The message factory
The End of Media, Chapter 3: Barnacles off the boats
The End of Media is an essay-in-progress about what happens after the national conversation frees itself from gatekeepers. Previous chapters:
1. Went Down to the Crossroads. About big media’s long near-monopoly over both information and commerce.
2. Every Phone a Printing Press. About the tsunami of new communications options that followed the advent of social media and smartphones in 2007.
Life used to move more slowly. The venues for a democratic conversation were limited in number and broadly shared: local papers, national papers, dinnertime news, network news, local radio. Wags used to say, don’t pick fights with somebody who buys ink by the barrel. The joke made sense because almost nobody owned that much ink.
About 15 years ago, everybody got handed magical telephones containing an infinite supply of flying digital ink. This eroded the commons, because each of us could concentrate on our own thing — Wordle, QAnon — instead of on whatever the evening news was saying. And it jacked up the amount of noise in any conversation to a constant roar.
You work at a large organization. A ballet company, the Supreme Court of Canada, Rogers, the political party nearest your heart, whatever. How do you tell the world about your good work?
You hold a news conference. Nobody comes. You send out a news release. It’s ignored. You tweet. In the replies, two people misunderstand and a third says your grandfather was a Nazi.
If you show up at some broad conversation, a trade show or academic conference, and say, well, our situation is complex. We’ve had setbacks. But we’re working on some exciting ideas. We hope for better results soon, that’ll be the only time you get a headline all year. It’ll say:
“WE’VE HAD SETBACKS,” SAYS PERSON IN CHARGE
Blames “Situation;” Can’t Say When Results Will Improve
In the body of the story, for balance, there’ll be a quote from your worst enemy: “How can anybody believe that bum?”