It’s about control

It’s about control

: At the journalism confab from which I just returned, one media exec raised what has become a standard complaint about all this new media: Fragmentation. It’s said as if that is an ill of the age. My answer: Turn that word around and look at it from the opposite perspective — from the individual’s perspectived — and it’s really a question of control. The audience is moving to lots of new places now that they have the choice, now that they have control. The single, shared national experience we keep sighing about existed for only a few decades as we lived with three networks and fewer and fewer newspapers. The natural state of media is fragmentation: consumers gain choice, media loses control, citizens gain control. Fragmentation is good.

In a variation on this theme, Sunday in The Times, Jack Rosenthal filled in for Dan Okrent and whined about too much news:

Much more news and much faster news: it has created a kind of widespread attention deficit disorder. When news events cycled in and out of the spotlight more slowly, they stayed in the public mind longer. People could pay attention until issues of moment were resolved. Now, we are surrounded by news – on the TV at the gym, on the AOL home page, on the car radio on the way to work. To pass through Times Square is to be enveloped by no fewer than four electronic zippers flashing headlines day and night….

Saturation coverage now seems inevitably to exhaust the public and leave the media eager to move on. But that means the spotlight goes dark even when the wrongs endure. That, in turn, suggests that this all-news environment is creating a new responsibility for The Times and other serious media: systematically to look back, recall and remind.

This, too, is a question of control. Rosenthal longs for the allegedly good old days when The Times and the big media outlets controlled the news cycle, as he quaintly calls it. Now we all do.

This is the way I put it in Toronto:

It used to be, we waited for the news — when the paper was plopped on our doorstep, when the show came on the TV. Now the news waits for us — we get what we want when and where we want it.

More news is good. Choice is good. Citizens controlling their media is good. Fragmentation is good.