by Jose Luis Orihuela
University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain)
Professor Orihuela provides a very interesting and valuable paper on the new universe of communication created by independent individuals around the world, who by way of a precise social and cultural need have chosen to become the new, unique, trusted and most-up-to-date sources of critical information available.
Bloggers, webloggers and the universe they create is a phenomenon of such importance for our immediate future, hardly anyone is grasping its implications fully.
In this humble attempt at providing some differing viewpoints on the topic I take what I would consider an established assessment on the blog universe and the new media to launch some critical comments and to open up some new questions to reflect upon.
Professor Orihuela writes in his Introduction:
"The digital age arrives with a set of big communication challenges for traditional mainstream media: new relations with audiences (Interactivity), new languages (Multimedia) and a new grammar (Hypertext). But this media revolution not only changes the communication landscape for the usual players, most importantly, it opens the mass communication system to a wide range of new players."
The word mass in not anymore in sync with the times we are in.
The global communication system is NOT a mass communication system; it is a network. The difference between the two is very deep and fully acknowledging and understanding such difference empowers the individual in taking on with high self-esteem and confidence her role of twenty-first century Communication Agent.
"As far as enterprises, institutions, administrations, organizations, groups, families and individuals starts their own web presence, they become "media" by their own, they also become "sources" for traditional media, and in many cases, they produce strong "media criticism": opinion about how issues are covered and delivering of alternative coverage."
It is not a matter of Web presence. It is a matter of electronic interconnectedness. Don't need to have a Web site in the traditional sense. It can all happen through email. Through a newsletter. Discussion group.
Individuals, institutions, organizations don't make up for the creation of new similar media entities. While most of the institutions and companies are attempting to force their traditional information-communication-commerce paradigm onto the network, individuals ONLY are reaping the true benefits of real-time networked communications. Though this may gradually change, as companies and organizations will more likely reflect the clustering and like-minded aggregation of professionals working at the same goal, today it is the individual who is creating the new media, not the company Web site.
"The blogging phenomena represents the ultimate challenge for the old communication system because it integrates both: the new features of the digital world and a wide democratization in the access to media with a universal scope.
A recent article by Noah Shachtman at Wired News "Blogs Make the Headlines" bring back the always polemics relations between weblogs and Journalism. And once again the Poynter debate "Are Weblogs Journalism?" has to be quoted because of its clarity: "Wrong Question". Blogs could be many things, and even Journalism, but they are not Journalism for the sake of being blogs.
On the other hand, when mainstream media start blogging with their own columnist or hiring famous bloggers (which is recently the case of the Argentine newspaper Clarín) the debate that arises in the blogosphere becomes: "Is that blogging?". When the powerful tool of the media revolution is used by media, then is the blogosphere community who turns to the defensive.
While both debates were taking place, Google bought Pyra Labs, and the surprised blogosphere together with mainstream media seems to arrive late to understand what Google saw first: neither traditional media alone, nor just para-media blogging, the issue is now "Where is the knowledge?" . Google could become a global news agency and a global news media, joining the power of its database with the human knowledge of thousands of bloggers, from then on, also a global niche advertising channel.
The Iraq war was the first big test to check the relations between traditional media coverage and weblogs, and also to evaluate the media power of blogs. Even when the last Pew Report, The Internet and the Iraq war, reveals a limited influence of warblogging as news source, a trend emerges: blogs are catching the interest of young Internet users:
There has been much early discussion about the role of blogs or Web diaries in shaping opinion about the war and allowing Internet users to gain new perspectives and sources of information about the war. Our first soundings on the subject show that blogs are gaining a following among a small number of Internet users, but they are not yet a source of news and commentary for the majority of Internet users."
Many Internet users do not yet realize that blog ARE ALREADY part of the mainstream news. The circle has already been closed. Conceptually and technologically. Let me explain myself better. With the introduction of RSS technology many quality informative blogs have not only become the official news sources for many newsreader users, but most importantly they are now automatically crawled and indexed by major news syndicators as Syndic8, Moreover, and many others. This means that selected blog news, which include individuals and non-traditional journalists are already picked up regularly by news aggregators and syndicators and re-distributed over the main news channels utilized by established traditional companies and organizations.
"Some 4% of online Americans report going to blogs for information and opinions. The overall number of blog users is so small that it is not possible to draw statistically meaningful conclusions about who uses blogs."
The data is available for all who have enough curiosity to search for it. According to Jupiter Research and other analysts there are more than 500,000 people who maintain a weblog today.
If each one was so miserable to have only one hundred readers (I for nothing I have more than 1000 different blog readers each day, so that gives you some reference) that would make already for 50 million readers. While I am not promoting the soundness of my statistical approach, I just wanted to give some alternative way of looking at this.
"The early data suggest that the most active Internet users, especially those with broadband connections are the most likely to have found blogs they like."
It is those with most curiosity, interest and a will to communicate and inform that have first found out about blogs.
Broadband or narrowband do not have anything to do with your ability to open up, to search, listen, discover where the pioneers, meme-generators are going.
"In addition, blogs seem to be catching on with younger Internet users - those under age 30 - at a greater pace than with older Internet users."
In my noosphere, and in my list of bloggers I refer or look up to, there is no one that is younger than 35. I am 45. Sure enough teenagers are discovering blogs at faster pace than my age group is doing, but much of the critical content moving through blogs is not generated by them. (Teenagers are just playing with the tool to develop the skills they will need to use later, once they understand where they are going and what they want in their life.)
"Pluralistic views, not necessarily more balanced, but more transparent and out of the mainstream, turn blogs in the favourite source and tool for the anti-war movement."
Blogs is the natural counterbalancing component of our cyberworld to carry ANY independent idea, concept or news item not covered by the mainstream mass media.
"One of the most important effects of Iraq war coverage to the debate old media vs. new media is that old media discovered the emergency of blogs as non conventional sources, not only for news and views, but also for media coverage criticism.
Experiences like Technorati's Current Events in the Blogosphere show an interesting trend and strategic function for blogs: the blogosphere becomes a system for media control and balance."
"Once calm returns, maybe we will see that blogs are becoming a very valuable source for the media, a sort of early alert system to detect news, trends, and opinion states. And media could transform some of their columnists into bloggers and also integrate famous bloggers in the staff."
Calm maybe gone for a while.
SARS, and other mainstream media controlled stories will continue to provide valuable fuel to the blogosphere to provide alternative and independent views unfiltered by direct economic interests. With much greater immediacy, efficacy and reach.
Traditional media do not need to integrate great bloggers into their staff, nor great bloggers need to sell themselves out for supporting a news publishing system that unless changes its assumptions, maybe a mined field for any free writer around.
Bloggers exist for the very reason why they do not have a space inside the mainstream media. For the mainstream media to co-opt bloggers to serve its interests (which are rarely the ones of the bloggers - especially if it is true that relationship between bloggin and independent, activists and socially involved individuals) it maybe too much of a stretch. While there maybe some interesting exceptions to this, I believe this is a tough marriage and one that beats the original purpose of independent media blogging. In my view blogging for mainstream media would be just like infiltrating the blogosphere with co-opted and paid-by-other-interests writers. Just not the same thing.
"The blurring limits between journalism and blogging, between data and knowledge, between news agencies and semantic search engines, between readers and writers and between old and new media, reveals the need for a set of intellectual tools that contribute to understand by rethinking the changing nature of media and communication in the digital age."
"Ten paradigms of this new scenario are proposed, and the term eCommunication is coined to describe it in a single word.".
We need a better, maybe less trendy term to really address and identify electronic communication, the digital version of traditional mass media establishment communications, from networked contelligence and its radically different modus operandi, mission, infrastructure, stakeholders and goals.
"The global process could be understood as a big shift from the classical mass media models to the new media paradigms: the user becomes the axis of communication process, the content is the identity of media, multimedia is the new language, real time is the only time, hypertext is the grammar, and knowledge is the new name of information."
The process is indeed from mass media to new media. But new media are not driven by "users". New media are designed, created and published by active individuals with a precise personal agenda to follow.
The user becomes the neuron and the axon of the global network.
News and information are not provided by centralized news services serving different economic interests and political agendas but by personally selected and self-aggregated networks of like-minded individuals: clusters.
The individual, the Communication Agent, is the axis of the network, and her ideas (and not her content per se) is the only identity valued. Transparency and openness are the rules of the system she works in. Credibility and trust is achieved not by reach and advertising but by peer recommendations.
And yes, "knowledge" (personally generated by selectively gathering quality information through individual networked media clusters) is indeed the name of the game.
See more of what Professor Orihuela thinks and read his interesting 10 paradigms of eCommunication.
You can read the original post here.