Participate in New Media or Die

Participating in new media isn’t an option.
It’s mandatory, if organizations want to stay in touch with people and
survive.

In an open letter to local television news people Terry Heaton says they need to participate in the transition from broadcast to the web, or risk the death of their industry. The transition is underway and those who don’t recognize it and continue to operate on old assumptions and attitudes are contributing to the demise of local television news.

This also applies to other areas but what concerns me is the apparent lack of awareness of the importance of digital media in shaping the culture–attitudes, perceptions and practices–especially among mainstream folks. The problem Heaton writes about is news people seeing beyond the broadcast technology to digital technology.

Here’s the fundamental shift that makes that difficult–broadcast is an elitist, one-to-many lecture. It is non-participatory and non-interactive. There is distance between the viewer and the individual receiving the information. It’s controlled by one side of the equation.

The web is interactive. It gives us many options, immediately. It is, even at this late stage, an uncontrolled medium. And here’s one of the big issues. Control.

The web is participatory, interactive, multimedia and empowering to individuals, the opposite of the old model of broadcast journalism. The web shifts control to the users of information, removing it from the messenger.

Those who can’t adapt to this, Heaton says, are looking at the decline of their industry because this change isn’t going to happen, it’s here now.

As I think about this, I am concerned with the lack of media savvy in the mainline tradition. A few, of course, are aware of the how to work with these media to advance messages, but when compared to the numerical strength and financial commitment of the evangelical right–such as Pat Robertson–it’s paltry at best.

The exciting thing is these media support participation, conversation and interaction. These are strengths the mainline can capitalize upon for good.

So the issue that I’m grappling with is how to move the mainline into the public conversation, where it needs to be, while it lacks the skill and resources to make the move. This is a different challenge than that facing local television broadcasters. It’s even more basic, but it has the same result. If either of these two don’t get with the digital media already in place, and that coming in the future, they will be left out.

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