Fight Club: Social Versus Traditional Media

Why can’t we all just get along?

I recently wondered if early social media adopters were antisocial, though perhaps users have reason to be suspicious of traditional media ‘spin’ when it comes to their beloved social media services.

This weekend the fascination Australian traditional media outlets have with Twitter reached saturation levels. The refrain? It went something like this:

  • Twitter only has six million users.
    It’s no Facebook.

  • Nobody is sure how it is making money.
    It’s somewhat reminiscient of the ‘dot com’ boom/crash.

  • Why would anybody use such a service?
    You’re boring. Nobody cares.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Glover must be the service’s greatest critic (in journalistic circles, at least). He suggests that Twitter is a fad. He assures us that nobody had heard of it yesterday, and that ‘Tomorrow Twitter will be dead.’ He even goes as far as to suggest that:

We used to have a name for what is called “Twittering.” It was called “narcissitic personality disorder.”

Er… a bit like having your own vanity opinion column in a Newspaper, Mr. Glover?

Where does all this traditional media hostility originate from? Rather curiously it seems that answers can be found elsewhere in the very same publication.

In the Good Weekend magazine, which accompanies The Sydney Morning Herald, Will Leitch relays his experiences talking to Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams in their San Francisco office. In this article Leitch makes an astonishing admission. He writes:

You can forgive journalists their Twitter obsession. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in an economic clusterphooey of historic proportions, and many analysts are blaming the media’s failure, in particular, to create info-sharing services like Twitter.

This seems to be an opinion shared by one of Twitter’s most followed and celebrated users, Stephen Fry. In an interview with BBC Radio he said:

If people want to announce their new this or their new that, they’re going “I’m not going to do an interview, I’m not going to sit in the Dorchester for seven days having one interviewer after another come to me, I’m just going to Tweet it, and point them to my website and forget the press”.

And the press are already struggling enough – God knows they’ve already lost their grip on news to some extent. If they lose their grip on comment and gossip and being a free PR machine as well, they’re really in trouble.

So naturally they’re simultaneously obsessed because they use it (as it fills up their column inches) but they’re also very against it.

So you’ll get an increasing number of commentators going “Aren’t you just fed up with Twitter? Oh, if Stephen Fry tells me what he’s having for breakfast one more time, I think I’ll vomit.”

They really will have a big go at it because it attacks them, it cuts them out.

Clearly Twitter isn’t a fad. It is a completely new way of distributing information. Previously traditional media had the monopoly on broadcasting information to a significant number of people.

Twitter is increasingly becoming the shortest route between people and what they desire to know. The responses are coming from people users already trust – indeed people users have actively selected to interact with – and from people who know them. This distinction is important. You could argue that my friend on Twitter might not be as qualified to review a movie as a professional movie reviewer, however my friend on Twitter already knows a lot about me and my movie preferences. Similarly I know a lot about this friend, I am already aware of their movie preferences and what biases might be present in the information they provide me with.

But even more than this, I will likely receive many responses from many friends about a single query. This helps me contextualise the information I receive further. This is a far cry from traditional media where the dominant opinion is often the only opinion.

Perhaps this is really is a question of survival of the fittest.

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