Few of the courses I have taken in grad school allow students to undertake projects with real value. One of these is the Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age at the Kennedy School. The Professor, Nicco Mele, gave us the option to choose between a research paper, a policy memo and a Wikipedia contribution for our final project. Taking into account the utility of all those upon my personal advancement and their potential application to my master thesis made this decision hard.
My thesis is an academic research exploring the notion of participation and how governments as well as corporations are looking to encourage citizen or employee participation in decision-making via on line platforms. Currently I am working on the development of a new participation classification model, and considering how this would become a useful tool to make both governments and corporations more participatory.
Clay Shirky in his blog post Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, refers to the history of press to explain the digital evolution of journalism and what we are to expect. According to his argument, we do not know what exactly to expect as we witness this transitional gap, because as Shirky repeatedly notes, things break before they are replaced. Nevertheless, he points out that regardless of what the newspapers’ future is going to be, people need journalism; and though it might take a while until journalism finds its definition and place in the digital era, it will happen because people want it to.
Interestingly, this article reminds me of my first camera and love for photography. When I was about 5 years old, my father gave me his first camera which he got back in the 70s at a much older age than me. Kodak instamatic cameras were at the same time as simple and complicated as “point-and-shoot.” Fascinating! I was able to capture in click everything I thought interesting or worthy of remembering. However I had to be cautious since I could take 12 photos per film and those were expensive to develop into prints. Few years later digital cameras entered the market. Ground breaking innovation, but at the same time too expensive for a teenager to afford. I bought a Kodak Advantix instead and couldn’t be happier. Finally I had a zoom lens, I could choose settings, select the size of my photos and film was easier to replace compared to regular cameras. Despite the fact that the cost of prints remained high, I recall thinking that this camera may not be digital but will certainly meet my needs equally. Little did I know. Thanks to technology, today, my passion for photography is not limited to a device or by how many rolls of film I have in my bag, for I can take as many pictures as I like using my digital camera, phone, ipad or pc. I can edit my pictures, store and track them easier, produce them much cheaper, post them on-line and share them with my network and beyond. Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2012, but caused little effect in the market, even for its loyal customers, because people do not need Kodak, people just want to take pictures.
This story is not that different from the history of press Shirky is illustrating. He makes a valid argument for I see the camera and pictures case to be similar to newspapers and journalism. Both describe the relationship between a platform and a product, cameras and newspapers are platforms and photography and journalism are products. Technology is undeniably changing the dynamics of life and consequently the relationship between platforms and products as those adapt to the rapidly changing technology status quo, and one innovation gives its place to the next big thing.
Based on the recent innovation and progress encountered in photography business, starting from my father not having a camera as a child to my generation’s ability to experience a new photography era; we can assume the future of newspapers and journalism. Similarly with cameras, newspapers will not stop being produced, they will just change format as the press has evolved throughout time. Considering Web 2.0 as a platform for journalism, clearly the Internet is empowering people by increasing the number of channels they can use to voice their opinion, access information and interact with each other at a minimum cost. If journalism is about reporting news and conveying different points of view to the world, then on-line journalism is the evolution of paper, which allows reach to a wider audience giving Internet users the opportunity to interact with the author, create content and shape news. Optimizing communication tools encourage the notion of participatory media. Now everyone, regardless of their professional capacity, can freely express views or share news but no one is forced to read it, unless people choose to. We experience a new journalism era. As we transition to open media, traditional one-way communication newspapers will eventually stop being produced as hard copies but will not disappear, they will evolve to match the Internet momentum. This transformation has already started, given that new agencies migrated on-line and constantly modify their layout to increase interaction with their audience.
Like Anne Marie Slaughter said in her talk on “Open v. Closed: Media, Government and Social Organizations in the Information Age” at the Harvard Kennedy School, on October 10th, 2012; blogs, twitter and the like, give individuals the opportunity to write their own ideas and views, but this does not replace the quality of professional journalism. Therefore it is up to the news agencies to innovate and adapt or object the media transformation and follow the road of Kodak. Because as David Cage rightfully pointed, industries die if they fail to innovate…