Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leveson inquiry - an archaelogical dig into what the media used to be

Pretty damning isn't it? My last blog entry was January. Slack, uninspired? What has been the cause of the demise? Two things have come to light in the last 24 hours that have helped me understand where the answer to this question lies.

Everyone's favorite media guy, Uncle Rupert, fronted the UK's Leveson inquiry into media ethics, while The Atlantic published an article pointing out that 90% of news stories may eventually be written by computer algorithms. Clearly, I am a humble scribe who has neither the access that Uncle Rupe has to people who can inspire or be inspired, or the smarts to create an algorithm that can generate blogs for me. But I am inspired to return to the keyboard by Murdoch's first appearance at the Leveson hearings.

Due respect to the inquiry inquisitors, but what háve we learned from the first interview with Rupert? The Guardian this morning described a series of concessions uttered by the media mogul, but the reality is that, beyond obtaining some specific insights about conversations between him and various UK politicians and prime ministers,did we learn anything we did not know, or at least assume, already.

Today's Guardian, for example, asks how Rupert can believe that meeting Tony Blair a few times a year demonstrates little more influence than that accorded the average citizen? This misses the point. It is no more access than any substantial media mogul would have to a prime minister. I don't believe the Murdoch assertion that commercial interests never sway the content or support delivered by newspapers like London's The Sun, but then I don't believe there is any media enterprise that lends support to one or other political party's election campaign without taking it's own commercial interests into account.

The main issue I have with the Leveson inquiry and any other similar investigation is that it is interrogating the past, not the future of media. As marketers and corporate communicators, we are well aware of the disaggregation of media. If The Sun had the influence that some claim, all our media strategy issues would be resolved. But the reality is that we know audiences are behaving differently.

Ownership of traditional media channels is increasingly becoming a financial liability rather than an asset. Mini-publishers, like me, today are taking to the web, mobile and other distribution channels together our message out. I have about 300 people a month visiting this blog (apologies to them for my recent neglect). Unless that 300 are all prime ministers and presidents, I obviously have much less clout than Rupert, but the collective efforts of hundreds of thousands of bloggers do have influence - perhaps even more because followers tend to be people who generally subscribe to the credibility or value of the source.

And now, with the advent of journalism by algorithm, there is no sign of disaggregation continuing. As The Atlantic suggests, algorithms are unlikely to replace opinion pieces and so on, but they do have the potential to increase the sheer volume of news covered. I cannot confirm it, but The Atlantic claims these algorithms already account for thousands of stories about America's Little League coverage.

To me, this suggests the technology has the potential to create micro packets of news for local community digestion. So for me, putting the octogeneric Rupert in front of the Leveson inquiry at great expense is only of passing interest, an archaeological dig into what media used to look like before the US President funded much of his campaign and ultimately won office on the back of a slick social media strategy.

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