John McCann

Archive for the ‘Mediamorphosis’ Category

Is information worth anything?

In Mediamorphosis on March 12, 2007 at 5:11 pm

An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribute features an interview with Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota’s newly-formed College of Design. His opening comment struck me as very pertinent to the Participation Age.

“The information economy is still with us. But the paradoxical effect of the Internet is that it has made information so widely available that it holds no real economic value. Everybody can get incredible amounts of information, so there’s no competitive advantage of having it.”

If you look at my recent posts, you will see that I have been writing about how newspapers and other types of traditional media are attempting to change so they can meet the demands of today’s Internet user. Fisher’s comment points to a reality that it may not be easy, or even possible for some. Traditionally, a newspaper succeeded because it published and distributed information that was hard, or even impossible, for people to obtain otherwise. That day has long disappeared.

I find that when I encounter a newspaper article that is information-intensive, I soon stop reading it. More often than not, I have already read that information on the Internet. Even if I have not seen the information, it may not garner my limited attention because I am more interested in understanding why things happen than what happened. It is only the analysis-intensive articles that appeal to me. And good analysis may be beyond the ability of most journalist when writing about subjects with which they are not experts. Editors assign them to cover events and topics that may be relatively new to them.

Perhaps deep analysis has value in the Participation Age but not information. That means that if you want to make money, you have to know a lot about what you are writing.

I wrote the above material on Monday (March 5). The next morning, USA Today had an article about advocacy journalism that described one way that the media is changing, perhaps in response to the glut of information-intensive stories. The article features stories by Bob Woodruff, as well as a Washington Post team, about how injured soldiers are not receiving proper care, and a university professor puts this type of journalism into perspective:

“In a journalistic sense, Woodruff and the Post ‘own’ these stories, which cut through a crowded media marketplace because ‘people are hungry to be surprised by the content,’ says Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor. ‘The key is to get people addicted to your content. If you can’t surprise them, you can’t get them addicted.'”

It is increasingly hard to surprise people because of the participation in news gathering by so many amateurs. But it is clearly possible to get them addicted by in-depth reporting and great writing. Then your information is worth something.


In Mediamorphosis on February 28, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Ten years ago, Roger Fidler wrote Mediamorphosis: Understanding the New Media, (Pine Forge Press, 1997) and I started using it in my lectures about the upcoming media changes in the 21st century. Early in the book, he offers a definition of mediamorphosis:

“Mediamorphosis is a unified way of thinking about the technological evolution of communication media. By studying the communications system as a whole, we will see that new media do not arise spontaneously and independently — they emerge gradually from the metamorphosis

Wikipedia defines metamorphosis as a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching.

I thought of the mediamorphosis concept as I was writing my previous post about traditional media entering the Participation Age. I will explain this concept in this post.

Fidler derives his metamorphosis principle from three concepts: coevolution, convergence and complexity.

“All forms of communication are tightly woven into the fabric of the human communication system and cannot exist independently from one another in our culture. As each new form emerges and develops, it influences, over time and to varying degrees, the development of every other existing form. Coevolution and coexistence, rather than sequential evolution and replacement, have been the norm.”

Existing forms of media evolve when a new form enters, and each form is operating in an ecosystem where its evolution is dependent on the evolution of those around it. History indicates that the old and the new will coexist, rather than the old one dying. For example, AM radio coevolved with television in the post World War II era, and then again when FM came onto the scene to take most of the music audience.

“Convergence: a crossing of paths or marriage, which results in the transformation of each converging entity, as well as the creation of new entities. The forms of media that exist today are the result of innumerable small-scale convergences that have occurred frequently throughout time.”

I think of media convergence as one format borrowing what works from another media format. It was natural for a television station to develop a website that contained some of its video segments. We are seeing convergence today in this area as newspapers offer their own video segments on their websites.

“When external pressures are applied and new innovations are introduced, each form of communication is affected by an intrinsic self-organizing process that spontaneously occurs within the system. Just as species evolve for better survival in a changing environment, so do forms of communication and established media.

According to Fidler, this process is the essence of mediamorphosis.

Notice that he is talking about the interplay between forms of communication and media enterprises. Ten years ago or so, the Internet introduced emailing a new form of communication. I can go to one of my local newspapers website and arrange for it to automatically send stories I am interested in to my email address.

Instant messaging (IM) and short messaging (SM) is a new form for most of the population and we are seeing traditional media companies using them to distribute their information, e.g., ESPN sending sports scores to cell phones. This is the convergence of a form of person-to-person communication with a mass medium. From a mass media firm’s perspective, the emergence of IM and SM were a change in its environment and it had to evolve.