Making up new words is the privilege of those who invent new things or live in interesting times. Northern California where I live — this is a picture of my front yard — is one of the headquarters for the (painful) reinvention of media. Skills that once were separate — such as reporting, writing, picture-taking and editing — are being fused together by technology and deprofessionalized at an astonishing rate — or at least so it seems to people like myself who are currently on the inside of corporate media. Mass media are shedding jobs the way a drought-stressed plant drops leaves.
Media is my livelihood. Gardening is my passion. I have combined the two in a mental framework that helps me understand how the new media may evolve so as to pick up some of the functions mass media are surrendering — covering neighborhoods and niches, for instance. Ecosystems is just a word to suggest that we search for lessons in nature about how to organize living things in ways that are loose and eclectic yet functional.
None of this is original except perhaps the word and the notion of applying a natural metaphor to media organization. I am inspired by folks like businessman and author Paul Hawken whose Natural Capital Institue builds on the appropriate technology and humanized economics associated with Amory Lovins and Barry Commoner. From a more net-centric direction ecosystemics takes its cue from folks like Howard Rheingold and David Weinberger.
What lessons are to be gleaned from thinking about new media by analogy to gardening? Well, I have no global view at this point although I have written around the edges of this topic. (Here is a link to my ecosystemics archive; if anyone knows how to make WordPress fix this explanatory blog entry at the top of the archive please point me to the how-to info.)
My lack of experience in organizing new media communities also demands a certain humility in any observations I might offer in this regard. I did moderate discussion groups back in the early days of SFGate.com but that experience is archaic given the progression of social media. I’m only reminded of it now because I ran into John Coate yesterday in San Francisco who, among other credits, co-founded the Gate.
But whatever use this metaphor may be it disguises the human cost of the media makeover. Several colleagues have already lost jobs in a slow-motion downsizing that could yet devour me. Yesterday, while I was off tending my garden, long-time friends and co-workers were let go. I’m too sad and apprehensive to do much other than note the fact. But Tom (SiliconValleyWatcher) Foremski accompanied me to one of the goodbye parties last night and wrote this posting that has some minor inaccuracies (yesterday was not the start of the layoffs; a handful occurred last week) but nevertheless captures the aerial view of the current mess:
“At no other time in our lives will we be witness to such massive, disruptive changes in the media industry. And as media professionals, at no other time in our lives will we be part of such historic, disruptive changes.”
That’s all well and good, and in keeping with an ecosystemic view of media. But today I feel more like one of the plants than the gardener and it makes me wonder when I prune and thin for the greater good whether the discards weep?