A few days ago, I read NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s inaugural lecture to the fresh crop of future journalists at Sciences Pos School of Journalism in Paris. I’m not going to recap the historically rich (and lengthy) address, but will borrow a piece or two for the purpose of discussion here. (Note: his post can be found here if you’d like to read it in its entirety.) This address was directed to future journalists, but I think public relations practitioners that deal in media relations, can learn from it just as well.
Rosen began with a clip from the 1976 movie Network, which is about a TV news anchor who begins to act out on the air. I realize this was before many of you were born, but please take a few minutes to watch what is probably the most well-known scene in the film.
Rosen believes the filmmakers are “showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected ‘up’ to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another.” He explains, “But Howard Beale does what no television person ever does: he uses television to tell its viewers to stop watching television. When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been ‘out there,’ watching television” – concurrently yet disconnectedly.
I agree with Rosen’s belief that this clip clearly demonstrates the great event we are living through today: the breakup of the mass audience and the shift in power that goes with it. What if today’s TV personality acted like Howard Beale? Rosen answers: “Immediately people who happened to be watching would alert their followers on Twitter. Someone would post a clip the same day on YouTube. The social networks would light up before the incident was over. Bloggers would be commenting on it well before professional critics had their chance.”
Cases of where citizens beat journalists to the punch are numerous but a few off the top of my head are: the Mumbai attacks, the Hudson River plane landing, or more recently the Discovery Channel hostage situation.
Rosen goes on to explain, “The media world today is a shifted space. People are connected horizontally to one another as effectively as they are connected up to Big Media; and they have the powers of production in their hands.”
The digital revolution changes the equation, according to Rosen. “It brings forward a new balance of forces, putting the tools of production and the powers of distribution in the hands of the people…”.
From my media relations standpoint, this means the days of blasting out a press release to every big (or small) media outlet are rapidly coming to an end. NO, I’m not saying big media is dead, nor is the press release (sheez, don’t get me started!)
What I am saying is that PR agencies, public relations practitioners, branding/marketing folks, small business owners, etc. now, more than ever, have additional opportunities to reach out to their publics in multiple ways – connecting with their individual audience(s) – and each other wherever they hang out. Big media and small media alike are still very much part of that equation, but now there are even more possibilities.
That’s my takeaway from Rosen’s speech and the clip. What is yours?