Monday, October 17, 2005

The New Media Food Chain

Anybody who has followed Jay Rosen's recent PressThink coverage of the Judith Miller debacle at The New York Times has probably noticed a change in the color of the sky this week. Some future historian will likely declare the Miller case a milestone in the development of global networked media, concluding with 20-20 hindsight that this was the week when we entered a new world.

In the Old World, the press and its superset, The Media, covered our institutions. When The Media became part of the story, some subset of The Media would examine that role and report on it.

In the New World, The Media still covers our institutions, but it no longer covers itself. That function has now been assumed by The Blogosphere. Permanently.

This is a natural phenomenon, because coverage of our shape-shifting, hydra-headed Media practically demands limitless perspective. No single observer can see the whole of it. But The Blogosphere is the totality of many observers. And while The Media is far better equipped to cover the world than individual citizens are, anyone with a TV and access to Google can cover The Media. Consequently, The Media covers tsunami recovery efforts, while The Blogosphere covers that coverage -- sometimes including unfiltered reports from bloggers on the scene. Is it accurate? Misleading? Does it offer the proper context?

While we have witnessed this phenomenon previously, the Miller story is the best example so far. Print-only readers simply do not have the same grasp of this complex tale as do those who read the comments and threads at places like PressThink, CJR, BTC News, Joho, etc.

Not only is The New York Times unable to cover itself in this instance, but other Old World publications seem to be struggling as well. They are bound by rules and conventions, friendships and rivalries, by "professional courtesy," and -- in some cases, no doubt -- by complicity.

In this limited sense, The Blogosphere has now transcended The Media. This is not to say that bloggers are more powerful than the TV news networks and big dailies (yet), but there is a comparison to be made here between a relationship that we understand far better: Media does not control government, but because it has the power to establish the narrative for government actions, media influences government.

To understand the New World, move one link up the new media food chain and look back. The Blogosphere does not control The Media, but because it has the power to establish the narrative for Media actions, the Blogosphere influences Media.

A scientist, looking at that event, would say that The Blogosphere is able to do this because it is larger and more complex than The Media. In every sense of the word, The Media is now the subject of The Blogosphere. It has "gone meta."

Let us pause and recognize the historic significance of this moment. We are democratizing power and changing the culture in ways few people have even imagined. Next step: Let's help those people imagine it.