The third axis of media: Medium, message … and messenger

The third axis of media: Medium, message … and messenger

: At a meeting in Washington about making media more positive — at which I felt quite out of place, but that’s another story — someone started in on the standard analysis of media — medium v. message — and that’s when it occurred to me:

There is now a third axis of media: The messenger matters.

At the Online New Association in Hollywood, AP head Tom Curley made the old analysis with different terms: content v. container:

First, content will be more important than its container in this next phase…

You cannot control the “containers” anymore. You have to let the content flow where the users want it to go, and attach your brand — and maybe advertising and e-commerce — to those free-flowing “atoms.”

But this, too, leaves out that third axis (though he starts to address it later). To keep alive this festival of alliteration, I’ll say that in his analysis, the third axis of media beyond content and container is conversation.

This truly is new to media.

Media wasn’t distributed before the internet. Now it is. Enter new messengers: citizens.

Media wasn’t two-way before the internet. Now it is. Enter new modes: conversation.

It matters whether a message comes from a journalist who’s trying to act objective… or a journalist who’s being transparent about his or her perspective… or a partisan involved in the story… or someone in power… or a citizen (whom we used to call, in a centralized, one-way world a reader, viewer, user, consumer). The messenger matters.

And it doesn’t matter, really, whether the message comes in print or video or online or HTML or RSS or MP3. But it does matter whether there is the opportunity for back-and-forth and questioning and addition and improvement. The conversation matters.

And there’s the matter of time, too. Now news is instant and so analysis, fact-checking, perspective, and background all come later. Some see speed as a disadvantage: News is too fast for the truth to catch up. But speed can also be an advantage: I heard this week that it was only 18 minutes after Dan Rather’s boo-boo that the truth started catching up with him. And look at stories this week about conspiracy theories on supposed vote irregularities: The Washington Post and the New York Times each conceded that though the theories started on the internet, so did their debunking. The messengers got their message out quickly by new media; other messengers joined in to add knowledge and correct mistakes; it happened quickly; we’re all better off for it. Time matters, too.

: Now see Clay Shirky from that very Times story and his ruminations on quoter’s remorse afterwards. What Clay said in The Times:

[Shirky] suggests that the online fact-finding machine has come unmoored, and that some bloggers simply