New Media is Growing Up

Don’t look now, but so-called New Media is growing up and it’s helping traditional media outlets stake a better future for themselves. Facebook, Twitter, Apple’s FaceTime, and even video games have begun making positive contributions that cannot yet be calculated.

Facebook Live was rolled out to users only a couple of months ago, but it’s already having an impact. Twice in the past few weeks, police have been caught on cell phone cameras shooting unarmed black men. In at least one case, the officer’s body cam had mysteriously malfunctioned just before the incident. In other cases, official video recordings must pass internal review before it’s released to the public, and that often takes months.

But now, because a passenger or passerby has a phone and Facebook already in hand, immediate recordings can be posted for all to see. “He said, she said” has been transformed into “they saw, we saw.” This undoubtedly will have some unpleasant consequences, but a society that claims to value openness just became more open.

Sometimes that commitment to openness is less than sincere. When Democrats in Congress staged a sit-in to promote gun control, Republican leaders gaveled the session closed, which effectively cut C-Span’s broadcast of the protest. When members of Congress began live-streaming the protest using their phones, C-Span showed those feeds to its viewers.

Turkey’s president was vacationing when a coup attempted to depose him last week. Rebels had taken control of the state-run television station, so President Erdogan used his iPhone’s video chat feature to address the country. CNN filmed the picture streaming on a phone.

The same day, an American presidential candidate announced his running mate on Twitter, half a day before the official news conference.

I had an encouraging experience myself with Facebook in the past two weeks. After I wrote a column about the Lane County Commissioners contemplating a law that would give them the authority to block any initiative petition they deemed “not of county interest,” one commissioner posted a clarification on my Facebook wall.

That prompted several clarifications of the clarification from other Facebook friends of mine — an attorney, a law professor, and a judge. I don’t know if their responses will be ultimately helpful, but I tagged each of the county commissioners to be sure they could benefit from insights that were definitely above my pay grade.

If I had to read about what my friends had for lunch for a decade before Facebook matured enough to exchange substantive information between friends of friends, maybe it was worth it.

And then there’s Pokemon Go, which is as silly as every other video game, except for three things. This game cannot be played sitting still. It uses the smart phone GPS function to reward those who travel great distances. My son has walked 70 kilometers in the past two weeks, playing the game.

He’s not walking in circles. The game uses real-world landmarks, inserting a layer of critters and lures and hints. It uses “augmented reality,” making it less escapist than its predecessors.

Players are outside, playing the game, talking to one another, sharing and cooperating. People who don’t know each other are helping one another. That’s the part of our reality that most needs augmenting.

Meanwhile, traditional media outlets are not standing still. Newspapers in particular are transforming themselves into media companies, competing for breaking news and providing copious listings that never could have been affordable when they were limited to tossing newsprint on doorsteps once a day.

Investigative journalism in particular may be undergoing an important renaissance. Whether it’s Bennett Hall in Corvallis retracing the nuclear fallout from a local program that ended in 1972, or Eugene’s Dylan Darling examining a controversial repaving project, reporters are refusing to take “no comment” for an answer.

News outlets have always told us what happened. Technology now allows us to watch what’s happening. That may sharpen the focus on stories that have been hidden from view. If investigative and interpretive journalism can fill in those important cracks, we may be entering a golden age for media and citizens alike.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.