Another media myth

Jeff Jarvis was good enough to respond positively to my previous post. While I’m up I might as well swing for the fences. Here’s one other questionable characterization that’s trotted out in media blogs a lot these days: The idea that media products til now have been created based on the publisher’s or editor’s whims and then shoved down the throats of the unfortunate reading public. Our ideas, our stories, our schedule.
I don’t work at a newspaper and I certainly am not going to claim that nobody operates that way. Even in the last week I’ve seen an example where a big media outlet has tried to control discourse, deleted posts representing opposition views, et cetera. However, I’m happy to report that there are a LOT of people working in the media who don’t do that. These are editors and writers who actually listen to readers and base publications and articles on what those readers are saying they want. Professionals whose genuine aim has been to provide a service to the community at which their publication is aimed. Imagine.
For many years I worked on CIO Magazine (sister to my current publication, CSO). From my editors there – Abbie Lundberg and Rick Pastore, particularly – I learned a model for publishing in which the target readers are also the article sources. The editorial direction of the magazine was based on our analysis of those interviews, plus an active board of CIO advisors, plus regional reader breakfasts, plus extensive readership surveys. Yes, our thoughts and preferences and opinions were in the mix too – I think you owe your readers that as well.

Did we screw it up sometimes? Of course. Let political or worldview biases slip in unacknowledged? Sure. Publish a story that we wanted and readers didn’t? Oh yeah. And now with the dawning of the Web era, print and its devices (columns, “letters to the editor”, etc) definitely look like a very slow and stodgy medium for executing the gathering/analyzing/publishing/reacting/gathering cycle anyway. No question there. The Web is infinitely more dynamic and democratic and audience-enabling.

But letting the audience participate and in fact steer the discussion isn’t an astonishing, unprecedented concept, replacing a fundamentally rotten power-mongering paradigm. At the very least there are “trade rags” that have been working on an audience-centered principle for decades. I dare to imagine it’s true for a lot of newspapers as well.