July 1, 2006

The audience awakens to play the media game

Jay Rosen this week formally declared the emergence of the “people formerly known as the audience.” He says:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

But exactly who are these people? It seems to me they are not the majority that makes up the semi-fictional “mass” audience or the thing called “the public” that so interested John Dewey and Walter Lippmann. Perhaps these people (who would produce media and consume the media produced by others like themselves) are the C3s and C4s that Jay Manifold discusses in one of his most famous (and instructive) posts. They are:

  • C3 – young adults; many high-TQ people (techies, most Libertarians); many skeptical Democrats and Republicans

  • C4 – many relatively prosperous people; most mainstream Democrats/Republicans; some Libertarians

Read the whole thing with the understanding, IMO anyway, that most Americans are C1s, C2s, and others so apathetic (or made civically lethargic by the fat-n-happy circumstances of our standard of living) that they register nowhere on Manifold’s grid. But, then, I think it’s a safe bet these are not consumers of news just as they are not voters.

When you look at citizenship through Manifold’s grid, what becomes clear is that the movement toward the “people formerly known as the audience” is painfully obvious given the availability and low cost of publishing tools and the ease of entry into the game. Of course C3s and C4s are going to become producers and players. An argument against the reality of this PFKATA concept seems merely absurd.

Here’s the “but”: While the movement is real enough, I don’t think anyone has a good handle on what it means for civic participation or journalism. Further, I don’t think anyone has a good handle on how sustainable this movement is (just as the sustainability of the old MSM way of doing things remains a bit of a mystery).

The lesson I take from this is: Journalism as an institution must embrace the PFKATA and its needs because these are the people (many of them, anyway) who in one way or another rely on the so-called MSM for information of a certain kind. Call it the stuff that custodians of fact practicing a discipline of verification produce and distribute for consumption by C3s and C4s. That’s another way of saying that citizen’s media is not about to replace institutional journalism. But citizen’s media will add to it, will enhance it, will help set agendas, will help correct errors, will help right wrongs, will do a number of things that institutional journalism cannot do because there are so few of them and so many of us.

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