Sunday 12 April 2009

Media in the digital era

Sunder has already posted on this on the Next Left, and the Observer published a very good leader column today (the last paragraph in particular is very reminiscent of Will Straw and my arguments in The Change We Need). I also wanted to offer some brief thoughts on the events over the past couple of days.

This is probably the biggest “internet politics story” the UK has ever seen. But what does that actually mean? First, I think we have to get past the tendency to lump everything that happens online into one big pot. While it does demonstrate some important changes (more of those in a second), this event was far more Drudge than Jesse Ventura. It was not the product of online networks of participation or the collective wisdom of a blogging community – and it would have been far more interesting if it were. Some incriminating papers were found then leaked. In many ways, that is old school politics.

While not structurally revolutionary in itself, I would however contest this kind of event is more and more likely to happen. The mass media era was defined by narrow inputs (produced by a small number among an information elite – journalists and publishers, for example). It was because there were few of them that the role of the modern spin doctor developed in the first place. A dialogue could occur among a narrow group of people and information could be managed.

Now though, we live in the digital era and have to moved to a time of broad (and growing) inputs – in short, information cannot be managed in the same way by spin doctors when publishing is so easy. Secrets are far harder to keep. Look at wikileaks for just one example. This means a fundamental readjustment in the way parties and governments handle information, and the ending of the nineties consensus on how politics is done.

[Originally published on]

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