Published Date 10/3/12 10:05 PM

Thinking about the NUJ delegate meeting. We all agree we need a union, but it isn’t obvious what its role is. Used to be about negotiating with the bosses, but now we are all our own bosses so a bit schizophrenic to be negotiating with ourselves. Where are we now?

The digital age is in transition. Many in the new media are working for nothing, for nothing, where we should work for nothing for something. What is the something we should be working for? To repeat as the majority of people in the media (for a while) will be paid nothing would be good if they were working for something to help them be paid something in future.

Huffingtion Post and the Guardians’ comment is free – are not good models for being paid in the future. They are both about investing in somebody else’s brand. Of the two the Guardian is less evil but still evil (in the digital sense) and the huff po has sold out already to AOL?

Where have we come from? With power in a few hands, in the Wapping dispute the industry had the technology and used it to smash the union. Now failing industry is breaking the union, but the difference is we own the technology. Why don’t we use it.? The transition is painful and the outcome is uncertain. With the new media, with everybody becoming their own journalist, the same forces are still struggling for control.

The Murdoch worldview has been internalised by our current traditional media. We are now in the space of the rebirth of gatekeepers in social networks such as Facebook. The new gatekeepers are the algorithms which currently have none of the mythical journalistic values that existed in the late 20th century. If we think of the new digital commons as traditional media, Twitter is like the Guardian, Facebook is like the Times, Youtube is ITV and Vimeo is the BBC.

What is the role of a gatekeeper?

In the 20th century they were the newspaper bosses and their chosen editors. All we had as an alternative media was street-corner leaflets and limited-print-run papers

After the Second World War the old-boys network was progressive. During the 1980’s this progressivity was stifled as we forgot why social democratic polices were enacted in the 20th century.

Anachronisms: the BBC is a media that can theoretically put you in prison if you don’t pay a media tax….what a strange way to fund media! Commercial media is full of advertisements, that interrupt which we are learning more and more not to accept. Currently with modern web browser Firefox 14,052,425 users use adblocker and chrome over 8 million users. None of these 22 millions people even see the ads that media producers hope will keep their empires from crumbling. These are the LIVE reported numbers for two web browsers. The real numbers are much higher.

In the digital transition things change fast. Indymedia was created by open publishing software created in Australia, trialled in the UK at Reclaim The Streets and then came to public attention in Seattle and rapidly spread around the world. Indymedia was unmediated cooperative journalism, and at its core was the idea of self-publishing to a shared open-process space.

Blogging was technology that allowed the flourishing of a more libertarian internet, your own space in the digital commons. But again the libertarian dream was fractured by the technical reality. You still had to be a geek to run your own server so the vast majority of bloggers went the one-click route of corporate hosting. And the rigour of DIY led to the fading of the blogging dream. Where indymedia only needed a minority of people to publish occasionally for it to flourish, blogging needs the constant care of the individual to stay alive.

Social networsk: the introduction by snobbery, to the consuming of the crowd.

The tradition slogan of “United we stand and divided we fall” has been true throughout the digital transition. In indymedia we were united, in blogging divided, etc. myspace came up from the bottom, where facebook came down from the top (Harvard, MIT, the redbricks, regional). myspace was a horizontal mess, facebook a rigid dictatorship.

The future for media sees a wholesale de-professionalisation of media production and distribution. This can actually be a positive. The numbers of full time paid media producers will fall as a proportion by a factor of 100, that is for every person paid to produce, distribute media at the turn of the century, only 1 in 100 will be paid to do it in the future. The logical transition of digitisation will bring a shift from a small elite (paid) minority to a large amorphous (unpaid) majority.

At the moment each website is an island isolated, and what brings them together is corporate search engines, corporate algorithms in social media, and to a lesser extent real people linking real sites. (link to left linking article). What we should be doing is the ethical aggregation of individual bloggers through subject hubs. Then it is up to the audience if they like there news from different algorithms, editorial teams or individuals and we can mix and match so that probably the best outlets will be just this – a genuinely balanced view. And if you are interested in a subject you can find a hub that covers it. From this each person has a voice and the people who write, research, and scoop the best will be seen, but without removing the lesser voices. It will encourage minority voices by giving them their own space. What it does is re-create the internet as a publishing platform. It builds the semantic web ad-hoc, rather than top down. Tthis is the only way anything of value has ever been built on the internet, so let’s get to it.

Am not arguing simplisticallly that the old ways are not important or still appropriate, rather a balance need to be struck that is very different to the balance most professional journalist are currently working with. Its more a question of priority for the limited time and resources we have. At the heart of this argument is the statement: DO IT YOURSELF! It’s a positive statement if you want to be empowered. At the heart of the DIY project is empowering and inspiring people to do things for themselves with out mediation or hierarchy to filter or control them.

Think of Gutenberg and the translation of the Bible into English, of the transition from canals to railways. Technology change is a constant and we are currently going through a digital transition of media, which is an opportunity, as well as a disaster.