In the 20th century, people had a name for television, radio, newspapers and magazines: the Mass Media. Audiences and readers acknowledged the Mass Media as a venue where analysis was valued, reality went unscripted, and World News Tonight did not feature the latest celebrity shenanigans.
It seems quaint that we called a handful of print publications, three TV networks, and a few big radio markets “the Mass Media.” In just 15 years the web has exploded beyond the big boys of yore to create a cyber-reality whose social media, blogs, and corporate sites house a universe of tweets, comments, likes, and troll attacks. Can this new universe also accommodate the type of serious content that the Mass Media in its day considered so important?
Broadcast and print communications are expensive, so before the advent of e-media, amateurs could not contribute content. Everything was written, filmed or recorded by paid professionals, and therefore everyone was exposed to serious programming, whether they liked it or not. Now that the internet has circumvented the old barriers, people with no professional interest in analysis or detached observation can jump in with opinions – even with news, if it can be captured by luck on a smartphone.
While meaningful and thought-provoking subject matter has lost its ubiquity – probably forever – its admirers are here to stay. Now they must seek out the quality content that used to be so common, and the place they look is the internet. Few can expect Twitter or Facebook to serve as a canvas for insightful and lasting professional content, but serious communicators can use those sites to locate their audience and then broaden the conversation beyond social media to more stable platforms like proprietary websites or even print.
The old Mass Media is gone, along with its pervasive specialist standards, but the tried and true tenets of professional communications still hold. Whether in print or on screen, serious readers will always expect to see those tenets realized, and while Twitter and Facebook are not optimal venues for enduring insight, social media can serve to access the diaspora who favor content that enlightens and persists.