Old Media vs New: right debate, wrong question

“Speech over the radio is as likely as a man jumping over the moon.” – Thomas Edison

I am always reminded of ‘predictions’ like this when someone tells me questions such as “Will anyone read books on cell phones?” or “Will laptops ever become obsolete?” The problem with questions like this is that they frame the debate wrong, or to put it a better way, we frame the question with words that relate to industries that are being redefined even as we speak. Books are not always paper-based, when you consider audio books, eBooks and now books on readers such as Amazon’s Kindle.

In the famous debate (which won’t go away) over film vs digital, Roger Clark, a photographer, tells us the question really is a debate over “film versus electronic sensors.”

In the debate over whether blogs amount to journalism, we get distracted by trying to apply what we know about them -are they both ‘filters,’ or ‘gatekeepers?’ — because both blogs and journalism are changing, and the question becomes irrelevant. You can compare Kevin Sites, with say Brian Williams if the debate was simply one about “Should journalists blog?” but that’s the wrong question. Rather it should be “How best should journalists tell their story?” Sites, if you recall worked for the usual suspects NBC, CNN and ABC, but was last working for Yahoo! (Which re-frames the question, the Yahoo Vs Microsoft issue notwithstanding, “Is Yahoo a news organization?”)

Which brings me back to the “speech over radio” issue. Mobile devices have allowed us to accomplish the moon-jump that Edison though impossible, and it is taking us into new territory. We could debate forever old questions such as “will cell phones replace land lines,” but the real question is whether mobile devices (that may or may not happen to be phones) change conversations. Already micro-blogging, mobile search, and photography are seeing new models emerge thanks to these devices.

At this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, actor-director-indie film guru Robert Redford will speak at an event called Mobile Backstage. His topic is about the “Fourth screen” as a medium for filmmakers. In case you’re wondering what this term means, consider this. Until recently there was a lot of talk about mobile devices being the “Third screen” –after television and the computer. Everyone got very excited about the 3-screen possibilities. Today we are talking of a different set of screens for the entertainment industry: the cinema screen, television and the gaming console were the first three. Mobile devices are the fourth.

From a communications perspective then, put them all together and you’ve got 5 screens, and you could configure them any way to suit your campaign or outreach program. Content will always be fluid, media will always be non-linear, so let’s not get locked in by asking the wrong question. The Mobile World Congress’ theme is “ideas in motion” –not platforms in motion!

One thought on “Old Media vs New: right debate, wrong question

  1. Pingback: Ann Thompson on the environment «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.