When Marshall McLuhan published his best seller, The Medium is the Massage in 1964, he turned our understanding of the communications media on its head. What he wrote then seems obvious today: that each medium, telegraph, radio, television for example, produces a different effect on its users and alters their view of the world. But I wonder what he’d have to say about the emergence of the internet.
Laurent Beccarua and Patrick de Saint-Exupéry have been looking at its effect on journalism and have concluded that when news moves “to the Web, journalism doesn’t simply change its base of support, it changes is very nature.” (“Content and its discontents,” by Laurent Beccarua and Patrick de Saint-Exupéry, Harper’s, 10/13, p. 22)
Computer and tablet users, they point out, have different expectations from those of newspaper readers. The latter are used to receiving their information in sections: international news, local news, sports news, entertainment news and so forth. But tablet readers don’t seem to care about that sort of coherence. They shift screens randomly, moving from articles about the Middle East to the latest antics of Milley Cyrus with the flick of a finger. Technology has given them greater freedom to search and this randomness is giving advertisers, who want to keep track of them, a headache. Hence a new career has emerged: the information technician whose job is to cull massive data bases to discover where people are flocking. To describe those movements, old worlds like “viral” and “buzz” have been given new meanings.
Because there is “no dominant medium anymore, only a bewildering welter of noise and information,” the authors of the Harper’s article argue that a reporter’s job has significantly changed . Not only is a journalist tasked with producing content, either text or visual, he or she is expected to create a loyal audience from these fickle readers. To do so, they turn to social media where they interact with the public in the hope of generating loyalty. Of course, reporters are still required to keep abreast of incoming information and opinions and if at all possible, “maintain their blogs.” (Ibid pg. 22)
I feel sympathy for the new breed of reporters as Beccarua and de Saint-Exupéry describe them, but pity author, too. Given the excess of books being published, it’s difficult for one voice to be heard above the white noise of the others. Still, one must try. After I’ve written my blog, posted it, responded to comments, checked in at the various social media sites, done research for an upcoming blog and dabbled with some marketing for my current works, I’m hard pressed to find the time to create anything new. McLuhan may have been a visionary when it came to understanding the medium but he was right on about the massage too. I certainly could use one.
(Courtesy of barnes&noble.com)