Session 3: Aha! Moments

I’m not sure that the third major discussion of the We Media conference was appropriately titled, but it sure was interesting.  Yes, the concept of ‘soft power’ implies that there are sources of influence that are not tied explicitly to military or financial might… and that influence is quite regularly demonstrated by the media, and increasingly now the citizen media.  But soft power is a political science concept, a theory about how influence carries.  Yes, if you were to rank the most influential people in the country, perhaps the world, based on their ability to drive changes in the world, many of the panelists for this session, and the people participating from the audience, would be near the top of the list.  Still, the concept of soft power seems to require that the people who have influence are actively seeking to gain authority, drive their own agenda, or similar.  I think the collective brain trust in the room feels like it is part of a greater movement, and while they all have their own individual financial, academic, creative, or other goals that they are seeking to meet, few would ever say they are out for a power grab.

Some of the Aha! Moments from the third session on Thursday included:

  • – What does it say about soft power when the reported death of Anna Nicole Smith (that came across as ‘Breaking News’ on CNN just as the panel was starting) gets more attention than or Global Voices?  The life of the former Playboy centerfold, billionaire heiress (sort of), and larger-than-life reality TV star certainly makes for great content, and ratings/circulation but is it the most important cultural export that the news media can or should offer to the world?
  • What will be the role of traditional news with all these blogs and wikis?    Currently the major news organizations and dominant media channels serve as the primary distributor for information.  As grassroots tools become more prevalent, does that change (and if so, is that good)?
  • There is a snobbery about the types of content that should be important to the world… and yet much of the world’s news content is firmly pop-culture based. How do you define what is important for news organizations (of any size, shape or form) to cover?  Important to who?
  • Will the news industry always be chasing the audience (and the technology)?  How could the model change so that the news industry added value to what the audience had identified as being of interest to them?
  • The internet is not (and cannot) be just about informing people.  It also has to be about mobilizing the community to change the minds of people in power. 
  • “We have more outlets now, more in sheer numbers, engaged in news presentation than we’ve ever had,” said Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times and now director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “The problem is most of them are not engaged in a lot of serious news gathering. They are largely engaged in repackaging material that other people have produced.“ (Via the Associated Press)

There was clearly a lot of energy in the room around this discussion, and a focus by all (driven by the participants on stage) in seeking a definition of the role of news organizations in driving certain influence around the world.  Still, there was also quite a bit of discomfort with the concept of power.  Power is shifting and distributing in new ways (which of course is going to make people uncomfortable) and the media is going to have to figure out what that means, and what role they want to play.

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