Hung out in Lawrence with my friend Joel last night. Apparently, he's going to be on CBS Sunday Morning because he's an emerging god of media convergence. He's already been in the New York Times and on NPR. I really want to read the NYT piece, but I can't find it on Google. (Joel?!)
Joel represents more than the future of media. He's ushering in, and helping define, new notions of community. It's weird hanging out with him. You walk down Mass Street and every fifth or sixth person stops to chat with him. He's super popular because he's always out at cafes and restaurants chatting with people, and because he has a popular blog, and a weekly column, and he does TV reports and newspaper reports (and he's friendly and kind of a ham). And I can't help but think that Joel's the Pied Piper. I think media is going to become more and more community based, very local and very democratic, coming in many different forms -- newspapers, TV, radio, blogs, coffee shop conversation. It's going to be seemless. Think high-tech bonfire or village water well.
Really, it's all so young, this change, I'm having a hard time describing it. Let me try this: Joel and I had a long conversation about the future of newspapers last night, focusing mostly on the Star. He made the good point that with so many national and international media choices all updating quickly, all coming at you in differennt voices to suit almost every imaginable prejudice, there's diminishing need for a morning paper with a front page full of wire copy. So newspapers have to become intensely local, because that's the one niche they can really claim. But there are problems with this for the Star. For one, they're part of the Knight-Ridder chain, which is all about cutting personnel, and you need peoples to cover a community. Also, the Star's community is totally fractured -- two states, tons and tons of separate municipalities, class division, race division. Really, the Star's circulation area is a bunch of separate markets, some as big as the Journal World's, some as small as that of my neighborhood paper, Northeast News.
And what each of those mini-markets needs is a Joel Mathis (or two or a few).
Admittedly, Joel is in a rare position. The company he works for is one of the few that seems to really understand the value of content. And their revenue stream is diversified enough (they are the primary cable provider in Lawrence) to pay for it: For instance, Joel told me last night that the LJW has a bigger news staff than Topeka's paper, and the market's half the size.
So what's the point I'm trying to make?
I think that the convergence of media technologies, and the increasing ease of publishing/broadcasting, is going to bring us full circle to the roots of media, to the village model of info sharing, where folks get news from folks they really know and trust. People like Joel will naturally rise to annointed positions, but there'll be places the introverted (like me) as well (especially when you throw books into the mix).
I'm not sure where this leaves the big media companies, though I think they'd be very wise to follow the World Company's lead and start branching out into content facilitation in addition to content providing (for one, stop requiring registration on the website and instead allow folks to ineract with stories -- like, why not offer a Wiki feature?). That and they need to back away from the idea that content can deliver the profit margins that, say, shampoo does. Because if viillage idiots like me are going to partake of the content facilitation, we're going to need some decent content to discuss.
(Sorry for the ramble. Still trying to figure it all out.)