Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The New Media Frontier..I Guess

This fellowship program I'm in at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University talks a lot about new media. It is in fact a "New Media Fellowship".

But the media itself isn't new. Radio has been around for about 80 years; television for 50, and the printed word, at least in modern western European history, since good old Johannes Gutenberg figured out the secret to movable type (I think it was in 1482, but of course the Chinese had him beat by a few hundred years.)

What's new is the ability to meld these individual mediums into a whole made possible by the world wide web. You can now watch a movie on your computer, or make an audio slideshow with photos you took from your last vacation, or publish a video newsletter (a vletter?) about your family on your home computer. And you can sit like me and blog the afternoon away in lieu of constitutional law homework.

I hear a lot about the "revolution" the Internet has had on the ability to create media, and the fear it strikes in the hearts of reporters who worry about amateurs encroaching on their professional turf. I don't see it as much of a revolution. Didn't the printing press open up a new media class of non royalty, common folk who could own the means of production of media, and distribute pamphlets that created social, religious and economic revolutions? I'm thinking of Martin Luther, of Thomas Paine, and all the unknown printers who threw themselves into the creation of new means of communicating that didn't require monks slaving hours with pen and paper to preserve ideas. And writing in the vernacular also opened up the ability for information to be understood by lay people.

So it is with the Internet. That's why it's not enough for newspaper to just publish stories on the web. I think we've forgotten that we collect information through the 5 senses, not only by digesting words through our eyes and into our neurons. Because we (western industrialized folk) are surrounded by radio and television and video and photography, we intuitively reject the way newspapers, and broadcast outlets are recreating newspapers as hypertext.

It's up to the "professionals" to now professionalize news on the web - which means thinking about why we like to watch television or listen to the radio or go to a photo exhibit in the first place. I can only answer for myself, but it's something I think news outlets will have to ponder as well, and not use a focus group either.

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