Amplification & the changing role of media

For the past few days, I have been thinking about the evolution of what media is and its expanded role in the information ecosystem. What got me thinking was Twitter co-founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to blog his side of the story about his reduced role at Twitter. A few months ago, when Facebook was buying Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg also chose to go direct by putting up a note on his Facebook page. And Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is also not shy when it comes to sharing his views via his Facebook page.

Seconds after Dorsey and Zuckerberg put up their news, it was picked up by casual readers who shared it and tweeted it. Technology media (including blogs) also picked up the news and published it as classic news posts. Some of us added analysis, but in the end both casual observers and publications were doing the same job — they were amplifying the news, spreading it across various mediums. There is a blurring of the line between what is news and what is a tweet, photo or a blog post. In other words, it is a kind of mosh pit of data and information — and that means the role of media is changing.

A reporter’s job for the longest time has been to find information and report it. This is what we have called news. Sitting in the media box at the baseball stadium and reporting scores and providing updates for a wire service was as much “news” as reporting on the Watergate scandal. And up until the end of the 20th century, the sources of distribution were pretty limited — radio, newspapers, magazines and television.

That in turn meant that newsmakers had to go to media outlets in order to share their message and get it amplified and reach those they wanted to reach — call them constituents or the target audience. With the rise of the social web, that has changed. Blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other such platforms have made it easy for news makers to go direct to their constituents. So what is the role of today’s media person? In addition to reporting news, I think picking things to amplify is also important. Back in the day, news people made choice by deciding which stories to write. Today, we have to adopt a similar rigor about what we choose to share and amplify. In sharing (on Twitter or even re-blogging) we are sending the same message as doing an original news report. The easy thing is to share or reblog everything, but by being deliberate about it, we are essentially “editing” and telling the world: “this is how I see the world/this particular beat.”

One of the few people who has it figured out is John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who essentially has a very Gruberesque-view of the Apple economy. Similarly Jason Hirschhorn (formerly of SlingBox, MySpace and MTV), who operates the MediaReDefined email newsletter and a Flipboard channel, presents a very nuanced view of media industry by sharing what he thinks is relevant. They are not classical media people, but they are probably more prototypical of the “future media.”

Andrew Sullivan, a career journalist, is one media person whose link sharing, blogging and actual writings are pretty consistent with his world view and what he considers is important news. When Sullivan writes a longer report or a deeper analysis, you know it is important and worth paying attention. When Gruber has gone deeper, it has more than likely been worth paying attention to, whether you agree or disagree with them.

I am not saying we all have to be like them, but it is important to remember that in the future when Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Hastings are no longer an anomaly, the media person’s role is no longer just reporting news. Reporting through sharing and curation are going to be vital roles for us to play in the future.