25 September 2006
New media versus old: will the former win out?
Will new technology - principally the blogs - ever take over from the old world of television, radio and newspapers? This is a question that many bloggers ask, usually rhetorically, as part of their attacks on the older media.
The answer, says the Exile, is that blogs and internet TV stations will never replace the BBC and the newspapers. The BBC is trusted by the bulk of the population and there is no political groundswell of opinion that demands its replacement. Furthermore, what demand does exist tends to come from the type of Thatcherites that the rest of us would not touch with the proverbial 10' bargepole.
Secondly, the BBC has a plethora of relatively new digital channels which pretty much cover the mainstream spectrum. There will certainly be room on the internet for niche channels - but that is not what is being argued, is it? The notion that these channels will take over from the already crowded mainstream strikes this writer as risible.
As far as the press is concerned, the chances of British blogs taking over are similarly remote. That may not be the case in the USA where newspaper ownership tends to be concentrated, but in the UK it is fair to say that there is a newspaper for almost all shades of political opinion.
Furthermore, what the bloggers don't realise is just how convenient a newspaper is. Unlike a blog that can only be read on a computer, a paper can be folded up, stuck in the back pocket and carried to wherever the reader happens to be going. It may be that when internet browsers and mobile telephones become one and the same thing, then the internet press will come into its own. However, until that day arrives, all talk of the newspapers' replacement is so much pie in the sky.
Two things already exist that have had a profound impact on how the news is diseminated. Neither is as sexy as a blog, but both have a proven track record and bloggers should just go with these flows. The first is e-mail and the second is mobile 'phone texting. The best way for a blogger to get his exclusive out is to encourage readers to sign up for e-mail and telephone-text lists. If the story is hot enough, the punters who get the messages will do the rest.
Take the case of Claire Swire as an example. You may find this oral sex tale a bit hard to swallow, but Claire's e-mail ended up all over the world within 24 hours, thus ensuring that this girl will go down in the history books. In other words, if the tale is yum enough, then a simple e-mail sent to a few people is all it takes. The forward button does the rest.
However, and here is the big caveat, we are still talking about computer terminals and the need to be connected to one. The advantage that 'phone texting has is that everyone carries the wretched things around in their pockets, so communication by them is immediate. In much of the World they are already being used as subversive aids; a situation that has left the British in the curious position of playing catch-up.
Europe started two years ago with the Spanish elections. Demonstrations are banned in the 24 hour period before an election, so organising such events is impossible - at least until 94% of Spaniards started carrying mobile 'phones. On the day before the election, the number of texts sent jumped 20% above the normal figure: on election day itself it rose by 40%. Activists sent out messages calling on people to rally against the government and to vote for the opposition - and it worked!
However, it is in the Third World - or amongst Third Worlders in the West - where texting has proven its worth. Governments have been overthrown, rumours have been spread and demonstrations organised, all through a tiny device that was probably picked up second-hand at a street market.
So what do we have? A very good tool for spreading rumours and creating mayhem, seems to be the answer based on past performances. It is not a means of replacing the existing media, but it does allow us to get our message out quickly. Let everyone make sure that their address books are up to date and get ready to text, seems to be the final conclusion.