Reversing the microphone: how the balance of power in the media is shifting
The digital revolution has been fascinating to witness, and it’s only just beginning. Where the traditional model of media saw newspapers, magazines, news channels and radio stations dictating the news agenda, and therefore social conversation, the new order has different ideas.
Letters to editors, radio phone-ins and vox pops are moderated by editorial teams, and therefore keep the conversation within a set of defined parameters. This is why peer-to-peer platforms – particularly Twitter – have played a particularly critical role in changing the shape of the media landscape, by providing a forum for unrestricted feedback.
Everyone can now be a broadcaster, and we can all air our views to our networks. Arguably, these views are self-regulated; the content that we choose to share is rated instantly by likes, shares, retweets and comments. We also want to be the first to break a story to our network and will do our best to find interesting and unique information to share. Appealing to our competitive and narcissistic personalities, we will then refine content based on this feedback to ensure that we generate output that in turn results in increasingly higher levels of engagement.
Incidentally this approach, galvanised by the success of BuzzFeed and VICE News which optimise content to maximise consumer engagement, is shaping the media industry as a whole. This is in turn transforming a large portion of the news agenda by ensuring that it is “shareable” rather than necessarily “newsworthy,” as ultimately outlets need to attract interest to secure advertising budgets and remain in business.
The public’s participation in conversations is hugely important as it provides a way for greater balance. The recent Chapel Hill murders are an example of the public pushing major media outlets to cover the atrocity with the same fervour applied to other religion-based killings. The power to bring to life the gender stereotyping debate is also another example.
From a political perspective, there no longer exists a top-down three-step approach, i.e. politicians informing journalists, who inform the public. Politicians now get direct feedback from voters and recalibrate policy ideas accordingly, to gain influence.
Certainly the capacity to air opinions isn’t perfect – nor will it ever be. It gives minority groups the ability to band together and grow influence, whether it’s as serious as the use of social media by the Islamic State militant group, or as seriously irritating as One Direction’s fans ensuring that they win every category open to public vote at award ceremonies.
Clearly editors and journalists still have a valuable role to play. Whether it’s in listening to and filtering these publicly played out discussions, or spotting nuggets of information to then turn into a story, we still require stewards of the conversation.
Twitter’s trending topics will not replace the planning diary. But ordinary people now have the power to shape a bit of the national conversation – and that is surely a good thing.