Tag Archives: demassification

News Media Relations: The Fundamentals

We’ve entered a new age of demassification, one in which laypersons arguably have as much access to communications media as the professionals who have spent years learning how to make efficient use of them.  Even so, there is still a place for traditional media – newspapers and broadcast media.  Yes, within this increasingly flattened communications landscape, these older media still have a significant role to play in helping Extension educators disseminate messages to their diverse audiences.  With this in mind, I’ve just completed an online video to complement my online publication, one aimed at helping media professionals cultivate close, productive relationships with media gatekeepers, the people who decide what is news.

Striking a Blow for Prosumerism in Cooperative Extension

Broadcasters were among numerous professionals in the previous century trained to make optimal use of limited bandwidth.

As an old broadcast guy, I’m fully capable of droning on about bandwidth.

Bandwidth essentially can be defined as the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given period of time.

In the mid-1980s, while I was studying radio, television and film in college and graduate school, virtually everything boiled down to a question of bandwidth — not surprising considering that the old information order dominated by print and broadcast media was seriously plagued by bandwidth limitations.

Way back then, print and broadcast media were the primary ways through which people could communicate with large numbers of other people.

My task as a broadcast student was learning the most optimal ways to push information through this comparatively constricted bandwidth to the masses — needless to say, the same challenge facing my print counterparts who were training to become journalists.

We essentially were being trained to become dissemination experts — people who knew how to take large amounts of information, winnow it down and present it ways that made optimal use of limited bandwidth.

For that matter, so were aspiring educators of the time.

Looking back, it was a bit of a heavy experience, and while I’m by no means the product of an elite education, I admit succumbing once or twice to the feeling that I was preparing myself for a lofty role.

So much has changed in the last quarter century. Indeed, if you think about it, with the advent of the Internet and, more recently, Web 2.0, the bandwidth issue has been all but resolved.

To a degree, I saw these changes coming.  Somehow, I had stumbled onto and zealously read the works of futurist Alvin Toffler way back in the early 80s.  Toffler offered a compelling argument that the mass media-dominated information order in which I was being trained ultimately would be replaced by one that was considerably more demassified and open.

The massive expansion of communications outlets that would follow this demassification would empower large numbers of people to become communicators on their own.

That’s precisely what has happened.  As I’ve related before within this forum, I first noticed it in the mid-1990s after surfing onto the pages of Jim, a Brooklyn attorney and independent scholar who used his knowledge of UNIX and html to develop one of the most comprehensive and influential political sites on the internet.

In time, Jim ultimately leveraged this influence to become one of the nation’s most influential independent scholars and public intellectuals.  Many others have empowered themselves in similar ways.

There is an important lesson here for Extension educators.

We’ve got to understand how this new communications order has transformed our diverse audiences. Growing numbers of them are no longer clients in any conventional sense of the word.

They are no longer clients, no longer consumers but prosumers who will actively collaborate with us in the planning, development and delivery of our knowledge products.

They have liberated themselves in ways we professional communicators and educators could have scarcely imagined a generation ago.

To a significant degree, they are now our equals, people who are fully capable of using the advantages of these new media to learn on their own and empower themselves.

They no longer need dissemination experts like me.

Small wonder why the old plan-and-push communications and outreach model is as dead as a door nail.

It largely accounts for why we in Extension must become comfortable with platforms, the fluid ecosystems in which ideas are discussed and exchanged and that serve as the bases for supporting present and future innovation.

The platforms of the future will be characterized by the active collaboration of Extension educators and clients — or, I should say, former clients.

Building these sorts of platforms and actively collaborating with our former clients will ensure that we remain in the 21st century what we were in the 20th: educators at the cusp of innovation and change.

 

Hangin’ Loose — For the Sake of Our Survival

Battle of the Bulge Movie Poster

I admit I’ve viewed a fair number of World War II-related movies in my lifetime.  One of the most memorable from my childhood is the 1965 epic “The Battle of the Bulge.”

Like so many combat movies of the era, the storyline was built around a handful of notable characters, some mere enlisted men, some NCOs, some field-grade officers, each grappling with the turn of events in their own unique ways.

Two that stand out in my memory are the young , rather clueless battlefield rookie, Lieutenant Weaver, played by James MacArthur, and his devoted, battle-hardened NCO, Sergeant Duquesne, played by George  Montgomery.

As events unfold, the streetwise Duquesne repeatedly advises young Weaver to “hang loose” —not only to be mindful of the passing scene but also to capitalize on every opportunity — advice that proved immensely helpful to Weaver following his subsequent capture and near murder by the German SS at Malmedy.

It goes without saying that this advice applies as readily to Extension educators in the early 21st century.  It behooves us to hang loose — not only to be mindful of what’s happening but also to capitalize on every opportunity.

After all, we are living and working in a brave new world, one that would seem exceedingly strange to our professional forebears, whose outreach efforts were initially carried out through face-to-face encounters with clients and, later in our history, through print and broadcast media.

Perhaps nowhere are the complexities of this new world better reflected than in the frazzled boundaries between old and new— the old standbys, newspaper, television and radio, and the new media, commonly known as social media.

As these boundaries become more frayed with each passing day, we’re being called upon to think and act radically differently.

The futurist Alvin Toffler saw this coming 30 years ago. In Third Wave, he foretold the decline of conventional mass media and their replacement by demassified media, which turned out to be the Worldwide Web.

Toffler even predicted that all media, including what still passes as print and broadcast media, eventually would emanate from a device he rather archaically described way back then as a video display terminal (or VDT).

While he didn’t get everything right, he was spot on with one prediction: that everything would become demassified, including conventional media.

For a time, my advice would have been to adopt a Hospice approach with so-called old media — in other words, to continue serving conventional media for as long as they endured.

Then the thought occurred to me: there is no mass media. Everything is now demassified.

There are no new and old media, only elements comprising a sprawling, flat information landscape in which everyone participates equally.

Our diverse audiences have been empowered in ways never before imagined. Moreover, what we once thought of as a single Extension audience is now a multitude of microaudiences who are still open to our products but only so long as they are delivered as optimally and conveniently as possible.

This new fact of life is challenging us to look at media delivery in radically different ways. Our challenge today isn’t choosing between old and new media but in combining all of them in ways that ensure our products are delivered in the fastest, most optimal ways possible.

Indeed, that is the standard by which all of our outreach efforts must be measured in the future: whether they are delivered in the fastest, most optimal ways possible.

For that matter, these products no longer will be “our” products in the older, 20th century understanding of the term — quite the contrary, they will be developed collaboratively with our diverse audiences.

The important thing to remember is that there are no hard and fast rules in this new information order. We will learn and improvise along the way.

Delivering our outreach products in the fastest and most optimal ways will call on us to be flexible — flexible in ways that earlier generations of Extension educators scarcely could have imagined.

We must heed Sgt. Duquense’s advice. We must learn to hang loose — to be mindful of any and every possibility and to capitalize on them.

Finding Our Groove in The Niche

Yes, I’ll concede that Chris Anderson may harbor some anti-media bias.

The editor-in-chief of Wired eschews terms such as newspaper and media because he considers them outmoded — relics of the last century. And speaking as a product of 20th century media training, I think Anderson is right — dead right. (See my previous diatribe on demassification for my rationale.)

Granted, there always will be a place for the kind of reporting that once distinguished traditional journalism, even as an increasingly greater share of online content is generated by amateurs. 

Even so, while some forms of traditional journalism will survive, they will be mixed up with the other information that is increasingly disseminated through social filters.   As Anderson says,

I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don’t go to mainstream media directly to read it.  It comes to me, which is really quite common these days.  More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters.  We’re turning out television news, we’re turning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it’s just that it’s not like this drumbeat of bad news.  It’s news that matters.  I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted those I trust.  So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.

Yes, it is a brave new world out there — and an intimating one too.  And this raises the question: What will this mean for organizations that have  felt more at home with older media – organizations such as  Cooperative Extension , which have traditionally looked to these older media to disseminate their messages? How will they manage to compete in a world with so many players offering so many products, whatever these happen to be?

I admit I remain an incorrigible pessimist about most things.  But on the subject of the online economy and Cooperative Extension’s place in it, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Why?

First, because this is one area in which our institutional mindset may work in our favor. 

As Anderson points out, most people blog for nonmonetary reasons — either because they want to draw attention to themselves or because they feel a passion for what they write about.  Extension is teeming with legions of passionate educators, quite a few of whom also write well.  Put these two together — passion and a knack for expression— and you have the makings of several highly effective and competitive blogs. 

Second, as Anderson observes, the default price of the emerging online economy is zero.  Compared with the older, conventional economy, an astonishing share of the offerings is free.

Free is the force of gravity.  If we decide to resist it, then somebody else will compete with something that is free.  The marketplace follows the underlying economics. You can be free or you can compete with free. That’s the only choice there is. 

Until recently, people have generally assumed that anything free was low-rate compared to its priced counterpart.  The online economy is changing this.  And this change of mind ultimately may work to the distinct advantage of Cooperative Extension-related products and services.

Freeness may also benefit us in another way — the same way it already is aiding other public and private entities: by helping us better leverage our fee-based efforts.   

Anderson points out how private companies are learning to use free content to attract audiences.  They’ve learned it’s to their advantage not to charge for the most popular stuff.  Instead, they charge for the “niche stuff” that people are willing to pay for.

As I see it, Cooperative Extension administrators and educators should invest considerably more thought into how our most popular stuff, such as publications, videos and other materials, can be used to whet our audiences’ appetites for the more enriched, specialized forms of instruction — the “niche stuff,” which could include webinars, workshops and field days — the stuff for which they would gladly pay.