Josh Bernoff doesn’t get it

Forrester Research Josh Bernoff recently penned this article on Ad Age where he says something I profoundly disagree with. In a nutshell, his thesis is that Social Media should not be called that way because, well, they’re not true media.

Money quote:

Media is something that media companies control, and media is overwhelmingly one-way. The online social world is about as two-way, multi-way, any-way as it can be. Nobody controls it, not even Facebook, which found it can’t even change its own terms of service.

Media is something people spend time with. So are online social interactions. That’s a pretty tenuous reason to call it media. And while, as in media, you can advertise in social network sites, that is the least interesting use for them.

I think Josh’ view of “Media” is first of all etymologically incorrect. “Medium” (from whose plural “media” the word comes) is latin for “Means” and it defines its primary role which is one of a tool connecting something/one to something/one else.

In that sense, the word is both very general and very modern, inasmuch it can accommodate all the new uses humanity will concoct for it without a need for an explicit semantic redefinition.

But more importantly, I think Bernoff’s argument is also disturbingly politically incorrect, as he equates “media” with “control”: someone must be responsible for what media write / publish / broadcast and without this form of top-down control there can be no true media. This fails to recognize the power of peer review, a system which has been in use in Academia for hundreds of years, and has performed admirably.

One might argue media are one of the balance systems that democratic systems have invented to keep the politicians in check. Media represent the interest of the public and the journalist works for Joe Reader more than he works for the Publisher.

True, economic empires have been built on media, but that is the beauty of the capitalistic system which is very good at coupling the public interest and private quest ofr money and happiness: private exploitation of media is merely the quickest and most effective way to make sure this public service is rendered, but it’s not a given: social media demonstrate beautifully that another way is possible.

Reading the troubles in which even the most venerable traditional media institutions are mired, one might wonder whether ANOTHER way is possible at all today… Methinks the very same forces who made possible the media empires are now voting with their wallets for a new, different system to influence the opinion-forming mechanism of the public.

From the perspective as a brand advocate, I call “Media” everything that does that.

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3 thoughts on “Josh Bernoff doesn’t get it

  1. It’s interesting. Defining this phenomenon of social media has been difficult. And so I guess the easiest way to label is it to NOT label it, or as Josh did, say it isn’t media.

    Disappointing viewpoint from a reputable research firm. As you said, a ‘medium’ is a tool of communication. And that’s precisely what a social network serves as. Historically, yes, traditional print and broadcast media has had control over it, either by government or even by its independent owners to drive their agendas. That’s why the Internet as a platform also brought about the phrase ‘new media’. The question of control, responsibility and integrity now lies with the creator of the content and it’s up to the discretion of the reader / consumer of said content to accept or refute its credibility.

    • There are places on this lovely planet where traditional media frankly did a crappy job of keeping politicians in check, and that is precisely because they had this cozy relationship with the powers that be… well, buster, no more of that !!

  2. Yup, Bernoff’s utterly wrong in a completely, totally, fundamentally, 360 degree kind of way.

    The UAE government is also trying to wrestle with defining ‘media’ for legislative purposes. What’s a publisher? What’s a publication?

    It used to be 100 people in a building, designers, writers, copy editors, Linotypes, makeup studios and printing presses.

    Now it’s kids like us, typing into a basic content management screen and posting whatever they want, however they like from wherever they are…

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