Mainstream media is struggling to find a business model -- activist media doesn't need one

Media produced by activists will flood our channels as mainstream media continues to shrink. It's bad news for society.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Activist media from Flickr - photo is related to the <a href=
group — credit: Mari Francille." title="occupysf1" class="size-full wp-image-2007" />

Activist media from Flickr - photo is related to the

(Activist media from Flickr - photo is related to the OccupySF group — credit: Mari Francille.)

I've been preparing for a presentation to TEDxSF, which is looking at the theme of "Designing your own government" -- I'm examining the role of media, especially around the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What strikes me as significant is that the activists can produce lots of great media: photos, video, articulate blog posts, Tweets, etc. It's a steadily growing archive of media produced by activists.

On the establishment side, there is an increasing number of newspaper stories, TV, and radio reports about Occupy Wall Street. But, there's a big issue: the establishment media is steadily shrinking, it has fewer resources to create media because it lacks an effective digital business model.

This lack of a media business model is tragic for the mainstream, establishment media. However, here's where activist produced media has a distinct advantage: it's not affected by the lack of a business media model.

This is a very important distinction because as mainstream media falters and shrinks so does its ability to influence and uphold the status quo. The objective of a mainstream media that stresses objectivity is to report both sides, it's a means of preserving the status quo.

Activist media seeks to disrupt the status quo.

- Activist media doesn't have the distribution channels that mass media has, but that is changing thanks to use of social networks.

- Activist media is high quality thanks to powerful, inexpensive video and still cameras, and smartphones.

-There are lots of publishing and curation tools that enable professional looking results for activist media.

And there are additional opportunities for activist media:

On the Nieman Journalism Lab site, Simon Owens reports: As Occupy Wall Street evolves, news sites find it “a great opportunity for web journalism”

At this writing, if you visit the New York Observer’s website, four of the five most popular stories are Occupy Wall Street-related. Gawker has written 25 posts on the movement in the last week. It’s impossible to open up my Twitter or Facebook feed without seeing new Occupy Wall Street developments. Google News clocks 42,000 mentions in the last week (a search for “Tea Party” yields half as many mentions).

As mainstream media increases its coverage of the Occupy movement, there's a great opportunity for activist media to become a resource for professional journalists, who trawl for photos, Tweets, and videos.

For example, the photo above was offered in a Creative Commons license, free to use as long as there is attribution. And that means it's very tempting for professional journalists to use activist media to save on production costs, which means activists have a better chance of propagating their content, and therefore their views.

And because activist media is not hampered by the lack of a media business model -- the future looks very bright. Not so for mainstream media, which continues to layoff journalists and lose advertising revenues.

This is going to be a big problem. If the mainstream media continues to be severely diminished how will the government, for example, discuss its ideas and communicate its policies?

In the UK the government supports the BBC, a very large media producer, and thus that guarantees that impartial, status-quo-protecting BBC news reports will be produced every day.

But in the US, how will the government guarantee that there will be similar, unbiased media coverage?

Activist media is on the rise, whether we like it or not. It's a good thing if you support a particular brand of activism, say Occupy Wall Street, it's tragic if you don't (Tea Party). But that's our future.

Without a viable business model that can support the work of mainstream media companies we're in for a rocky ride because media is how society "thinks" and makes decisions. If activist media dominates this discourse then will we make the right decisions as a society, nation, or world?

We have a lot of important decisions to make, about the economy, environment, energy, education, exports, elder healthcare -- and that's just the stuff that begin with "e."

We need a vibrant, healthy full spectrum media that includes activist and mainstream media to ensure a happy future. Which means we need a viable media business model. This the most important problem that we face in dealing with the ever expanding importance of the Internet, imho.

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