It occurs to me that some of the changes taking place in the world of media tie back to the idea boosting signal and reducing noise, i.e. improving the S/N ratio of info.
In the days of old, barely ten years ago, media gatekeepers were the defacto filters that helped determine what info was worthy of our attention. They sifted through the noise of the world, presenting us with the news of the day/week/month based on their best guesses about what was important and what their readers and viewers cared about.
In this day and age of democratized media, the fourth estate as a separate institution is withering under the onslaught of more choices. There are more info sources – more places to go for facts, analysis and opinion – than ever before. This diffuses attention and jeopardizes legacy media business models.
Studies have shown (see Indiana U. study) that many people trust nontraditional media sources like blogs more because these are perceived to be voices of the people, uninfluenced by the party line or commercial interests in many cases.
So, although MSM continues to act as a filter, its role as gatekeeper has been greatly diminished. It simply can’t keep pace with the growing number of info sources and chatter.
We need better solutions to help us filter the information, and indeed we are seeing this in the evolution of search, the growth of RSS, newsreaders, news aggregation and social news sites. Looking beyond purely technical solutions, crowdsourcing and top-ranked bloggers are lending a human element to info filtering.
Lest we become too intoxicated over the power of social media, please remember it is all just noise without mechanisms that help us discover, filter and prioritize info.
PR folks and other marketers need to understand that the filters and filtering mechanisms are the new gatekeepers. Without filters, more noise and diffuse attention means uncertain impact on business outcomes like sales and brand building.
Consider that many if not most big stories driving buzz originate from various forms of "traditional" media (I use quotes here because I include online components of major publishing brands). My post about Digg’s Leaderboard said more about this.