Call it social media, new media or just plain media. The state of media today is not as grim as you’ve been hearing.
That’s what I’m planning to tell the Edelman New Media Academic Summit tomorrow in Washington, where Richard Edelman and his team at the largest privately held PR agency in the world are continuing to break ground in their field. They’re hosting a group of educators from America’s journalism schools. The gathering’s purpose is to discuss
how companies, organizations and media effectively engage all their stakeholders through social media; to help academics inform their curricula with insights into the rapidly evolving communications landscape; and to identify the skills students need to pursue a career in the communications industry.
The students I teach leave our course with some understanding of this, or at least I hope they do. But it’s fair to say that schools of journalism and communication, which typically are the places that teach PR and advertising, are somewhat behind the curve when it comes to helping students take what they already know — social media participation — and apply it to the world of persuasion that they’re going to enter.
I told our panel moderator, Shelby Coffey, the former LA Times executive editor who’s now a Senior Fellow and Trustee at the Newseum in Washington, that my approach to the panel title, “The State of the Media: Today and Tomorrow,” would be slightly contrarian in that I don’t think things are as bad as so many people are saying, and I’m confident (though not certain) that we’re going to get this right in the long run.
So I’m going to say the following:
First, let’s not mourn newspapers and local news broadcasts, though they clearly are dying, at least in the forms they once took in a media era of monopoly and oligopoly. I don’t necessarily cheer this development. It’s clearly leading to some loss, at least temporarily, of journalism that has shown great value in the past. But I do celebrate the growing diversity of the news ecosystem, which will be more resilient and healthy than the relative monoculture of the recent past.
Second, as noted in the post below this one, we’re seeing a slew of experiments and development of new media forms and business models, accompanied by an entrepreneurial spirit — spurred in part by the demise of what we’ve had — that is truly new in recent times. We will surely have enough “content” in the future, and lots of it will be excellent content at that.
Third, all the great new journalism and information won’t matter if we don’t fix the even bigger problem. It’s not so much a supply problem but a demand issue going forward. We have created a lazy society when it comes to having trustworthy information, and our cultural laziness will lead us to even deeper ruin if we don’t turn the passive consumers of the past half-century into active users of media in the future. As noted here before, that is a major goal of the Mediactive project.
Finally, journalism and communications education needs to incorporate this shift into our core curriculum. In many respects, our students are way ahead of us, namely, as noted, their implicit understanding of social media. In our programs, and in others, understanding how to use media will be a skill that pays off during their entire lifetimes.