[Viewpoint] Media law naysayers living in 1999

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[Viewpoint] Media law naysayers living in 1999

Until the end of the last century, people were primarily consumers of media. Mass communications made it possible for the public to enjoy a common pool of information and culture, with more released each day.

Today, people spend more time watching or reading various media than they do studying at school.

A “medium” is a substance in which something else happens, or through which something travels - a delivery process. Some people produce news and culture, then it travels through the media into homes.

However, the media found a way to repackage and reproduce information and sell it as a product, becoming an industry in and of themselves. Media corporations hold great power commercially and politically.

Once, consumers believed that they needed the products the media were selling to keep up socially. This was only partly true. In many cases, the culture on sale by the media was not actually helpful in daily life. But on the other hand, one does feel left out when one lacks knowledge about the interests of the majority of people. This process turned the media into powerful masters and the consumers into their subjects. But today, thanks to new software and infrastructure, the Internet has become available to more and more people, and how we consume media is changing rapidly. People still consume what the media is selling, but they prefer to share information, as New York University Professor Clay Shirky says. In the last century, people were content consuming information and culture, but today they are more interested in producing and sharing.

Wikipedia is a good example to illustrate that the masses have been transformed from passive viewers or consumers into active players in culture industries. In the past, publishing an encyclopedia was a major undertaking that required the participation and time of experts in a wide range of topics and a great deal of money.

Today, though, Wikipedia is a successful, up-to-date and usually accurate encyclopedia that has proven itself unbeatable by traditional publishers - and it did it all through the volunteer cooperation of a huge group of amateurs and a small number of experts. Wikipedia seems to have the strength to overcome any challenge the future throws at it.

Wikipedia invited the masses to work together to produce a competitive product, while Korea’s Naver makes it easier for Web surfers to share information and culture at breakneck speeds. Naver collects articles and facts produced by journalists and gathers an audience by letting users manipulate and rearrange this information with ease and for free. This is how it has become Korea’s most practical and popular news medium.

Naver and sites like it collect the products created by the mass media, but many other Web sites make their own content or promote information gathered on alternative media like blogs, encouraging even more sharing of culture online.

Thus Netizens serve as producers, consumers and distributors all on their own, subverting the power structure of traditional media companies altogether. Charles Leadbeater, a leading expert on management and business, defined this kind of collaborative creativity, creating new public spaces and redefining how human beings connect, as collective intelligence.

Now that the members of the public are no longer mere consumers, but instead are producing and sharing content on their own, can conventional media outlets still replicate their 20th-century success in these new media?

Few experts, if any, would answer that question with a yes. Most would say instead that consumers will continue to evolve into producers and sharers of content in the future, with the Internet’s constantly changing the tapestry of Web sites leading to evolution in the format and distribution of news and information. It won’t be easy to stay competitive in this new environment using the old, simplistic management methods.

An American broadcaster reportedly called the brawl in the National Assembly over the media bills “pathetic.” The chaos there certainly was pathetic, but what’s even more pathetic is the argument that allowing a conventional media company to run a broadcaster would allow it to accrue immense power and wealth in one of the world’s most wired countries.

What a relief it would be if this embarrassing ordeal led to a thorough examination of the pros and cons of conventional media outlets running broadcasters or other types of new media.

What do you think?

*The writer is a professor at Korea University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

by Kim Min-hwan
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