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Monday, September 24, 2007

The Power of New Media
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Back in 2005, I wrote a book called Media Myths and one of the myths I attempted to debunk in the book dealt with the power of new media outlets and technologies relative to the old mass media. Specifically, I made the argument that, contrary to what many media critics claimed, new media could provide both a credible alternative to many traditional mass media providers as well as a powerful check on them and their power.

That argument was certainly harder to advance back in 2005 when the general public was just beginning to gain an appreciation for the power of the Internet, blogs, and so on. Today, however, I think most people "get it." I remember back then how many people would stare at me funny when I explained to them how I started my day by reading Google News and checking my Bloglines account for updates to my favorite blogs. But now I seem almost old fashion when I say that to an audience as many have moved on to even more sophisticated ways of gathering news and information daily.

And with each passing week, I continue to discover new and exciting ways that new media outlets and technologies are shaking things up and providing a credible alternative to old media. Last week, for example, provided us with two powerful examples:

(1) Florida taser incident: I don't care what you think about tasering of a University of Florida student who disrupted a John Kerry speech, all I want to know is, have you seen it? If so where? I bet that, like most other Americans, you saw it online after someone alerted you to it or sent you a link. Exactly how many people saw it online? In a (subscription-only) newsletter last Friday, Jeff Lindsay and Aaron Byrd of Bernstein Research crunched the numbers:

Tuesday's ejection of Andrew Meyer from John Kerry's rally at the University of Florida may be a good metaphor for the IPTV industry. Three versions of a video clip of the incident ranked #1, #5 and # 20 on YouTube, making it the top ranked video clip in the US on Friday.

The incident itself barely rated a mention on the major network news programs, and none actually showed any footage of the incident until it later appeared on YouTube, but by Friday afternoon the clip in aggregate had achieved almost 2.7 million online video views -- that is almost as high as the average prime time audience for all cable news channels combined (estimated at approximately 2.8 million for 2007).

That is amazing stuff. When YouTube is aggregating as many eyeballs as major network news programs, you know the media universe has changed in a radical way. Lindsay and Byrd entitled the incident "The Shot Heard Round the Networks" because it dramatically illustrates how "the viewing audience is moving onto the Internet."

Moreover, type the phrase "Florida taser incident" into Google News and you will be inundated with thousands of results--both from old and new media alike--discussing the incident. The combination of these things help propel the story into "mainstream news" spotlight and generated an intense national debate.

(2) The "Jena 6" incident / rally: When the mainstream media finally caught wind of the storm that was brewing down in Louisiana over the "Jena 6" racial incident, they were forced to credit websites and blogs for playing a big part in keeping the story alive. As Eric Weiner of NPR reported last week:

For months, the story of the so-called "Jena Six" unfolded largely out of sight of the mainstream media. But in the emerging "Afro-Sphere," as some call the loose network of black bloggers, the story of six black teenagers initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate passed from blog to blog, taking on a life of its own. Petitions were signed, money was raised and protests were organized — all online.

"I think a lot of people ignored the story but the African-American blogosphere has been on it from early on, and it has really caught steam recently," said Shawn Williams, who writes the popular Dallas South blog. Thursday's demonstration, the largest civil-rights protest in years, owes its existence, in part, to the power of the Internet, says Williams. That's not to say that it couldn't have happened without the Web, but "once something gets out there, the action is immediate — here's what we're going to write about, here's the petition, here's the protest. It takes place within minutes, hours and days, not weeks or months," he says.

Again, it's just another sign of the power of new media and how much better off we are today than ever before in terms of media alternatives and competition.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:34 AM | Innovation , Internet , Mass Media

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