Shouting at the TV set

On Monday I toyed with the notion of “creative destruction” to note how natural it is that new media are devouring the old. On Wednesday I argued that these “new media” — at least those with economic relevance — are just the latest giants to make the scene. This leads to my perhaps naïve hope that, this time around, we capitalize on the inherently democratic nature of Web technologies to create truly business organizations that are both functional and more egalitarian than the venture fund-backed corporate startup.

One central difference between the old and new media is said to be the ability of the audience to talk back — a not incorrect notion popularized by the Cluetrain Manifesto. But this is a difference of speed, not a new capability. Old media had letters to the editor. A new media a site like (which aggregates thousands of news topics and allow a good deal of localization and customization) recently refreshed its layout to enable viewer comments. Is that a revolution? I think not. It’s letters at the speed of light and while the ease of reply may encourage feedback, I don’t think anyone’s first thoughts make a big contribution to public discourse. It’s more like shouting at the TV during the Super Bowl. Nor did the ability to write a letter to the editor put a person on par with old media in terms of getting a message dispersed or causing change.

So where is the revolution that we know is gathering? Perhaps we see the shape of a possible future media in the websites that sprang up in the wake of the Indonesian tsunami and the New Orleans flood. There’s a great parable about the New Orleans event in the introduction to We Media 2.0 (an inventory of new media tools and techniques). It describes how online activist Andy Carvin “acted immediately on his news instincts” and “began to marshal resources for a story of almost unimaginable consequence.” The result was an ad-hoc site called Katrina Aftermath that was “an open mobcast built by online activist Carvin. It let anyone post photos, missing person notices, personal stories or commentary about Katrina. The site, literally built overnight by one guy, became a vital resource for tens of thousands of people.”

Here is something new, timely and useful, something that couldn’t have been done in old media, according to this write-up by We Media backers Andrew Nachison and Dale Peskin.

What I will wonder aloud tomorrow is whether this example of spontaneous, do-it-yourself media — which is, I think, the real promise of new media — can be developed or encouraged outside of extraordinary events — and perhaps even by ordinary people who can make some money making media.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media