Power to the People

(I am posting a series of thoughts on the disengagement of the mainline denominations from mainstream media over the past thirty years that results in the absence of the mainline voice from the public dialogue. This is the fourteenth installment.)

The recovery of a mainline voice in the current media environment will require much more than returning to traditional broadcast media. In fact, audiences are moving from traditional media to alternative media in numbers that are worrisome to executives and editors in traditional media from television to newspapers to mass circulation magazines.

The explosion of new media doesn’t necessarily mean that the mainline should abandon traditional media. When I talked about this with Jeffrey Buntin, Sr. of the Buntin Group, a large ad agency in Nashville, he made an insightful observation. Perhaps it’s not traditional media that is dead, but the traditional uses of media that need to change. I think this is a helpful insight, not only for U.S. but also for global audiences.

We need a more flexible and multi-faceted attitude. The Internet is becoming the medium of choice for information, experience and entertainment.

The Barna Group, a research organization with particular skill in sampling evangelical faith groups, has identified the growth of micro-audiences, those niche audiences based on affinity that are now able to communicate through digital media in ways unknown until now.

Some of the key issues are:

  • The power of media and content has radically shifted from content providers to content users (audiences). This will mean messages can’t be pushed, they must pull the audience through engagement and dialogue with the audience.
  • Going forward there will be high intolerance for irrelevant messages. The spaghetti won’t stick to the wall.
  • To break through the clutter messages will need to be relevant to the interests and concerns of the audience and must be delivered in a context friendly to the audience. That friendly setting might mean a screen on a computer, television, cellphone or iPod. It might mean audio on radio (satellite, AM, FM, streamed on the web), Podcast, DVD, or cellphone. It might mean text messages, email, keywords on search engines. The list expands almost daily.
  • And it will also surely mean appearing in the programming preferred by the audience, or with appropriate keywords so the user can find the message sender. It could mean print publications, direct mail, or op eds in newspapers.

The media environment is immensely more competitive, fragmented, and saturated with messages. It is requiring a style change as well as adaptation to new technologies.

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