UTS Professor of Communication Jim Macnamara talks about the major findings in his new book ‘The 21st Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices’, and how they will change media and communication practices.
After 18 months of research, I have an 400-page book being launched worldwide this month by Peter Lang, New York, titled The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices. The title says three important things about Web 2.0/3.0-based social media, based on extensive research in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, China, Korea, Malaysia, and the Middle East.
First, what is happening online is arguably the fourth media revolution.
The book title uses the term "(r)evolution" not to be academically clever or ambiguous, but to illustrate that the research asked the question of whether what is happening is simply evolution in media and communication, or whether it is something bigger. Scholars describe the development of writing around 3,000-4,000 BC as the first revolution in media. Invention of the printing press in China around 1000 AD and in Europe in 1450 was the second, followed by the development of broadcasting (radio and TV) in the early to mid-20th century.
My research indicates that what is happening is not simply an evolution in media and public communication – rather, radical change is afoot and will reverberate through media, advertising, journalism, public relations and politics for some time to come.
However, Web 2.0 and even the emerging Web 3.0, and the social media that they enable, are not a technological revolution as often claimed. Blogs, microblogging, wikis, and social networks are not new or cutting edge technologically. They all sit on the Web which is 20 years old. The first blogs and social networks started 10-15 years ago. And most applications leading the revolution were created by university students for free – e.g. Facebook and even Google.
My second key finding is that what distinguishes the early 21st century media revolution is a major change in the practices of public communication.
In simple terms, the revolution is about how we use media and public communication – who speaks, how they speak, and what they are able to speak about.
The late 19th and 20th centuries were dominated by mass media and mass communication that predominantly involved top-down, one-way distribution of information to ‘audiences’ which, in the main, had to passively accept what was given to them. Also, in the mass media model, organisations controlled the messages distributed.
This has completely changed with development of Web 2.0-based social media. As well as experiencing convergence, which refers to the technological coming together of media platforms and content on the Internet as discussed by Henry Jenkins, we are seeing emergence in media and public communication practices.
Emergence is a third key point of my book and a highly significant change.
"Emergent," in scientific terms, refers to change that is bottom-up rather than top-down, self-organising rather than centrally organised, and which unexpectedly leads to new sustainable systems despite a lack of central or hierarchal control. This is what is happening in media and public communication. Social media including blogs, microblogging such as Twitter, social networks, and photo and video sharing sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Tudou in China are a user-led revolution in media and public communication centred on bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication.
As a result, it is impossible to control messages and communication in social media – something that many CEOs, marketing directors, advertising agencies and PR practitioners have yet to get their heads around.
My research identified eight C words that are characteristics of the 21st century mediascape:
- connectivity (rapidly approaching ubiquity),
- collective intelligence,
- communication (two-way not one-way),
- conducted as...
- conversation – that is, open discussion that is authentic, not speeches, lectures, political propaganda, ‘spin’, or corporate-speak.
The 21st Century Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices includes chapters looking at the future of journalism, the future of advertising, future media business models, the future of politics, and the future of public relations, as well as the impact of social media on societies and communities generally.
New challenges for journalism
As a number of scholars such as Mark Deuze have warned, the expansion of connectivity, online communities and co-creativity and collaboration producing user-generated content, presents challenges for journalism. People are no longer prepared to be passive audiences receiving whatever mass media dish up to them. As Axel Bruns has documented, they have become ‘produsers’ (producers of information as well as users), or what others call ‘prosumers’ (producers as well as consumers). As well, the rise of social media competing for ‘eyeballs’ has eroded the monopolies and oligopolies of mass media and undermined their business models which are now crumbling.
The search for new media business models is as important for journalism as it is for media proprietors.
Challenges for advertising
Advertising has faced resistance for some time, particularly intrusive mass-targeted formats. But media users had little option under one-way centralised mass media models. Now, audiences have access to ad-free media and ad blocking software. Also, advertisers have access to new ways of marketing online. As a result, the ‘rivers of gold’ of classified advertising have been lost to Craiglist and eBay and other mass media advertising revenues are also dwindling. Advertising is likely to survive, but new forms of advertising are evolving and will have to continue to evolve to remain relevant.
As the Obama presidential campaign showed, and to some extent the 2007 Australian federal election, the public sphere is being redefined. Long recognised as a mediated space rather than a face-to-face modern agora, the public sphere is potential being reinvigorated by interactive social media. While there is a substantial degree of hype and naive optimism in claims that social media will rejuvenate democracy, the Australian federal government has seen fit to launch trials in online public consultation and in late 2009 established the Government 2.0 Taskforce. Analysis of the government’s trials, as well as international e-democracy campaigns are reported in the book.
Public relations needs new skills beyond ‘spamming’
The growing business of public relations will need to develop new skills, such as how to enter conversations online to represent their organisations, correct inaccurate information, defend criticisms, and distribute information in a transparent and authentic way. Blatant promotion and PR ‘spin’ are quickly detected and rejected in social media, as many organisations rushing in to social media are finding.
PR practitioners need to learn to write all over again in a new style that is very different to news releases, brochures, annual reports, speeches and journalism. They need to re-learn media relations. Their traditional media databases will no longer give them the contacts they need to get their message out. They need to convince their management to give up the illusion of control and engage in open dialogue. They need to ease off on the slick imagery and focus on authenticity.
Importantly, all revolutions bring opportunities as well as pain. Research confirms that social media provide new ways for journalists, companies, organisations and governments to engage with publics, build relationships, become part of communities, reach new audiences, gain low-cost and no-cost market research; and it is much more targeted and measurable than mass communication.
The 21st Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices is published by Peter Lang, New York (opens an external site). For details, reviews and orders go direct to the Peter Lang sales (opens an external site) site , or order through www.amazon.com (opens an external site).
Jim Macnamara PhD, FPRIA, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC became Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney in 2007 after a 30-year career working in journalism, public relations and media research which culminated in selling the CARMA Asia Pacific franchise which he founded to Media Monitors in 2006. He worked as Group Research Director with Media Monitors - CARMA Asia Pacific following the sale and continues as a Consultant with the Group.