As much as he uses the internet, Howard Kurtz can’t stop thinking like an old-fart media guy.
I like being able to click on newspapers from around the world, see bloggers smack each other around, Google any person or thing that pops into my brain, watch news videos (and some stupid stuff, too) on YouTube, and generally surf till I drop.
But while I hook up my laptop just about anywhere, IM my buddies and continually check my buzzing BlackBerry, one thing is missing: what I call Ed Sullivan moments.
This nostalgia for mass media is misplaced. Sure those Ed Sullivan moments were fun, but they were an anomaly. They were moments in time that only a Baby Boomer could love. Mass media is a relic of the 20th Century, the only period in human history in which it existed. For most of our history, communication was much more personal, often far closer to one-to-one than one-to-many. Now we’re in the era of many-to-many, which has more in common with campfire media, is more of a deeply felt personal media, more in keeping with our nature. Mass media wasn’t good for us. Distributed media is better.
But isn’t something lost if you can wall yourself off from views and information that challenge what you already believe? If everything is ordered a la carte? If — and this really dates me as an ink-stained wretch — you like turning the pages of a newspaper because you might bump into an unexpected story you would never have found online? If you and your family and your co-workers are plugged into parallel media universes?
Something gained, something lost. Welcome to life, Howie. I’m not going to try and guess at how other people use the internet, but speaking for myself, I consume far more digital content these days than any other. I watch less and less TV with each passing week. I have very little time for newspapers. I still read books at about the same rate, but otherwise, my media life is almost entirely digital. And I still make serendipitous discoveries. The interconnected, networked nature of distributed media makes finding unexpected gems pretty darn near inevitable. For example, I discovered OK Go because another media blogger linked to the video on YouTube.
Let me be clear: I mostly only read media and technology blogs (the narrow focus Kurtz bemoans), and a blogger who does likewise linked to something slightly outside of his speciality, and because of that, I discovered it. And now I’m a huge OK Go fan. And it all happened by accident, and despite my narrow focus.
It’s not exactly an Ed Sullivan moment, but I bet you even Howard Kurtz has seen “the treadmill video.” And we all know about Lonelygirl15. But more importantly, we all know about YouTube. That is the Ed Sullivan moment in the many-to-many era.
It’s a cacophony out there. Take the recent finding that there are 13 million blogs in America. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read 13 million blogs. Writing one takes up enough of my life as it is.
You have to learn how to manage your media. I think that’s something digital natives do naturally. It’s old-media think to worry about consuming it all. You consume what interests you and what you happen to find by following links. You determine what is important (remember, you are Time’s person of the year), what you need to know, and how best to find it.
Sure, Paris Hilton topped Google searches in 2006, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t more people staying abreast of Iraq. Iraq news, along with the other major headlines, is easy to find and plentiful, and while it might seem that the same could be said of Paris, but in reality, serious news organizations largely ignore her. If you want Paris news, you’ve got to search it out or know where to look. I know some serious-minded people who like celeb gossip, so gnashing of teeth on this point is rather snotty. The real question is, if people need to search for Paris Hilton, are MSM organizations really doing a good job of serving the needs readers and viewers? As for younger audiences, they seem to get the Daily Show jokes about Iraq as equally well as the ones about Paris Hilton.
How do we pick out the stories, sites, blogs, videos and info-shards that are worth our precious time? We can follow the electronic links from people and places we trust, but in an odd way, that’s bringing back the old gatekeeper role, with popular portals granting admission to a selected few content creators.
First, it’s not bringing back the gatekeeper role. The gatekeeper has always been with us, it’s just that the job descriptions and qualifications have changed. It’s no longer crusty city desk editors and executive producers. It’s you and me. As to Howard’s first question: You just do it. You figure it out. You are in control. You’ll find some good stuff, and you’ll also waste some time, but at least you aren’t being forced to pay for the whole CD to get just one song, or buy the whole paper just to read the comics.
… awkward old Ed Sullivan would have a hard time making it today. Maybe he’d have to sell his best segments on iTunes.
Exactly, old Mr. Kurtz. Now you get it. Assuming Mr. Sullivan produced content worth buying and mastered promoting himself and his content on YouTube, his own blog and MySpace. I think Topo Gigio would be a big hit on YouTube, unless Mr. Sullivan tried to make it all too slick.
(hat tip to Romenesko)
UPDATE: Welcome Romenekso readers.Â This blog is mostly about media (from the perspective of a guy who has worked most of his life for newspaper companies), so feel free to look around. Here’s the RSS feed.