There’s a not-so-quiet battle going on during the US election, one that is going to get harder and grittier as the days go by. On the face of it, it’s a battle between “Mainstream Media” (or “MSM”, as it gets called) and “New Media” (principally the blogosphere, flickrworld and twitterverse).
I think that the battle can be framed differently. It’s not really between MSM and New Media, it’s between MSM and Citizen Media. That’s an important distinction; the debate is about the ways in which humans gather the news, validate the facts, edit the stories and then publish them; it is less about the tools used and more about the process; and when it comes to the process, it is more about the values and ethics that drive the editing and publishing process than anything else.
The treatment of the Edwards story is an example of what I’m taking about. The treatment had nothing to do with the technology used, and everything to do with MSM mores and habits and ways of doing things.
In every economy, in every market, in every firm, there are ways in which information is collected, validated, ratified and published. There are people involved in the collection, validation, ratification and dissemination. There are tools and techniques involved, conventions in use. All bound together by sets of values.
Now we come to Enterprise 2.0, a term that is many things to many people. There was a time when I thought I knew what it was, a time long since past. Forgive me if I don’t even attempt to define it; suffice it to say that Enterprise 2.0 is something to do with the way information flows around an organisation, allowing people to make decisions, inform others of those decisions, prioritise resources as a result, execute on the decisions, monitor the outcomes and report on them.
For the past seven or eight years, I’ve had the privilege of watching the equivalent of the MSM-Citizen Media battle within organisations, and it’s been fascinating. Here’s a sampling of the questions that have been intriguing me:
How does something become “fact” in an organisation, particularly when that something has to do with figures and achievements? What are the conventions used to report on these facts and figures? Who knows what these conventions are? How do the conventions get changed? Who changes them?
Reporting and monitoring responsibilities in organisations tend to gravitate, quite naturally, towards the audit/control function that is “centrally” associated with the resource in question: Finance deals with matters financial, HR deal with matters human-resource-related, and so on and so forth.
As Michael Power has covered so beautifully in The Risk Management of Everything, the audit explosion continues to proliferate, to a point where, paraphrasing the author, valuable yet vulnerable professional opinion is overshadowed by process minutiae and small print.
This Risk-Management-Of-Everything growth is taking place at the same time as the Battle-Between-Professions, something that Andrew Abbott has expounded excellently on. And all this is happening while the Future of Work is being shaped, while the Modern Firm is being established, while Enterprise 2.0 is being birthed.
So there’s turmoil. A lot of turmoil, as people within and without the firm jockey for position. And what do they use to jockey for position?
Statements of “fact”.
Statements of “figures”.
You know something? MSM statements are easier to game than Citizen Media statements. You can only tell that MSM statements are “naked” when the tide goes out; when it comes to Citizen Media statements, they tend to be naked all the time.
That’s the real revolution in the making, when the process of monitoring and reporting within the organisation switches to Citizen Media-like behaviour.
Just a thought, as I laze on a Sunday evening.
[An aside: Why didn’t I include Facebook and MySpace and social networks in general in the “citizen media” definition? I thought hard about it, but decided not to; I felt there was a need to distinguish between those aspects of new media that supported reportage, and those that did not. Somehow I find it easy to associate blogs, flickr and twitter with reportage; that ease disappears when I try and extend it to social networks.]