Final Session: Aha! Moments

Rarely do you attend a conference where the accumulated intellectual star power on one stage is as great as was the case in our final group panel discussion at the We Media conference Friday morning.  We had presidents and pollsters, intellectuals and editors, donors and corporate folks all gathered for one chat.  What we did get out of it?  Quite a bit it seems.

First each of the panelists offered up some predictions on the future of news, media, technology, society, and everything else in between.  They said:

Michael Rogers:

  • There is an incredible flood of mobile devices coming.  Not just cell phones – the evolution of devices will be substantial.  Origins will be laptops and pc’s, smartphones – extremely powerful multi-media portable computers will become the ‘laptop replacement.’
  • What will connect those devices?  Explosion of wireless broadband connectivity… 3G, WiMax.  It will happen and it will be good for us all. “I believe in technology.  I also believe in the invisible hand of capitalism.”  Our society will be constantly on the move and connected all the time.
  • Largest generation in US history – the Millennials (10-30 year olds), who grew up with social media, will take the same basic use of social media they are currently experiencing and apply it in their adult life – family pages on MySpace for example.
  • Big Media is catching on really fast.  TV, major newspapers, local newspapers, anyone in the news business will adopt the tools of social media.  “Top reporters did not get to be top reporters by ignoring reality.”
  • The rest of this decade will be about identity. We will see the creation of true, meaningful identities on the internet (and elsewhere) to prove who we are.  Layered on top of that will be information about who we are as people (clustered in our ID that we can take from site to site, etc.).  This will be a major game player in community.

Jason Pontin:

  • Augmented Reality
  • Death of Print.  The experience of a discrete editorial package will not go away.  But the ‘form factor’ of a magazine or newspaper has been lost.
  • User generated real video in a useful way (eg SplashCast)
  • The ability for new technologies to exist in the developing world. (Eduvision)

Sheryl Tucker:

  • “Democracy needs diverse voices to give their diverse people the information they need…”
  • As a journalistic property, we will be held to a higher standard.  We need to figure out how to make sure – without the censorship that could kill a community only – how to make that still reflect who we are.”
  • “We bring real people together too – at conferences, for discussions… its not, and can’t be, all about the virtual.

Cristi Hegranes:

  • The future of community and journalism is based on a question of access.  Building up of the 4th estate in developing countries is a big part of the challenge for our future.
  • Primary roadblock to access is literacy.  The concept of the internet is useless in a large part of the world where people can’t read, or consume written content of any kind.

John Zogby:

  • The results of our recent study suggest that “We (in this room) are more satisfied with the quality of journalism than the non media-elite” and “We (in this room) trust journalists far more than the non media-elite.”  No surprise there.
  • More and more and more blogs will appear and be influential… but on a worldwide scale.  One man = one blog. 
  • Anna Nicole Smith will haunt us all (and by that I mean that celebrity news, gossip, things that we don’t consider to be ‘serious’ news will always drive a big segment of the news population.
  • There will be constant measurement… what the public is believing, what they are trusting, what they are seeing (on a daily basis).  The internet invites that kind of measurement.  Media must pay attention (but not be overly dictated by it).

Craig Newmark:

  • The Wisdom of Crowds sometimes leads to mob rule, panic, or bad decisions.  We need ‘representative democracy’ on top of that.  We need editors.
  • Our flagging for removal system make craigslist even more of a democracy, with all its flaws.  It reminds me of a Churchill quote, to the effect that democracy sucks… except compared to all other systems.
  • How do I prove that I am me?
  • The internet is a means to an end.  Paper has been a very good medium (for about 600 years), but its time may be up.
  • Watch out for disinformation gangs… it comes when you decentralize power.
  • I am wearing pants.

Donna Shalala:

  • The developing world has had communications mechanisms for a long time (and they have used them for political purposes).
  • People have to be nimble enough to filter unfiltered information (and deal with the technology).
  • Young people ‘don’t know much about history’ and one of the benefits of new media will be the opportunity to advance their understand and help them to learn from the mistakes that have been made before them, as many generations have already.

Albert Ibarguen:

  • “I’m a guy who wears a suit to a conference on WeMedia, but I have a blackberry.”  Proof that the world continues to change and must adapt.  Reason enough that we should not compartmentalize all audiences, but instead recognize our differences and our unique community features.
  • Buffett, Gates, Omidyar, Skoll… the impact on how Foundations look at the world, approach social problems, will change.  There will be a move away from charity towards a concept of investment. Funding opportunity to leverage instead of funding need only (ie businesslike thinking).
  • The definition of community and media has to change… all the time, constantly.

As the conversation went on, there were lots of other Aha! Moments:

  • How can we keep the good values of Old Media (not the bad ones) in the digital world, which welcomes bad values and good alike?  In reality, old media has both just like new media – it will have to be figured out on a case by case basis.  Not all of the bad values are bad.  Not all of the good values are good.  It is all being redefined.
  • Sometimes you don’t know what you want.  That leaves [the editor] a role in guiding and shaping what people read, think, etc.
  • It is important to recognize the difference between reporting and opinion.  That line has been crossed/blurred. People don’t want to just be smarter, they want insights that allow them to make smarter decisions. 
  • Its not a single blog (or source) that is going to influence you – its an enhancement of the overall understanding and analysis that you bring to a situation.
  • We have to be sophisticated enough to understand multiple sources and capable of using multiple media sources (and technologies).
  • Media is the device that we use to go about delivering information.  It is not the information itself all the time (despite what many think it is).
  • There is skepticism about philanthropy that presumes some return on the investment.
  • “The crowd is out of touch.  Its important that the media figure out what is going on and how to come down to the level where ‘it’ is happening, and become a part of it – not figure out how to make money from this phenomena.”  (Mark Glaser from PBS Media Shift said that, and got huge applause…)
  • Is journalism a business or is business the means of support for journalism?
  • News already exists as a social network: The Today Show brings a common audience together to talk about issues (notably mothers and such).  The O’Reilly Factor (what about Colbert Report?) gives a voice to people with a particular viewpoint.  And American Idol gives 32 million people a week a voice on what is popular and who is talented.
  • We are not a national community, but a community of communities.  How will we speak as one voice from many? 

The good news out of this discussion seemed to be that some things are working.  As Michael Rogers pointed out, young people are getting more globalized – more aware of what is happening and taking a larger interest in having an impact.  Extreme hyperlocalized journalism is taking place, whether the old giants of media are participating, endorsing it, supporting it or not. 

We have been having this conversation for three years, and it will continue – long into the future most likely.  To me that seems like a good thing, because at least we are talking about it.

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