In July 2009, The Media Consortium published Tony Deifell’s The Big Thaw — Charting a New Future for Journalism. The comprehensive review not only examines the current state of journalism, but also maps out potential ways the media can adapt for the future.
Written in three volumes (“Dissonance and Opportunity,” “New and Emerging Realities” and “The Future”), the report dissects the problems of current media organizations and explores solutions. Through interviews with dozens of media and technology experts, Deifell attempts to explain not only where the media industry is today, but how it got there and where it might be going in the future.
Volume 1 works as an introduction to the piece, examining the old structures of mainstream media, their collapse, and opportunities for change that are emerging as the old ways of producing and disseminating news become increasingly less viable. The theme of media of the edge of great change is the driving force behind the report; Deifell writes:
Although many see this moment as a meltdown, it is an opportunity. Much like the annual flooding of the Nile, media’s big thaw has the potential to revitalize the landscape. Our means of using information are changing, and great opportunities lie ahead.
Volume 2 is divided into four parts: “New Competitive Landscape,” “New Competencies,” “New Sources of Value” and “New Business Models.” It details the changing relationship between consumers and the media industry, now that everyone can participate in reporting and producing the news thanks to portable technology. Examples include how citizen reporting brought back the first images of the Hudson plane crash, and how Twitter allowed users to document the Iranian elections outside of government control. The role of technology is brought up throughout the piece – as consumers have access to more information more quickly, media organizations must adapt to the changing needs of their customers. This need is explored here:
The big game changer over the next short term is mobility,” says Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics. “Media is coming into our pocket and is with us at all times on a device that knows where we are.” The mobile revolution will likely have the greatest impact on media convergence, as laptops become more mobile (e.g. netbooks & cloud computing) and mobile phones become more powerful computing devices. In the United States, 15% of the population has smart phones (e.g. iPhone or Blackberry), according to a Pew Research Center study, and 37% of those who own these devices say they get news on them. Already, three quarters of the world’s messages are sent via mobile and nine out of 10 in developing countries where mobile phones have “leapfrogged” other technologies. Mobile phones had an estimated 50% penetration rate in developing areas by the end of 2008—up from nearly zero ten years earlier. Worldwide, the number of mobile phone subscriptions are triple the number fixed telephone. In fact, Jeffery Sachs, a renowned economist who has focused on the developing world, said mobile devices are part of the reason we might be turning the corner on the digital divide. […]We are heading into a post- platform economy, where media organizations that can think beyond platforms in overall technology strategy may win.
In Volume 3, Deifell investigates the uncertainties of change and the possibilities of the future. This is where the report asks the serious questions that many mainstream media organizations are currently facing as they attempt to adapt to the changing appetites of readers and viewers: How will consumers act? What will happen to serious news? Will online media create narrower perspectives as users pick and choose their news? What will happen to print media? What role will the government play in these changes?
These are all serious matters – by asking these questions and looking at trends and talking with experts, Deifell concludes that though there are many challenges ahead, it is possible to chart a new course for media – one with the values of old media and the opportunities of access inherent in new media technologies. The report concludes:
In order to succeed, The Media Consortium must speak with assurance about its strategic vision, work with those who are advocates for a new paradigm and not waste time with reactionaries who want to save media’s old paradigm. Journalism is evolving despite journalists and often without their years of experience. If journalists do not find new ground—even if it means dramatically changing their professional roles—they may drown. By bringing together technologists, entrepreneurs and media-makers to increase experimentation, leverage their collective power and build audiences as communities, independent media can not only rise with technological tide, but also achieve the goals of inclusivity and fairness they espouse.