Big Media, Mass Media, New Media – Oh My!

September 10th, 2010

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?

6 Responses to “Big Media, Mass Media, New Media – Oh My!”

  1. The press release blast never worked. The best way to generate “Press” for a client has always been selective releases targeted to journalists known to have an interest in the subject matter. The only difference today from the era depicted in the famous scene in Network -and it’s a big one- is the number of potential targets. With all kinds of print and broadcast, plus internet outlets, we just have to spend more time researching to find those who have an interest. That’s the hard part; the good part is the obvious, with more targets the odds of multiple hits increases dramatically. It ain’t rocket science, it’s just hard work as it has always been.

  2. Good points, Bill. Being selective and doing lots of research has always been and continues to be the best method for generating media coverage.

  3. Karen Swim says:

    Tressa, thank you so much for sharing the speech, clip and your insights. What really stood out for me was the point about connectedness. Too often today we focus on the technology, platform or methodology rather than the human experience. We would all do well to realize the real power is in bringing the disconnected together for a shared experience even if it’s the shared experience of a blog post.

  4. Hear, hear, Karen! I think you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. 🙂

  5. Sam Gronner says:

    It’s one thing for citizens to post items to social media and beat the traditional news media to the punch, as per the examples cited by Tressa. But I fear for our republic when trending yet trivial topics generated by social media (did Christine O’Donnell dabble in witchcraft? Who cares) overtake the weightier, complex matters like financing health care and stimulating an economic rebound. Yes, you can get mad as hell but we still need knowledgeable communicators to sort out these complexities for us. Newspapers are struggling to finance such enterprising journalistic endeavors, and outlets like The PBS News Hour and NPR can only do so much. How can we ensure that the Fourth Estate isn’t drowned out by trivia? A serious effort will now be launched by the City University Graduate School of Journalism. It’s new Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism will offer nation’s first MA degree in Entrepreneurial Journalism. Best wishes to Dean Stephen B. Shepard and Professor Jeff Jarvis.

  6. Very valid point, Sam. Personally, I find that I spend a lot of time now sifting through and double-checking sources of news before I pass it on or take it to heart. We (the public) never had to do that before – journalists did it for us as that was part of the fact-checking process.

    If any of the readers would like more information on the Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism that you reference, they can find it at

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