the UK are currently marketing something called Sky+ which is similar to what you chaps in the States call TiVo.
    The ad slogan for the service is “Create your own TV channel” – which seems to fit in with some of the themes being discussed here.
    I think some blogs are a kind of “create your own newspaper” – they pick the best bits out of the day’s media, link to them and throw in some commentary. That is certainly the ‘model’ we at Harry’s Place appear to work on. (I say ‘appear to’ because we don’t actually have a thought out model).
    This appears to be far more popular than the My Yahoo approach to creating your own news precisely because it is personal. My Yahoo and other such services like Google News Alert ask a computer to track key words for you and then package the material together. Its not personal and it doesn’t quite work unless you are looking to track something very specific and hard to find.
    Another thought – many bloggers take an op-ed piece, bring out the bits they like the best and then write their own material around it. Is this not a media version of ‘sampling’ that has become a standard feature of dance music over the past decade?
    All of this is a logical reaction to the massive expansion of media. In the era of digital tv and the internet we have lost our loyalty to television channels and to some extent newspapers (I would never read print if I didn’t commute on a train every day) yet we miss the sense of community we once had (or rather felt we had) with traditional media.
    Blogs create that community through instant comments, have a personal voice and filter the huge amount of media for a niche audience.

  • Blogging and the Internet allow progresssively more fractured views of the world. I’ve seen some of the “Arab dead Palestinian baby” sites. I gather they’re quite popular in the Middle East. By contrast, look at the “conservative continents” of the Blogosphere.
    And the Blogosphere is as fractured as the larger world. Want a warnblog? Don’t like Command Post? Try The Antagonist! There’s a blog/site for every view.
    Very liberating. Very personal. But also very fragmenting.
    In this future, there is NO objective reality. There is no middle view. Look at what’s happened to the Beeb, whihc formerly epitomized that.

  • Voices from both sides cancel each other out.

  • Phil

    Great comments all. I would like to suggest that we’re all missing something above all else. Jeff gives it away in the headline: Media Darwins. If one accepts the premise that most questions have a correct/ethical/fair/equitable solution and one that is not so (i.e. jettison the moral relativism, hard to do here in Europe), then it follows one will arrive at this answer by reason. Blogging simply provides the most wonderful Darwinian playground for ideas. No other medium in history has provided the flexibility, access to data and sheer brainpower. Historically, think of all the ways ideas have been discussed in the past: families, bars, universities, newspapers, radio, TV. They offer nothing of the power and astounding meritocracy of the blog. The fact is that people who promote unpleasant and stupid ideas are simply terrified of rational discussion. The Blog is the penicillin for stupidity. It will change the course of history.

  • AvaChava

    One more tiny point that makes a difference for me: Once I read that email was ‘time-shifted communication.’ I immediately related to that idea and moved to share it with friends who resisted getting computers and joining the on-line fraternity. Now, with the advent of blogs, we are all able to view the news we want on our own schedules. So although all the above has much merit, it’s also true that the mainstream has to grab bits and pieces of news to catch up and we hate wading through hours of fluff and commercials to get the news some media magnate decides is appropriate for this hour…
    My two cents.
    PS: “The Blog is the penicillin for stupidity. It will change the course of history.” Love it!

  • I can’t remember if it was me or Hylton (corante’s publisher) who came up with the “Me in media” tagline, though I think blogging is more of the “we” in media. As traditional media continues it’s gravitation towards lowest-common-denominator, sensationalist crap, people become innured and want to listen (and speak with) someone who is doing something other than scaring them or putting them to sleep.
    Blogging makes the creation of non-geographic communities easy to do. Sure many of them will be misogynistic, racist, XXXaphobic communities, but many more will be positive influences on the lives of their members.

  • Rob

    I’m with Phil, it’s about competition and variety. Our local fishwrapper (the Austin American-Statesman) is pathetic and I suspect it’s mostly because they have a captive audience. Of course, the internet is making the audience less captive every year and I think they outta be scared stiff.
    Lots and lots of blogs simply suck as far as I’m concerned. That’s fine, however, since I don’t have to read them. Only a tiny bit of cream has to rise to the top to make it all worthwhile. And everyone’s taste isn’t the same, so a blog that bores me may thrill the next guy.

  • Robert Young

    Actually, the brilliant tag line “Me in MEdia” was originally thought up back in ’92 by John Evans, who used to be Murdoch’s (right-hand) tech czar. I don’t mean to nitpick but since John isn’t here anymore to post for himself (he passed away unexpectly in March) I felt obligated to pass this tidbit along.
    A loyal BuzzMachine reader :-)

  • Brian Hayashi

    Thanks, Robert for remembering John Evans and what he had to say. I remember listening to John at the Digital Hollywood event in 1992 and another thing he talked about was the enduring power of the TV Guide franchise (something near and dear to my heart). He asked the audience what the most popular feature was. It wasn’t the TV listings, but the crossword puzzle. It allowed readers to interact, and gave them something to look forward to. And maybe that’s the lesson: how do we make the medium something that people look forward to interacting with, look forward to seeing, like an old familiar friend. You have to touch their heart before you will reach their mind. (BTW, Jeff, very nice to meet you at the Web2.0 conference. Keep up the great work.)

  • Ken Pierce

    To me, the attraction of the blogs has always been their up-front admission of bias, saving me the trouble of figuring out what bias they have.
    I’ve tried to explain to my kids that if they want to think clearly, they can’t set aside their own desires and pretend they don’t have any — they have to know their own desires and their own assumptions so that they can correct for them. The same goes for anybody they consider trusting. Now, I don’t agree with a lot of Fox News’s slant, and if God ever made a bigger airbag than Bill Oh-Really?, He never sent the guy my way. But these days I practically never bother with anybody but Fox News and blogs — because they’re up-front with where they’re coming from, and that lets me allow for their biases, mix and match with other sources with offsetting biases, etc.
    All I really want from CNN and CBS and MSNBC is a frank admission of where they personally stand…not so much as institutions, but as individual anchors. Surely Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn, for example, can’t have EXACTLY the same agendas and blind spots, and surely they can’t exactly match those of the head honchos. I’ve been trying to explain this for at least two years to my rabidly non-Republican mother-in-law, who can’t understand the difference between a Libertarian and a Republican, and who has banned Fox News from her television. But then she has never understood why for years I faithfully read the front pages of both the Debka File and the Jordan Times (English online version).
    I think the typical “MSM” ego doesn’t want to be one of my sources. He wants to be My Source For News…listen to Dan Rather, or to the New York Times, or to the Wall Street Journal, and then you don’t need to listen to anybody else. Too bad, babe, I know you’re lying to yourself about SOMETHING — everybody does — and I’m checking you against somebody who will lie to himself a different way from yours.
    So you can guess that I was completely delighted by Will Collier’s blog post on this subject. The more people who grasp that it’s honesty, not objectivity, that you want from journalists, the sooner we might actually start getting some…