The media landscape is changing dramatically, seemingly on a daily basis, and what we once considered serious dangers to our democracy–things like media consolidation and the absence of balance and fairness–will become increasingly less important. We are at the beginning of the age of citizen media, where corporations can own vast, billion-dollar media outlets yet fail to control the flow and content of information. It’s quite hard to be a media gatekeeper when everyone becomes media, and that’s what we’re seeing happen in the age of blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasting, vlogging, message boards, e-mail groups and whatever wonderful communication technologies emerge tomorrow.
Consolidation isn’t saving newspaper circulation numbers. And television is likewise confronted by two looming trends. First, great video can be produced on gear costing less than $1,000, and technology (such as Apple’s iMovie) has dramatically simplified once-technologically-complex tasks so that the most casual hobbyist can create great content. Second, the convergence of the Internet and television is imminent.
This means that by the end of the decade there will be little distinction between traditional television content and that distributed via the Internet. Televisions will be web-enabled, able to pull content from the Internet. Much as blogging has allowed writers to bypass traditional publications, video producers will be able to ignore the corporate broadcasters and deliver their content directly to the masses. The wildly popular upstart YouTube is already doing this on the web. The jump from computer screen to television screen is closer than most of us realize. The fight over media consolidation is becoming increasingly anachronistic. We need to focus on making sure progressives learn to use the tools of this new media landscape. That’s where the new-century media wars will be fought and won. Not in a corporate boardroom.