Disruption and the new ecology of information


What happens in an internet minute

The context for thinking about what is happening with visual storytelling is one of “disruption.” Yes, that term can be drained through overuse, but it is still vital in understanding the dynamics of the new media economy,

That is because disruption is more than just change through competition.

We have disruption because, as the Columbia University report Post-Industrial Journalism argued (p. 83),

the arrival of the internet did not herald a new entrant in the news ecosystem. It heralded a new ecosystem, full stop.

The Internet is not a competitor that stands separate from the traditional media institutions. Its dynamics have created something new that encompasses all who exist in the news ecosystem, including the traditional institutions. Even though there are still significant inequalities in Internet access within and between countries, the Intel graphic above makes clear the scale of the disruption the Internet produces for all.

The metaphor of the ecosystem and ecology is important here because it reflects the way the media economy is made up of networks through which news and information is produced, distributed and consumed. How can we understand the impact disruption has had on the ecology of news? Richard Stacy puts it best. The defining characteristic of the new media economy is “the separation of information from its means of distribution.”

This means (according to the Columbia study, p.1):

Everybody suddenly got a lot more freedom. The newsmakers, the advertisers, the startups, and, especially, the people formerly known as the audience have all been given new freedom to communicate, narrowly and broadly, outside the old strictures of the broadcast and publishing models. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of new tools and techniques, and, more importantly, new assumptions and expectations, and these changes have wrecked the old clarity.

As a result it no longer makes sense to speak of a traditional, print based media opposed to a digital competitor. There is no such thing as traditional media any longer, even if print remains a mode of distribution for some. When ‘newspapers’ are streaming more video on some services than broadcast stations, broadcast networks are competing on the web with everyone else, and public radio networks have multimedia producers for visual stories, you know the media world has changed forever. Everybody is implicated in the digital ecosystem, even if you think of yourself as a print producer, and that goes for individuals as well as organisations. We should therefore refer to the traditional distribution platforms for journalism as “the organisations formerly known as newspapers, radio and television.”

And if you want a sense of how we have come on the web, then find time to watch this 1995 PBS computer show introducing the Internet, and note how much more visual the web has become in its second decade:

This is the third in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

One Response to “Disruption and the new ecology of information”

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