12 January 2007

The Present and Future of the Mass Newsmedia

Yesterday was my "mass newsmedia" day. I had been invited as the luncheon guest of the 2006-2007 Massey College Journalism Fellows. They comprise an interesting group of mid-career journalists:
Nazim Baksh is the CBC/Radio Canada Fellow. Baksh, [is] a broadcast correspondent with the CBC... Marcus Gee, editorial page editor of The Globe and Mail, is the Webster/McConnell Fellow. ... Kevin Sylvester, a sports journalist with the CBC, has been named the Knowlton Nash Fellow. ... The St. Clair Balfour Fellow is Rob Warner, city editor for the Ottawa Citizen. ... Emmanuel Akli, a reporter and editor with The Chronicle, a newspaper published in Ghana, is the Gordon N. Fisher Fellow.
The conversation is officially off-the-record, so I cannot report on the details. However, I did raise the question of what it actually meant for an otherwise conventional newsmedium publisher or broadcaster to engage with the UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) world. The traditional role of the press in society is to act as the fourth estate of government - ensuring that the people to whom those in power are accountable can truly create informed opinion about matters of public concern. Given that the world is experiencing historic - some might say mythic - changes that impact upon Western societies in particular, the intended role of the press may be the same, but the means through which that role is enacted must change, and change profoundly.

The problem is that the managing and controlling echelons of business and government are fully occupied by the chronically literate, those for whom the linear, causal, and hierarchical constructs of society are taken as given. For them, the UCaPP effects of Internet and other mechanisms of mass connectivity can only be adopted and adapted-to. Part of the conversation yesterday revolved around the fact that many of the stress-inducing aspects of contemporary technology result from using UCaPP-creating technologies in a linear, literate fashion. My recommendation to the Fellows is to be of the web, not merely on the web.

Then, yesterday evening, I was invited as a guest panelist on Steve Paikin's TVO program, The Agenda. The topic was another spin on the same theme: the demise of conventional news consumption and its replacement with online delivery of news content. The effect of this is an alleged news-ignorance among those people under 40, according to the featured interview guest, David Mindich. To me, Mindich seems to be one of the chronically literate, not understanding that, despite the demise of central authority - a predicted effect of the UCaPP world - young people today (those under 40? No mid-life crisis for Mindich, eh?) understand the creation of distributed and emergent authority, the effects of emergent transparency, and the ability to source raw news, be it via YouTube, newswire feeds, or leaked documents. I would have loved to gone one-on-one with Mindich, challenging his assertions (essentially that, because his study could not find evidence of distributed authority, it doesn't exist).

To be fair, Mindich is reporting on an American phenomenon manifest as systemic ignorance that, to my mind, is being actively promoted through the "perfect storm" of a dysfunctional education system and the overarching commercial interests of the conventional massmedia companies. This is not so much an Internet effect as it is a neoliberal policy effect - but that conversation is for another day.

You can watch the entire show by going to The Agenda's Video page, and clicking on the link for "David Mindich | The World According to You" (which launches a video viewer).

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