In 1999 (before we many of us began thinking deeply about the role of the Internet on the media as we know it), USAID foresaw a trend, or rather a need for citizens to be able to “make informed decisions and counter state-controlled media.”
They talked of nurturing ‘alternative media,’ which at that time made many people uncomfortable. Mainstream media journalists, especially, thought that this would be lead to erosion in standards.
USAID may have never dreamt that something called social media would sow up and deliver this ‘alternative’ into our laps. Later, in 2005, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which tracks newspaper reading habits, recorded a curious shift. They observed that people were turning away from traditional news outlets, particularly those “with their decorous, just-the-facts aspirations to objectivity.” And what were they gravitating toward? They were turning toward “noisier hybrid formats that aggressively fuse news with opinion or entertainment, or both.”
News infused with opinion? That sounded like heresy!
Not anymore! Dozens of news organizations have begun using a combination of social networking, citizen journalism and traditional reporting to do just that.
I mentioned Internews. It may not be ‘noisy,’ but it is definitely a hybrid format. Internews is an international ‘media development organization’ that empowers local media worldwide. Meaning it not only becomes a distribution channel for global voices, but it gives people the tools to connect, and thereby be heard.
A similar organization, Global Voices, is a nonprofit foundation comprising an international team of volunteer authors, and others who are active in the blogosphere. In fact, one of its divisions, Lingua plays a sort of the amplifier role. Lingua, it says, “amplifies Global Voices stories in languages other than English with the help of volunteer translators.” They translate content into more than 15 languages.
Pew’s recent State of The News Media Report talks of how media consumption in a world of increasing mobile devices forces news companies to follow some messy rules (of device makers, for instance) to deliver their content. The news ecology is getting uneven, it says.
This is where hybrid, alternative media has taken root. Let’s get used to it!
A longer version of this is published in LMD magazine.