Old Media, New Media and the Social Echo Chambers


News of the World

Image via Wikipedia

I’m off on a bit of a tangent today and I apologise to my social work readers for that, but sometimes a story happens that causes me to think more widely about the implications on a societal scale.

So in the wake of the death of the News of the World, I was left with a few residual thoughts about the transitioning between traditional media sources and the so-called ‘new’ media and the role and interplay between them.

I have been feeling for a few months if not more that the ‘internet’ – blogs and twitter predominantly, create their own ‘echo chamber’ effect where it is easy to become caught up in a competition of ‘page hits’ and ‘followers’ where you might gain an overinflated idea of the influence that can be welded by a blog or a tweet or by one particular ‘voice’ over another.

I occasionally boast about my ‘hits’ or ‘numbers of posts’ because I’m human and I indulge myself but I know that out of an audience of the average ‘man in the street’, my online life, perhaps because I separate it through a different (anonymous) identity has no bearing or interest to people in the ‘real world’.

I am sure some communities, professions and cultures are more likely to ‘connect’ than others. Journalists for example, would be foolish not to build their voices through different channels. Social Workers, less so but it remains a fine way of building conversations through unconventional means to promote the identity of the profession and to challenge poor press coverage.

Twitter especially, with regards to counting followers – can become a self-referential and meaningless circle of assumed influence if it is not used and reflected on. Yes, I have many followers but much more important is WHO those people are rather than the numbers. Similarly with this site my ‘hits’ keep going up but if that’s made up with people who find me by an ‘I hate social workers’ search or because they want information about ‘dangerous hamsters’ (incidentally, one of my highest search terms (!)) it shouldn’t be the cause of a celebration at this wonderful ‘break-out’ opportunity to ‘influence’.

Twitter for me, started as an alternative to an RSS feed as a means of ‘following’ the delivery of news. It became more conversational but now I see it as reverting to a news delivery system but with more curation. I know the people I follow will find the news that interests me and sometimes I will have useful and interesting conversations but mostly it is about news curation and building links in a much more effective and randomly serendipious way than blog comments where the power tends to remain in the hands of the site owner/s.  So in a sense, Twitter can become it’s own kind of newspaper with people whom I trust finding the articles that I know I will find interesting.

I’ve also tried to be a little sceptical in part about a role in social media regarding the building of individual influence and branding. Far more likely larger, different conglomerate and disparate sites and services will take over rather than the individual person with a voice having their own blogger or wordpress site.

And then I see as the News of the World story broke, the so-called ‘Twittersphere’ (and Facebook groups) picked up the baton (aided, importantly, by some larger group blogs – Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook ) in targetting advertisers.

I still suspect that people who extensively use Twitter and read blogs are in the massive minority in the general populace however those users have loud voices and they have influential voices. PR likes new media – so voices shouting loudly are heard by the ‘right’ people.

My  worry is two-fold though before we head off down the path of increasing equality and a breaking down of the barriers between bloggers and journalists, people and politicians.

Firstly, there are massive groups of people who are disengaged and remain disengaged by the so-called ‘digital divide’. Some groups of people are much more likely to have their views heard.

Secondly, the rise of the group blog and of different kinds of news organisations like the Huffington Post which set up in the UK this week, as well as Dale and Company (which is launching today)  are merely replacing one kind of journalism for another.

There will always be a place for good journalism and don’t think we are close yet to the death of the newspaper but the balance has shifted a little more along the way this week.

Sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and retain a perspective outside the ‘internet’ and ‘new media’ bubble and remember that there is still a long way to go before we assume equality of access and  pay attention to the volume of the different kinds of voices that may be heard.

Media, whether old or new, still has an agenda. We shouldn’t think that just because we can add a comment to a news story or a blog post or retweet an interesting nugget or post curious stories to facebook that we have a greater role in influencing the agenda. Maybe we do but it isn’t necessarily the case.

In the meantime though, I can’t say I would be sad to see a re-examination of the relationships between media and politics in society in general. It is well overdue.

So Goodbye News of the World – Hello seven day Sun. Is the world really that different?

Maybe.

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