Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Blog Identity - New Media


2004 was a good year for blogs. Powerline was named TIME’s ‘Blog of the Year” in the same issue as “Person of the Year”, and the country saw the power of blogs, as a major network was forced to admit its source for a major attack on the President could not be trusted, and millions of Americans began their own blogs.

As the blogs were discussed in news and in magazines, a new phrase popped up to describe the news networks: Mainstream Media. By the end of the year, however, even that term had been replaced by some bloggers, in favor of another descriptive term: Old Media. And ‘Old Media’ implies the existence and authority of a New Media.

Remember those news reporters in the movies? Part of the ‘ace reporter’ formula was always the big exclusive story, ‘scooping’ the competition. “All the President’s Men” (1976) was essentially a book/movie about getting an exclusive story. So was “Citizen Kane” (1941), or “The Front Page” (1931), or “The Parallax View” (1974), or “Meet John Doe” (1941). Always, it was about getting the story out first. The downside to these exciting adventures, of course, was that an ‘exclusive’ story often depended on one source, and was presented in only perspective; fact-checking was an afterthought, if it showed up at all.

That’s the key difference between Old Media (OM) and New Media (NM). New Media uses many of the same hard tools, although radio plays a bigger role in NM than OM, and NMTV usually starts with rogue networks trying to break in, as Fox did. Look for a new Conservative NMTV Network to show up around 2009 or 2010, btw, taking its audience directly from NBC and ABC (CBS News is already zombified). NM will utilize the power of blogs to determine the pulse of attention, and also use their results in news releases, as is already happening in Talk radio.

Blog media works in swarms. One or two blogs working on a story may move slowly and hit the same walls that any single OM journalist may encounter, but when a trend shifts and dozens of blogs address an issue in the same time frame, inevitably information is produced and analyzed, ultimately shaping the story. The blogs fact-check each other and reach a consensus through constant criticism and redirection of effort. As a result, bloggers act simultaneously as reporters and editors, shaping information in concert with other sources. Since bloggers link to each other and credit sources in articles (what a quantum jump from footnotes, btw, where the reader can instantly verify a source claim by clicking the link!), blogs can work as a unified group, yet each writer receives recognition for their work; those blogs and writers which refuse to acknowledge information and leads they have received, will find themselves left out of the informal but very real networks of blogger associations. Hugh Hewitt, as usual ahead of the curve, not only shows links to blogs he likes, but sorts them out into “Alliances”, thereby noting the combination of flexibility and organization unique to blogs. There are no binding contracts, yet the associations are quite real, and increasingly effective.

In his bestseller “Blog”, Hugh Hewitt repeatedly advised major news outlets to sign on bloggers, rather than try to press their obsolete practices on the medium. I disagree, to the extent that blogging rose to its present position independent of the major media networks, and so any association between networks and bloggers will need to be on equal terms – galling as it may be to Les Moonves, the only way he can restore CBS to any functional credibility is to approach any blogger as an equal to himself. Bloggers work independently of any control except their own, and so while they may accept contract with a network, they will not be hirelings or servants to a network. Any blogger foolish enough to become a network employee, will find he can no longer blog effectively. Since most bloggers are already aware of this, instinctively if not consciously, the networks are starting this leg of the race well behind the pace. The only winning solution is a loose partnership, allowing bloggers full authority to write as they please, but gaining their cooperation in daily news analysis. Just as 2004 saw blogs credentialed to attend the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, I fully expect to see some blogs accept limited partnership with networks. There will be blogs with something like “NBC News Accredited Web Analyst” on their main screen in a very short time ahead.

People in the coming years will demand information more than ever, but they will expect it to be customized in consumer preferences. The days when a customer will accept whatever the station editor decides to put on the air are already past; I am something of a news junkie, but I have the ‘puter up and running when the news comes on, and when the news goes to a fluff piece or fails to provide details on a major story, I often search online and/or change channels to see what else is on. The time is nearing, when I may not watch TV news at all, but merely use web sources for the information. Network news has a role, but it’s my guess that NM News will be much more interactive and adaptive to multiple sources. Anything else is the way of the Packard automobile (once a big name, but long gone now, because they could not change with the times).

The next major venue for NM is entertainment. Entertainment basically comes down to three industries; movies, music, and television shows. Not so very long ago, Los Angeles and New York could dictate the spirit and mood of the country, but that day is ending. One key indicator is the way many new film studios are setting up away from Hollywood. Dream works moved out of Hollywood to Glendale, but others are much more distant. Houston, Austin, Chicago, and Miami, for example, are centers for movie shoots and production. And this change of center shows up in the quality of films, as Independent films are becoming less rare and increasing their share of the market. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when a major star takes the initiative to make a film that the OM rules would never allow. While there will always be trash out there, the number of options for movie-goers is improving, and it won’t be long before blogs do for movies, what they did for politics.

If you’re as old as I am, you can remember back when you would tape your favorite songs onto a cassette, so you could play them in your car or Walkman. You may also remember your friends always included that guy or two, who was nervous about recording a song onto tape without the record company’s permission. Those days are long gone, in part due to a computer-related innovation – the ipod. Simply put, it’s now easier than ever to carry the tunes you want, and not have to pay for the excess. With the return of Napster, the world of music is on its way to an on-demand economy, where businesses must listen directly to the consumer, or find themselves as obsolete as Betamax.

Finally, there are the TV dramas. CBS has managed to survive all the damage done by Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, because of shows like CSI, CSI:Miami, CSI:New York, and NCIS (which is just like CSI, except it’s in the Navy, sort of, and nobody on that show can act). Cold Case and Everybody Loves Raymond are carrying the network, as well. It’s worth noting that no matter how liberal the network execs are, they always return to core values on their ‘money’ shows: family values, law and order, facts and objective analysis. The basics remain steady and constant.

So in summary, the New Media is young but growing fast. Some of the OM networks have the chance to become relevant NM members, but they are trailing right now. The movement is not only dependent on news, but all aspects of media presentation, and while there will always be small and remote markets for the OM ways and goals, they are in decline, and only by retooling form the ground up can OM survive the NM dominion. As NM entities come into existence, they will in some cases develop out of blog and Internet creations, but in most others the blog contact will be through voluntary association and freelance contract. More on that when I write about the blog business environment. But New Media entities will all share three common characteristics:

[] They will be user-centric
[] They will be interactive and adjust immediately to new information
[] They will operate in partnership with both their sources and their audience.

Get on board. The bloggers are already in great seats.

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