Old media vs. New media

Allright, so I’m going to milk this subject for everything it’s worth. ArsTechnica continues their coverage of the subject as well, posting an excellent summary of the debate.

Overall, the picture that emerges has two sides to it. First, top-tier bloggers themselves are better educated than top-tier newspaper columnists. So one of the main attractions of blogging and other forms of online-only publishing is that you get topical commentary from trained specialists and insiders, instead of from people whose only professional training is journalism school and whose very job description is that they’re professional outsiders.

The other part of the picture is the audience, which is more media savvy and is more interested in being treated as a peer by news sources. Blogs and other online news sources treat their readers as peers by allowing them to post comments that are directly attached to stories and by adopting a more personal, conversational tone. Thus the audience can participate directly in the newsmaking process, as high-profile blogs manage the collective efforts of their readers and work to influence reporting higher up the media food chain.

Interesting observations, but perhaps we’re making a bit too much about this. Old media isn’t going away anytime soon, it just needs to adapt to the existence of the new media. It’s a symbiotic relationship (both sides need each other), even moreso than past media shifts. Historically, these sorts of shifts happen when a new medium presents itself. Newspapers had to adapt to radio and television, just as they’ll have to adapt to the internet now (and so will radio and television). In Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World, the character Daniel Waterhouse ponders how new systems supplant older systems:

“It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently … have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive. … And so I say that Alchemy shall not vanish, as I always hoped. Rather, it shall be encapsulated within the new System of the World, and become a familiar and even comforting presence there, though its name may change and its practitioners speak no more about the Philosopher’s Stone.” (page 639)

In his Slashdot interview, Stephenson applies the same “surround and encapsulate” concept to the literary world. And so perhaps the new media will surround and encapsulate, but never destroy, the old media.