About the People Formerly Known as the Audience

The people formerly known as the audience.

That’s the description Prof. Jay Rosen expanded upon after journalist Dan Gillmor wrote about the “former audience.”

It’s about the new relationship we have with each other and traditional media as a result of new media.

In its simplest definition, it means that we are no longer passive receivers of information sent to us through elite media channels controlled by someone else. Those channels continue to exist, to be sure, but they are no longer our sole source of information and because we have access to a variety of media ourselves, we have the ability to participate in news coverage in ways unknown until now. We can comment, add information, update and, under certain conditions, we even make news through these new media.

This is turning traditional media on its ear because it upsets a fundamental business model that has served to create huge media conglomerates over the past seventy years.

A new survey report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press gives an even more interesting and complex picture of our use of news and information. The researchers say we’ve moved into a new phase even beyond a participatory culture for news. We are now utilizing specific platforms in different ways to receive, process and utilize news.

This means a smartphone is used for one purpose, a tablet for another and newspapers for yet other reasons. Moreover, we’re using specific newspapers for specific reasons–USA Today for news updates, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for in-depth reporting.

The report also refers to the power of social networking as a news source. Many of us turn to Twitter to get immediate information about breaking stories before we turn to mainstream media.

What this means for the church is also telling. The same people formerly known as the audience make up the community formerly known as the congregation, a phrase popularized by blogger Bill Kinnon.

On the one hand, we no longer sit passively and receive pronouncements as if we are simply on the receiving end of the church’s messages. On the other, there is great opportunity in the current media landscape. It is the opportunity to be connected, resourced and empowered in new ways.

For United Methodists, for whom connection has been a part of our community life from the beginning, this is an exciting time to be exploring new ways to be the church. These tools provide us the means to test new ways of learning and acting together. They provide us with information greater than our ability to absorb. They reveal the world to us more immediately and comprehensively than we’ve known before. And if we act in concert we can achieve scale at a level that is far greater than if we act individually, in my opinion.

But that presents the great question. What is the Connection and how do we envision it? Time will tell. I hope we envision it well.

How are you managing these new media to connect, learn and act?

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