Social distribution of mass media

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I recently pointed out how “social media” has changed from its original promise of challenging the established order of mass media.

Where are the brigades of citizen journalists? What’s become of the hope of the grass roots revolt against the gate keepers in our national and local media?

When I left the Financial Times in mid-2004 to become the first journalist to leave a major newspaper and become an independent “journalist-blogger” there was a lot of hope in the air. I felt I was joining a small but very spirited band of media pioneers, a nascent “Homebrew Club” of sorts, which might help usher in a new era in media.

Just as the Homebrew Computer Club, whose members such as Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates, took a hobby of building microcomputers and helped build a new industry that toppled the behemoths of their age, there was a similar feeling in the air.

No longer did you need to be a Press Baron, buying ink by the tanker, and having hugely expensive printing plants. The printing press was now virtually free. The distribution system was equally free.

If you produced media content of value the world found it, there was no need to tweet it out or spam anyone with your latest stories.

At the time it felt l like a meritocracy, that if you had a better mouse trap the world did indeed beat a path to your door.

But over the years things have changed considerably. Just because the printing press is free means little if the access to audience is constrained. The mediasphere has expanded to include blogs and other forms of citizen journalism/media but it doesn’t seem to have expanded very far.

Citizen journalism hasn’t led to a revolution in media, or changed much about the old order. Mass media is still massive and in the hands of a small number of owners.

And “social media” now represents a tiny sliver of the mediasphere, and one that deals primarily with product or service recommendations among friends. That’s very mundane revolution.

If you look at the links people are sharing through social media, much of it is links to the same newspapers and big media organisations that people were reading, listening to, and watching before the advent of social media.

You still see a minority dominating the production of the social media consumed. For example, Yahoo Research recently published a report that showed just 20,000 “elite” Twitter users (out of 150 million) produced 50% of all tweets consumed. Mass media produced by a minority – and most of that content is shared links to big media.

The term “social media” has lost much of its meaning.

Social media seems to have become just a distribution channel for mass media content — there’s very little media produced by the masses.

To be accurate in our use of words, I propose that the term social media be changed to describe what is actually happening: Social Distribution Of Mass Media (SoDOMM).

But I am an optimist. There are big cracks in the edifice of mass media. The business model transition to a digital world is still in flux and there is no good solution.

There’s still a long way to go before mass media, and its small number of owners, can relax and get back to business as usual.

There’s a good chance that SoDOMM might fail to arrest the fall of mass media, and that it might just be a transitionary phase on the road to real social media.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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