June 3rd, 2008
A conversation with the multimedia editor for a Hong Kong-based broadcast entity sparked an interesting chain of thought today — one way for traditional media people to think about the media convergence and the internet is this: stop thinking of things in terms of delivery channel and start thinking of them in terms of media type.
In the offline world, massive gulfs yawn between the worlds of radio, print and television. Not only has each evolved its own approaches, tools and methods, but they’re tribes as well, since relatively few people appear in more than one medium. (For instance, how many actual TV reporters, as opposed to pundits, started in print? Not nearly as many as started in broadcast, I suspect.) In the online world, by contrast, drawing distinctions among channels is meaningless, since audio, video and text are delivered the same way: they’re just slightly different flavors of digital content.
Once you start thinking in terms of content streams rather than delivery channels, all kinds of worlds open up, since just about every piece of content an organization creates can have multiple lives. A story may start out in print, for instance, and then be read aloud to become an audio podcast or live-stream internet radio. If the story’s worth a significant investment in time, it can become a video or audio interview or even a full-on documentary presentation (though maybe only be a few minutes long) or a data-driven multimedia extravaganza.
The technology to wring every advantage out of a given piece of content isn’t conceptually hard to employ; the biggest problems are in getting the people to adapt and the systems to integrate. But thinking of stories as content packages rather than as print articles or TV segments frees writers, journalists and editors to pick the right delivery method for each particular piece. It also means that some stories will have multiple lives, with different presentations in different online media, all based on the same original research or reporting.
And, plenty of journalists are going to have to learn a secondary trade — in an unchanneled world, a print reporter who can ALSO do a good audio or video interview is likely to have a big advantage over one who only does a single thing well. Welcome to our world, friends — web people are natural generalists.