May 3rd, 2006

me: ooh!

How I Earned Fifty Quid Today, or the We Media conference

This afternoon, imyril and I attended the We Media conference at the White City BBC Television Center as part of a group composed mostly of bloggers given the name, in questionable taste, Digital Assassins. (Three of us later decided to change our badges to read Digital Meerkats, but they'd been laminated on all four sides. Foiled by BBC management. Gadzooks.)

We managed to find our way onto the minibus, mysteriously labeled TVC rather than We Media or Digital Assassins or something equally obvious, at Baker Street Station. We hadn't been told at which of the three exits we were supposed to meet so we simply followed the scent trail left by dozens of Blackberries and iPods. When we finally arrived at the TVC and were herded into the building, we spent another hour wandering around amongst water bottles and bowls of crisps and ascertaining that none of us actually knew what we were supposed to be doing.

Eventually, the organizers, and I use that term in the loosest possible sense, got around to telling us. Each of us would be placed at a table of journalists and businesspeople from various networks and we were to tell them about ourselves and the ways in which we used online forums in a passive sense, as consumers of information, and in an active sense, as contributors. The purpose of this interaction was for the producers of "mainstream" or "traditional" news to learn how users, especially bloggers, determine which sources they trust.

When I arrived at my table, I found a college professor, two journalists and a schoolteacher from Hackney with two of her students, who were probably the youngest people at the conference (18). I also found that they didn't have the slightest clue what they were supposed to ask me about. I shared the link to my blog, since the two journalists and the professor had their laptops, and then had the fascinating experience of watching someone blog a link to my blog as I was speaking to him. (Very meta.)

Although I answered several questions about the way I use online media, probably the most interesting observation came from one of the students. She said she didn't use online forums at all, for mainstream media or blogs. She gets most of her news from television, because she feels that reading it (in print or on the web) takes too long. She likes the content to be generalized and pared down for quick consumption - half an hour in front of the television and that's it. While I could have pointed out to her that most media outlets on the web offer streaming video, I held my tongue, because she also said she felt that most of what had been attributed to young media consumers at the conference didn't apply to her at all, and that youth had been stereotyped as consumers of online media exclusively. Given that the results of a survey published today by the BBC show that 4/5 of young people don't use online forums as their primary source of information, I think she has a point.

In order to trust a blogger as a reliable source of information, the reader has to build a relationship with them, to read them for months or even years in order to understand their perspectives and agendas. It's a long-term investment of time and attention even to find a blogger worth reading in the first place. Established news outlets have the advantage of being easy to find and feature professional presentations coming from journalists. Additionally, because of their strictly focused content and perhaps because impersonality is more likely to be connected instinctively with a lack of bias, they're unlikely to be replaced by blogs. I think the web, particularly the "blogosphere," is still too sprawling and disorganized, too vast a collection of individuals posting whatever content happens to interest them, to replace traditional media, whether it's print or television or radio. And to be perfectly honest, I'd prefer it if it stayed that way.