There have been plenty of complaints in recent years that new media outlets have fragmented the news consumption experience for readers, but NPR's Brooke Gladstone argued during an interview at Mashable's Media Summit on Friday that the media has almost always been fragmented.
"What people refer to 'the golden age' was actually a blip. Mostly it's been a fractious, fractured media environment," said Gladstone, who is the co-host and managing editor of NPR's On The Media and the author of The Influencing Machine. "It was just when for a brief moment, instead of technology getting cheaper, technology suddenly got hugely expensive, and required mass audiences to support it," she said, referring to the rise of television.
There's little doubt, she said, that social and digital media have served as a kind of "accelerant" to media fragmentation, but it didn't create the phenomenon.
"[People] were always in echo chambers of one kind or another. The difference is that you have the option to use an already filtered site that you think offers high-quality information, or you use your Twitter feed," which aggregates information from people whose "interests overlap with yours."
What the explosion of new niche websites has changed, Gladstone says, is that it effectively pushes peoples' information consumption habits to extremes.
"I do think that overall what this great digital world has done is to enable us to be more of what we were going to be anyway," Gladstone said. To back up this point, she cited recent studies that have shown those who are interested in getting information are more informed now than they were 30 years ago and those who aren't interested are less informed.
A big part of the reason why the latter group is becoming less informed, she says, is because we have lost the handful of shows with mass audiences, which served as shared experiences and a baseline amount of information consumption. That, more than anything, is what we may have lost with the end of the "blip" that was the so-called "golden age" of mass media.
During the interview, Gladstone also discussed why NPR's coverage is typically more centrist ("NPR tends to steer away from hot button issues"), the inevitability of information being disseminated more quickly and concerns about accuracy in the media ("No one is perfect.")
She also speculated that the next big thing in media will be sites that follow the example of Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR, who has turned his Twitter feed into a reliable crowd-sourced stream of real-time news in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"It is the perfect blending of professional checking and standards with using a huge body of well-intended, well-informed people," she said. "I think that that is where you will see the next great strings of information coming from."
Photo by Erica Gannett.
Read more of Mashable's coverage of the 2012 Media Summit:
- How Social Media Impacts TV and Film Ratings
- The Nate Silver Effect: How Data Journalism Can Predict the Future
- Will Condé Nast or Hearst Create the Next Pinterest?
- Tablet Readers Don't Want Interactivity, Says Hearst President
- How to Monetize Without Hurting Your Community
- Is Twitter Helping or Harming Political Journalism?
- PBS Digital Isn't Your Grandma's Public Television