Jay Rosen:The People Formerly Known As “The Audience”

We really are currently witnessing an emerging change in the way people interact with “media” content. This change actually reflects the nature of the digital medium that it is taking place in:

  • The networked digital medium allows us to emulate and even improve on technology that previously was cost prohibitive for most people. So, publishing text, audio, and video is accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
  • The networked digital medium also gives us the potential for more equalized access to all content, and it gives each creator the potential for more control over what they create. Yet, it also gives the user more control over their attention. It also gives the peer production communities more control over their collective output.

I wrote about this second point back January at the Smartmobs weblog. Actually, I was writing about what Jeff Jarvis wrote about the levels of scale in peer production networks:

Jarvis asserts that there are “individual”, “collective” and “enabler” (like Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, etc) levels of scale involved in peer production networks.

Basically, he says that on the” individual” level, we want to control the things that we create (and, that if we can’t, we’ll go elsewhere). On the “collective” level, we “create as we consume” collectively, and that the “crowd” itself owns the “wisdom of the crowd”. If someone tries to “own” this crowd-wisdom generated from consumption, they make it less valuable by trying to disconnect it from larger networks to control it.

To summarize all of the above: control over media content in the networked digital medium is shifting away from a few people who can afford to create and disseminate to a “target audience”, to the “target audience” itself.

NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen wrote a post to his blog back a the end of June that describes the “target audience” as “The People Formerly Known as The Audience“. Rosen lays out a definition and a few comparisons to illustrate what he is talking about:

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.

  • Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.
  • Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.
  • Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.
  • You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own front pages.
  • A highly centralized media system had connected people “upâ€? to big social agencies and centers of power but not “acrossâ€? to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.

The “former audience� is Dan Gillmor’s term for us. (He’s one of our discoverers and champions.) It refers to the owners and operators of tools that were one exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their attention.

This is also very illustrative of what P2P (“Peer to Peer”) is really about. P2P action is as much about the individual and the enabler as it is about the collective. In fact, it is about how the individual interacts with the collective and the enabler (who sometimes can be one and the same).

In other words, P2P theory is in part an exploration of The People Formerly Known as “The Audience”, but also: the people formerly known as “consumers”, and the people formerly known as “employees”, and the people formerly known as a “human resource”.

It is my point of view that eventually, these People Formerly Known as The Audience will not only produce and broadcast their own content as they are already doing. See: Tara Hunt’s Pinko Marketing Manifesto.

These people will very soon begin to promote their content in collective ways. They will move their promotion creation mechanisms outside of the domain of the current “enablers” (like Google, yahoo, Myspace, You Tube, digg, etc), yet, once they collectively create ways to promote their content, they will use these enabler channels to spread their messages in a “Pulling” way, instead of pushing it onto people (see: When Push comes to pull[PDF]).

Both myself, and Michel Bauwens, along with Robin Good of Master New Media, and Nathan Lovejoy of Swarming Media, and others will be participating in the inaugural issue of a magazine called Audience 2.0. In this first issue we are going to expand on and further define what “Audience 2.0” is. This publication was initiated by Michael Pick of bricolab. It promises to be a fascinating ongoing exploration and resource of the concepts I’ve talked about in this blog posting.-Sam Rose

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