February 10th, 2007

Deconstructing We Media

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A backlash against “new media” ideology and disingenuousness seems to be simmering at this year’s We Media conference. From Mark Glaser at MediasShift:

My personal definition of “we media” is the movement toward an empowered audience, who can customize their media experience and create their own media, leaving behind the old model of the mainstream media control. In that case, a “we media” conference would be about those average folks who are innovating in citizen journalism and breaking the mold.

But this conference uses the “we media” moniker loosely, making the gathering a hotbed of broadcasters, newspaper folk, venture capitalists, and advocacy groups who all want to understand how they can dance the “we media” dance.

and

A lot of the comments from the room revolved around people mentioning their own citizen media efforts and initiatives. Someone from Gannett mentioned Gannett’s mobile journalists. Someone from Topix.net talked about the forums at Topix.net. Someone at BlogHer talked about the female blogger network at BlogHer. These were all great examples of what’s happening in citizen media, but there was a self-congratulatory and self-promotional tone that didn’t feel very “we media.”

But it did fit in well with the conference’s tagline: “Behold the power of us.”

Then there’s this scathing comment from Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News:

Enough of conferences going over the same ground, enough of bloggers (several of whom make their living from consulting with big organisations) saying big media doesn’t “get it” and only they have insight, enough of big media publicly agonising over how to respond to the huge disruption the internet has brought. Enough of the fallacy of thinking there is some kind of power struggle going on. It’s about integration, not subsititution…

Ah, but remember, the “power struggle” goes hand in hand with the ideology. How can the proletariat rise up if the bourgeoisie isn’t keeping them down? If we could just embrace the ideological agenda and the need that media companies have to keep making money, maybe then we could all just get along.

There’s a political correctness to many discussions of “new media” that just makes me want to holler. Seems I’m not alone.

  • "they have to LAY OFF controlling users to succeed commercially"

    Really? Wikipedia had very limited control over users in the early days. People were trusted to make sensible edits. The increase in control and bureaucracy has accompanied the growth in popularity of the site. In fact, admins on Wikipedia now talk about users mostly being readers rather than users being both contributors and readers. Most of those users don't care that Wikipedia's editing structure has become increasingly byzantine.

    Wikipedia is not a commercial site. But, in terms of traffic, it is a roaring success. Whether it can survive the overly bureaucratic structure that it has evolved remains to be seen. But I'd be surprised to find any 'user-driven' site on the Internet that has not evolved more and more controls over time to deal with the consequences of its popularity.

    No revolution has succeeded in creating a stable regime where the majority of citizens have a say. They tend to self-organise into dictatorships ruled by small, ruthless cliques with incredible speed. But, maybe I'm just reading the wrong political science books.

  • The best name for so-called "we media" is "troll-sysop struggle". It's the new trolls, who got to the domain later, fighting the old trolls - sysops or administrators chosen by the "owner", who try to control it to do what they want, not what the new trolls want. If you go googling you'll discover that demand for democratic control of such essential services as Wikipedia is rising, and that there's a whole sort of revolutionary lexicon about this. Whatever the future of user-authored media, it's going to also be user-governed. You can't find any service hosting any user-authored content that has managed to control the policies MORE over time without losing users - they have to LAY OFF controlling users to succeed commercially. So the best advice for these venture capitalists and so on is to go do some basic reading in political science and sociology, and stop going to conferences with idiots who think they can "own" a real community. Or that something becomes a "community" just because people post on it.

  • My personal definition of “we media” is the movement toward audience of unpaid workers, who can freelance their media experience and submit their own media for no money, leaving behind the old model of the mainstream media paid employee.

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