Argue with me

Argue with me

: Corante has started a series of interviews in the hopes of sparking conversation. I was honored to be the first interviewee and I enjoyed the opportunity to think through Ernie Miller’s good questions and summarize what I think is the state of the art of media today. But now I want to hear from what you all say; so does Corante. So I’ll post a few of the Qs & As here and ask that you add in your comments — but do it at Corante. That’s why I closed the comments here. Instead, go comment here. Here’s the first:

Where do you see it all headed?

JJ: The means of media are now in the hands of the people.

The people we used to call consumers, readers, or viewers (let’s call them citizens now) will take more and more control of what we used to call media (I don’t know what new name to give it, but now it’s as much about conversation as it is about consumption). The elements of this upheaval:

* Control: I say the most revolutionary invention in media was not the Gutenberg press but the remote control. It and the cable box, the VCR, and the TiVo enabled us to control consumption of media — and we took advantage of that. Bad TV died; good TV rose in the ratings; HBO was born; TV exploded; TV improved — thanks to the good taste and newfound control of the American public.

* Creation: Now come tools that let us create media: blogging software (which is merely history’s cheapest easiest publishing tool connected to history’s best distribution network) and all those neat things that come with Macs today. They allow us to make text, photo, audio, and video media. And what we make has value. Jonathan Miller, head of AOL, told me that 60-70 percent of the time spent on his service is spent with content created by his audience. That’s where the money is.

* Marketing: At the same time — thanks mostly to Google and blogs turning links into assets with tangible value — we the people have the ability to market content; we do every time we link to it. Jon Stewart’s blockbuster appearance on Crossfire got a few hundred thousand viewers on CNN but ten times that online thanks to the links of Fark and bloggers.

* Distribution: And the means of distribution are getting cheaper and faster: BitTorrent shares the cost of distribution across the network; RSS automates it; broadband will soon be part of the public infrastructure like roads or even a fundamental right like voting. So look again at Stewart on Crossfire: That segment didn’t need carriage on a cable network with big clearance to be seen by millions; it got there via BitTorrent and iFilm.

So now anyone can control, create, market, distribute, find, and interact with anything they want. The barrier to entry to media is demolished. Media, always a one-way pipe, now becomes an open pool. And, most important, the centralization of media — the marketplace, the network, the monopoly — is replaced by a decentralized universe. This changes everything. It changes the relationships. It changes the economics. It changes the power.

One tangible result of this is nichefication of media. Some would say that’s a bad thing; they wail about the death of great shared experience of American media. But the truth is that the shared experience lived only from the ’50s to the ’90s as the growth of three networks resulted in the death of competitive newspaper towns and we lived in a world of one-size-fits-all media. That is over. Now you can find the content that suits your needs. And that’s good. That’s about control. Which leads me to…

Jarvis’ First Law of Media: Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose.

Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will. Today they are challenging and changing media — where bloggers now fact-check Dan Rather’s ass — but tomorrow they will challenge and change politics, government, marketing, and education as well. This isn’t just a media revolution, though that’s where we are seeing the impact first. This is a chain-reaction of revolutions. It has just begun.