For centuries, there has been a strong dividing line between the creators of mass media and the readers who consume it. Media has always been broadcast in a one-way direction: topics, writing style, bias and agenda have been pushed onto an audience with few options for recourse. This inability for media consumers to respond to information defined this paradigm and cemented the alienation between publisher and viewer. However, the introduction of the Internet and the subsequent Web 2.0 phenomenon has changed the publication of writing forever. Today, the World Wide Web promotes collaborative interaction and accessibility. It has altered the style and copyright structure of writing as well as the dynamics of author, audience and publisher.
Whether by book, newspaper, television or radio, data has always been fed to the public in a broadcast manner. We were given information solely at the discretion of the publisher: in its format, at the precise time and location, and on topics that the publisher deemed noteworthy. While there were a few ways the audience could respond to these articles, via letters to the editor, traditional mail services or phone calls, the very nature of this type of communication was sufficiently difficult as to dissuade many members of the public from contributing in this manner (Jucker, 2003). It also gave a sense of authority and legitimacy to mainstream media that was not enjoyed by the average population (T. J. Johnson & Kaye, 2004). Much like the iLectures and readings we used for WEB206, this stream of knowledge travels in only one direction: from the author to the audience. A student cannot easily reply to a pre-recorded iLecture in much the same way as we have no right of reply to a movie, a book or a newspaper article.
While this format of information distribution has been the standard for hundreds of years, it all changed in the mid 2000s with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, due to their participatory nature. Suddenly, everybody could become publishers, authors and/or readers and this allowed them to interact with news and information within moments of a post or story being made public. The electronic age made it possible to have ongoing conversations, streamlined how information was imparted, dramatically altered our perceptions of copyright and gave people multiple ways to collaborate (Gurak & Duin, 2004).
Perhaps the most influential change to mass media has been the participatory nature of the Web. You can comment on a blog, use online discussion boards or utilise social media formats like Twitter and Facebook. Part of our WEB206 unit involved leaving a comment on another blog relevant to our own, and while this wasn’t entirely successful, it did illustrate the ease with which anybody can respond and collaborate within a discussion. Comments were also left on my own WEB206 blog which created a sense of interaction and community. On the University blackboard, the students were active participants and forged their own conversations as well as participating in those written by others. Not only were the intended audience members actively engaging in topics but they are also authoring and publishing them (Jucker, 2003).
The resultant ongoing conversations have a sense of immediacy that is unrivalled in other forms of media. Responses can be made via trackbacks, reposts, blogrolls and via social media streams. My WEB206 blog utilized all of these methods and I experienced a strong sense of community when people reposted my articles or linked to them and encouraged me to respond to the discussions they had started on their own sites. This type of reciprocal posting is part of the power of blogs and online publications (Van House, 2004). But blogs alone are not the only method available for audience participation. Microblogging services, such as Twitter, and other social formats like Facebook have also come to the fore as sharing and collaborative tools. Evidenced by the numerous natural disasters that occurred during our Study Period, social networking came to the fore as a major means of communication when other media was not available. Accessible to everyone with a computer or Smartphone, social media led the way for information dissemination and assisted the rescue efforts (Hughes & Palen, 2009). While some myths and false information did prevail during this time, it was easier to correct and resend accurate data, and Twitter shone as a tool for connecting people and knowledge. S. Johnson (2009) explains that conversations on Twitter have “fundamentally changed the rules of engagement” and given these discussions further longevity.
Because the audience is now the author and vice-versa, the role and legitimacy of the professional journalist is forever challenged and changed. Collaboration invites amateurs to weigh in on topics of their choice which can give credence to an article or post that would normally never been seen by an unsuspecting public. This was particularly obvious with my own WEB206 blog on photography – despite the fact that I stated unequivocally that I was not an expert on the subject, several emails and comments arose that showed readers had given me, as publisher and author, more authority and validity than was merited. The sense of authenticity and rectitude given to blog authors, while not to the same extent as to physical publishers is still high and there are several ways you can make your web presence appear to contain integrity. Using the suggestions given by Rowse (2008) I was able to make my page seem professional and accurate. Whilst Shirky (2002) believes that physical publishers will now be economically defunct due to blogging, it is my belief that because we are bombarded by the computerisation of ‘everything’ (McCampbell, Clare, & Gitters, 1999), the need for the sensation of tactile paper pages will ensure we continue to have newspapers and books for several more decades.
Not only do amateurs gain credence from their blog writing, the actual subject matter has also expanded. No longer dictated to by executive-derived popularity, the Internet is now a plethora of information on everything, no matter how obscure or niche. According to Anderson (2004), every article has an audience, no matter how tiny, and this has opened up a much larger range of topics and discussions than ever seen before. The public are finding their own unique way of belonging by creating groups of like minded readers to interact with, no matter how strange or extreme the subject. For my WEB206 blog, I focused on the area between a photographer who uses Auto and a person who is confident using Manual Mode. This niche market turned out to be surprisingly popular, and created conversations and discussions both on the blog and off, that were both unexpected and verbose.
So who chooses to author articles has forever changed and what they write about has expanded. Unsurprisingly, the way that people write has also been affected by the Internet. As our lifestyles have become more mobile, the public are now looking for short, succinct articles that they can digest in single bursts. Rowse (2008) claims we read electronic data in snippets and as such, article length, readability and font size are important. Newspapers who have reluctantly embraced blogs now also ensure that online articles are concise and laconic. When writing the assessment articles for WEB207, I struggled to maintain short articles and therefore utilised the ‘excerpt’ capability of the blog to keep the narrative punchy and informative. As the style of writing has changed, due to the influence of the Internet, so too, has the legal ramifications of copyright (Boynton, 2004). The Creative Commons was created to fill the void between the non-sharing regimentation of traditional media and the share-alike experience of the Web. I made use of Creative Commons to outline any copyright issues on my blog, ensuring it could be shared easily so long as attribution was given.
As we look back at the last ten years, it is easy to see the nature of publishing has dramatically changed. Traditional media may be steeped in history but it is also riddled with regimentation and communication has been truly freed by the facilities available online. With everybody contributing as author, publisher and reader the articles are more diverse, more opinionated, shorter and share-friendly. And these changes to how we write, what we write and why we write appear to be permanent. As I look over the teachings in WEB206, I am reminded of the words by Jay Rosen (2006):
The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not we want you to know we’re here.
Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Wired, (12.10). Retrieved from Wired website: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
Boynton, R. S. (2004). The Tyranny of Copyright? New York Times Magazine, 25, 40–45.
Gurak, L. J., & Duin, A. H. (2004). The impact of the Internet and digital technologies on teaching and research in technical communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 13(2), 187-198.
Hughes, A. L., & Palen, L. (2009). Twitter adoption and use in mass convergence and emergency events. International Journal of Emergency Management, 6(3), 248-260.
Johnson, S. (2009). How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live. Time: Business and Tech Retrieved 01 May, 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604,00.html
Johnson, T. J., & Kaye, B. K. (2004). Wag the blog: How reliance on traditional media and the Internet influence credibility perceptions of weblogs among blog users. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 81, 622-642.
Jucker, A. H. (2003). Mass media communication at the beginning of the twenty-first century: Dimensions of change. Journal of historical pragmatics, 4(1), 129-148.
McCampbell, A. S., Clare, L. M., & Gitters, S. H. (1999). Knowledge management: the new challenge for the 21st century. Journal of Knowledge Management, 3(3), 172-179.
Rosen, J. (2006). The people formerly known as the audience. PressThink, June, 27.
Rowse, D. (2008). Nine Signs of an Effective Blog Post. Weblog Retrieved from http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/07/10/nine-signs-of-an-effective-blog-post/
Shirky, C. (2002). Weblogs and the mass amateurization of publishing. Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet.
Van House, N. (2004). Weblogs: Credibility and Collaboration in an Online World. Paper presented at the CSCW Workshop on Trust, Chicago, Illinois, USA. http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~vanhouse/Van%20House%20trust%20workshop.pdf