2007 and the "next" big media thing

The barrier to entry into the media sphere has been lowered drastically, giving access to a vast new

The new replaces the old; that's the way it has always been. When we describe something as new, we imply that something old has been replaced. And this nomenclature drives a wedge between the two. The "old" becomes more stubborn, less inclined to modernise; it hounds the "new", eager to lecture it whenever it stumbles. This only causes the "new" to pull further away, and the wedge between the two is driven even deeper.

Nowhere is this gulf more obvious than in the gulf between new media and... And what, exactly? Before "new media", media was ageless. It was even honoured with a definite article - "the media" - and everyone understood the concept as a placeholder for journalism, publishing, and broadcasting.

What is this "new media" that emerged around ten years ago? For the purposes of these awards, the New Statesman considers new media to be not only the web, but "all digital and mobile technologies?". That may be a wide-reaching, fuzzily-defined beast, but it is not one to be afraid of.

Try telling that to "old media" outlets. There is a never-ending struggle between print media - newspapers, magazines - and the web. After all, Google is the great leveller, unswayed by the establishment, and will take readers wherever the facts are. The barrier to entry of the media sphere has been lowered drastically, and a vast community of self-publishers, such as bloggers, has emerged.

It is heartening to see so many fresh voices on the web, but they are not to be feared. Blogs were never competition for conventional publishing: they were an adjunct to it. Blogging gave a printing press to anyone who wanted one; what the bloggers did with their presses - whether it was emulate journalism or something else entirely - was up to them. Conventional publishing companies have begun to realise this over the past 12 months and are starting to explore how blogs can enhance their existing output.

When riots erupted in the French banlieues last autumn, the Swiss newspaper l'Hebdo (www.hebdo.ch) sent journalists to blog from the epicentre of the disturbances, working out of a microbureau in the town of Bondy. In doing so, they discovered that what makes a blog successful isn't the technology that powers it, or any aspiration to journalism, but the voices that write it.

As a result, l'Hebdo changed tactics. It took seven Bondy residents back to Switzerland, gave them a crash course in journalism and blogging and then handed the blog over to them. The resulting Bondy Blog (previon.typepad.com) continues to be a great success, and is still of relevance in the current French political climate. It would not exist without a fusion of old media skills with new media technology and attitude.

As well as blogging, print outlets, such as the Telegraph and the Guardian, are also branching out into broadcast through podcasting. Podcasting took off through amateurs because recording equipment was becoming ever-more affordable, and mass distribution ever more trivial. It was also in part a reaction to the relatively poor quality of talk radio in much of the world.

Those criteria are just as applicable to media corporations, particularly print. The aim of the newspapers is not to compete with broadcast media - it's to take their brand to wherever their target audience already are. And they are not entering this sector naïvely - many excellent print journalists already have broadcast experience. Like so many amateurs, the newspapers are simply putting their existing skills to good use.

But, while print media organisations seem to be understanding the potential of broadcasting, established broadcasters and film distributors are perhaps misunderstanding the challenges facing them. Video has always been expensive and complex to distribute, and yet by providing infrastructure and making the process simple, the video-sharing website YouTube (www.youtube.com) has exploded in popularity.

Film studios and television companies have long been afraid that the illegal online distribution of their content is denying them revenue. Yet, in a recent keynote speech, the American programmer and essayist Paul Graham outlined the real threat: "The big media companies shouldn't worry that people will post their copyrighted material on YouTube. They should worry that people will post their own stuff on YouTube, and audiences will watch that instead."

Some of the target audience already are. Videobloggers and amateur programme-makers are putting out regular, scheduled, free, high-quality content for download, and the audience for these shows is growing. Ze Frank's highly entertaining "The Show" (zefrank.com/theshow), a daily, three-minute comedy programme, gets around 10,000 hits each day. That may not be many viewers in broadcast terms, but, for a programme with a cast and crew of one, with marketing by word-of-mouth, and an engaged, vocal audience, it's impressive. When you consider that Frank's programme is just one of an ever-increasing multitude, the emerging threat to TV networks seems more credible.

The key to making progress given that there is so much new technology available to us is to break away from the old paradigms; to consider how new technology can create outputs in a format that was inconceivable in previous times. The future is not distributing TV over the internet, but finding new ways to make TV with the internet.

We will never break away from the old paradigms entirely, for the new and old will always inform one another. The Guardian recently announced G24, a printable edition of the paper updated every 15 minutes, and available to download from the web. This would have been impossible before the technology was in place to publish the website.

All this is based on today's technology. In future, quality colour printing technology may be cheap enough and fast enough to enable the newspaper you buy to be printed on demand at your newsagent, the second you purchase it.

Would that be new media? Would that be old media? It is neither - like all the innovations of this age, it is just another step along the path of progress. "New media" is too limited and divisive a term for what is being created right now. Recast it as "next media", and a sense of its ongoing purpose emerges: to create information, tools, and services not just for tomorrow, but for every tomorrow.

Next Article