A few thoughts about the pivotal year in media just behind us, and a look at some of the trends that will extend into 2008 and well beyond.
Social movements and cultural trends rarely fit into neat chronological packages, and that’s true here as well. A year ago, you’ll recall, Time named “You” as the Person of the Year, chronicling the rise of the personal media revolution best exemplified by the spectacular growth of YouTube. It’s become a truism that we’re all now part of the media, and more of us have grown comfortable in that role, as cell phones like the Nokia N95 (above) turn us into citizen journalists (a term Jeff Jarvis now spurns in favor of “networked journalism,” though I doubt we’ll see the public adopt that insidery catchphrase), hi-def camcorders can be had for less than $800 and hundreds of companies now clamor for your participation.
While social networks like MySpace were already a familiar part of the landscape a year ago, 2007 will be remembered as the year of social media. When Facebook made the savvy moves to expand from its student base to the adult marketplace (I can barely keep up with the doings of my 500 friends there) and, critically, to open its platform last May to outside third-party developers, it tubo-charged the social networking phenomenon (even if Facebook stumbled badly last month over how it handled privacy concerns with its new advertising program). Forrester researcher Jeremiah Owyang now predicts that Facebook will overtake MySpace and grow to 200 million members by the end of 2008.
Social news site Digg spawned at least a couple of dozen imitators during 2007. We’re likely to see the crowdsourcing of editorial decision-making become a regular part of the new media landscape, though no one has really nailed the format yet. What’s less likely is the notion that crowdsourcing and citizen media will take the place of the spade work required in daily journalism.
More startups and newspapers are embracing hyper-local news, even as some are pronouncing the death of citizen journalism. Major papers like the San Jose Mercury News began to rethink their core mission during 2007, although the citizen input I’ve seen to date offers little in the way of a roadmap to the future.
This summer I participated in a panel discussion in Hollywood about the state of new media, and the fellow next to me argued that good journalism will always find a home, that the transition from print to online will have little bearing on the health of news organizations.
I believe that less now — here at the end of December — than I did when 2007 dawned. Newspaper circulations continue to plummet, many of the profession’s most talented journalists are scouting for work, and, with a few exceptions, mainstream news sites continue to flail in the online medium. Aside from Jay Rosen’s beat blogging project, where are the innovative pilot programs from within the industry? The dare-to-embrace-failure thought experiments?
While companies small and large are now grappling with how to implement a social media strategy, news organizations can no longer afford to play their traditional game of passive reaction and belated catch-up. Most observers believe the social media phenomenon is just beginning. When it plays out fully, will local and in-depth journalism be a casualty of the wave?
I’m entering 2008 less sanguine about the long-term prospects for quality journalism.