Make no mistake, there is big evolution going on. Look at it however you will, the game is now up for the 1938 Evelyn Waugh Daily Beast and all its works. The old media diplodoci are flailing around in a new kind of swamp they simply don’t understand, trying to get a foothold, and wondering if they might be able to float if they could only work out how to swim.
Unfortunately their bulk, limited vision, and small unadapted bigoted brains make them better adapted for floating, perhaps drowning, than swimming.
Intereactivity has made hand-me-down obsolete and the mushroms are beginning to realise they have the technology to bite back. Advertising value is leaching out of the newspaper trade in spring torrents. The best evolving media are probably those with genuine local traction — hard for Fleet Street, but easier for media like local radio, which live on their connectedness and travel light. They have for years had some degree of real interactivity built into their model.
Amidst very fine presentations, the money shot for me was Charlie Beckett’s excellent map of the outlook (read it all, but here’s a summary)
To pick up on one of these fine points as it applies to the C of E, there is no such thing as the Church of England. You can talk about London Taxis, or even a notional “London Taxi Service,” but remember you are actually talking about 19,000 cabdrivers. That is not quite as large as the number of independent chartered public bodies that comprise the Church of England, but it is in the same ballpark for numbers.
1. First assertion: this is a wonderful time for people who think media can promote understanding.
- There has never been more media - including quality media. Around the world people are richer and better educated and need more journalism to help cope with the information they need to live their lives...
- there are threats to traditional business model which may reduce the capacity for journalism - both good and bad.
- The media sphere is a contestable space - and that means it should be allowed to be imperfect and relatively uncontrolled.
2. Second assertion: this is a dreadful time for people who think the media is only there to promote what they think
3. Third assertion: in a complex world the media envioronment is getting more complex
- Issues such as migration, climate change, economics, science etc mean that the world is not getting any simpler. Individuals’ media consumption is now multi-layered, interactive, creative, passive, active
- Likewise, the production process is more complex - it is participatory & multiplatform
- there is much greater diversity. The challenge is to ensure that the variety and plurality is manifested in the content. There’s no point having hundreds of channels if they all show the same show.
- Mainstream media still dominates and will continue to do but it is getting more complex too. Think about how the BBC has become more diverse and how it will be encouraged to be more open and form partnerships
4. Fourth Assertion: the news media has to learn to be more networked to society as a whole
5. Fifth Assertion: institutions like organised faiths also have to learn to be better as networked organisations
- Institutions will now have a different relationship with MSM -
- they can have a direct relationship with the public too
- they can be media organsiations creating their own channels and content
- but just like MSM they have to go where the public is (social networks)
- they have to be conversational - they have to listen as well as talk
- they have to be more open, engaged, literate, interactive
6. Sixth Assertion: don’t get mad, get media
- stop complaining and do something about your coverage - start connecting.
- Most faiths are natural networks
- Sometimes these can be dangerous - the most successful online faith-orientated organisation I know is Al Qeada
- But if all you do is connect with your followers than obviously you are simply rebuilding ghettos in cyberspace
- newspapers made the mistake of thinking that going online meant replicating their newsrooms and their pages online -
- the analogy for the media is to shift from a fortress mentality and fortress insitutions to networks. For people of faith, the analogy is to stop building digital churches or mosques - it is about building networks and connectivity
Consider, for example 2 Oxford trusts. The governing bodies of Wycliffe Hall and St Stephen’s House are both independent trusts dating from within a year of each other, 1876 and 1877. They are in the same town, and the same business, training ordinands. They have common interests, but their policies sometimes diverge, sharply. Historically they have represented entirely different concepts of what an Anglican priest is and should be. The same Coral Reef level of variety, conceptual richness and passion is reflected across 16,000 odd parishes, many of them complex multilevel bundles of trusts. This will be very annoying to stupid poeople, who have no idea why it is that way, and would certainly have designed it differently themselves.
Since the 1960’s Diversity has always been seen as a Bad Thing for the C of E. The Holy Grail has been a kind of British Leyland Corporatism, with the Church of England compared unfavourably with the Roman Catholic Church which was supposed to be more of a single rational entity. That’s why every priest in a Dan Brown film has a hotline to the Vatican. In fact the Roman Church is every bit as multilayered and subtle, and on a radically international scale, too. So are Baptist Churches. Etcetera, etcetera. No surprise, then, that the whole coral reef is seldom analysed and understood, with a stress on the brightest coloured fish, not the whole structure of the reef.
But in the kind of media multiverse Charlie is describing, being the way churches are is actually an advantage. All that’s necessary is for authentic and interesting people to get out there, be themselves, stand up and engage interactively. Thus one message to angry vicars who feel misrepresented becomes “Forget Fleet Street. It simply doesn’t matter any more.”