A common theme that tech pundits enjoy ruminating over is the mass democratization of media by way of the Internet. The line goes something like this:
Gone are the days of an extreme concentration of power to mass communicate. Large television networks are giving way to an endless number of video “channels” on the Web. Newspaper journalism is engulfed by a wave of newly-enabled publishers that can reach anyone and as often as they like. Distribution channels around music and movies seem antiquated in this new era of immediate-gratification-entertainment delivery.
In other words, the handful of megaphones that a lucky few had (and held onto with sweaty palms) are drowned out. Everybody’s got a megaphone now. I don’t need to be published. I just publish. I don’t need to be signed to my record label. I just put my music out. It’s all one big hyper-specialized sea of endless “channels.” The restrictions are gone. May the best content win.
Not so fast. As we “transition” from this old way of how things work to the new way, the Old Guard has caught onto something: they control the precious few channels that are still far more distributed today.
Here’s a random article I pulled up from the New York Times columnist Gail Collins. I have no idea what it’s about. I didn’t bother looking. It’s from October, 2008. So what’s so special about this article? It has 437 comments. 437! I’m not trying to take anything away from Ms. Collins, but if comments were any sort of gauge to the power or reach of her message, she’s be absolutely prolific in the blogging world.
But alas, she doesn’t live in the blogging world. She’s a columnist for the New York Times. What traditional publications like the New York Times and others are realizing is that they can translate their favorable position in old media (for lack of a better term) and leap far ahead of guy in his shorts blogging from his bedroom.
Just this morning, I tolerated four minutes of Good Morning America to notice they had a guy twittering during their cooking segment. A handful of times, they mentioned that we should be following them on Twitter. And so, people follow: 397,119 people follow (it’ll probably be more by the time you read this).
As for little ol’ me. Well, I enjoy a modest existence on this blog and I’ve just broken 100 followers on Twitter. Let me pitch my credentials on Larry King and you’ve got a very different story.
New media has tried to create its own megaphones based on mass validation. Delicious, Digg and the like. But it doesn’t really work. The celebrities (and yes, a link has its 15 minutes of fame too) come and go very quickly. It’s a transient existence. There have been a few bona fide new media franchises: Perez Hilton and Boing Boing come to mind, but they’re very few and far between.
I’m not trying to suggest some ugly conspiracy where Old Media slowly seeps into new media. It isn’t just about big media’s head start. It’s also about new media’s inability to provide a limited number of reliable sources that we can count on to consistently give us good content. That’s the problem with enabling the masses. You’re left dealing with the masses.
And so, it pains me to know there’s a really incredible blogger out there that I’ll never find…unless she goes on Larry King.