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I was recently asked, “What is The New Media?”

Glad you asked. It is central to a story of concepts, inventors, false
assumptions, insight, convictions and boardroom boys celebrating their own
outdated ideas.

More about false assumptions and the boardroom boys in a moment.

This New Media is opening doors undreamed of only a few years ago. In
relative terms, the changes happened in the blink of an eye.

If you were around in the 1930s, radio was what it was all about. This
was as new as new could be. It was the equivalent of comparisons between a
stone axe and a precision clock when people thought about telegraph and what
its speed had meant once upon a time.

Central to the radio idea had been the new notion of many things that
could be done with electricity. The idea of electronics was born with the
triode vacuum tube. It made radio possible and could amplify a distant
signal.

When radio brought networks of stations into homes, it was to experience
the feel of going to the theatre with many others sharing in the drama or
fun of the moment. A listener could be part of a great audience getting much
the same message. It left many with the feel of being part of something big
and new.

Radio made its users think in new ways about how to tell people about
other people, places and things. It gave inventors and scientists new
notions about what was possible.

What was more, radio could sell. It could sell almost anything.
“Anything” in those days meant “G” rated programs and consumer products that
were hawked using language that would be acceptable around the dinner table
or in other polite society.

Television’s basic blueprint was old as well and finally found its
audience in the post war years as huge advertising budgets brought people
and products together in living rooms and public places around the country.
TV had come of age.

Searching for good distant TV signals posited the notion of cable TV.
Community Antenna Television was first looked upon as a flighty idea that
wouldn’t work. Big broadcasters dismissed it and went about their business
of perfecting the basic obsolescent notions about their craft.

But cable shows prospered and satellites were launched into orbit
demonstrating how signals were retransmitted worldwide. These Seven League
Boots helped to grow more notions about what could be done. Cable news came
on the scene and was hooted at as being an untenable notion. Boardroom
bosses thought there wasn’t enough news to justify a 24-hour cable channel.
At least one weekly newsmagazine quoted a network news guru as being amazed
that anyone would come up with such a preposterous notion. The overall
effect of these reports seemed to say that the experts were all holding
their sides laughing, clinking their glasses and toasting the inevitable
defeat of such brashness. The very idea: full-time news on cable. It would
never work.

They were wrong.

Cable not only came into its own but also began drawing down the audience
from the conventional broadcasting networks. Those poor boardroom boys.
Their toasts were over. The audience they’d taken for granted and thought
would only continue to grow began to slip away. No more laughter. No more
hooting. The celebratory cigars were extinguished.

Years passed and the ratings told the sad story: cable was something to
be reckoned with and networks would have to find an answer or fade to black.
Their response included cutting staff size in their news bureaus, even
cutting bureaus out altogether. The industry buzz had it that at least one
of the “Big Three” was thinking about canning the idea of the classic
evening news report in favor of fewer, longer, newsmagazine stories.
Arrangements with producers of entertainment shows were even modified to fit
the new reality.

But cable’s own victory was short-lived since its progress had been
accompanied by more notions of what was still possible to do. Inventors and
thinkers were still inventing and thinking while the boardroom boys were
still playing catch-up with cable.

The New Media had been trying to jump off the drawing board for a short
time and now made its leap. It’s here and cable, it turns out, is only a
transition from the old to the new.

The Internet provides the architecture for the New Media. It is the
strength of scale, and the effect of the sum begins to show itself stronger
than the total of its parts. Synergism bolsters the advent of the New Media
as the notion of this convergence takes hold.

One important promoter of all this is advertising. It is not only
recognizing the importance of the Internet’s reach and ability to find many
market niches, but also chalking up huge growth figures in the bargain.
Pundits knew if advertising makes it there, the New Media would grow and
prosper. They were right. It does.

Radio and television are important to this growth because of their very
nature. Once upon a time news reports had radio on its deathbed with
television the victor in the fight for audience. If reports of radio’s death
were premature, they were also laughably off target. Radio is now huge. It
can inform without being intrusive and has become such an important tool in
the way we plan our daily lives, we’d be hard pressed to do without it.

Television’s provable power to show and tell makes it important in ways
never before considered as it combines with print and radio to keep watch
over politicians hired by us to run things in centers of power. At its best
it is unmatched in its unique ability to bring a realization of many
different kinds of events into our homes and businesses.

And print. This medium has been called the first draft of history. Print
takes it all a giant step further with its ability to analyze events and the
people that are party to them in ways other media cannot. Print remains the
first among equals in any combined effort to inform people, in depth, about
all sides of issues and the events that transpire in our daily social
landscape. The number of websites grows daily and can inundate us with all
sorts of information. But there are some sites that are trustworthy and have
come to be recognized as leaders in the move into the New Media.

So, at its best, New Media is the convergence of Internet content, radio
and television combined in a convenient package that can inform, entertain
and sell. As always, it is up to the consumers to decide if the information
is reliable and the entertainment is worthwhile.

“Convergence” has become the water cooler word of the day. In an industry
awash with buzzwords this one has perhaps more portent than many, if not
most, in recent years. Convergence means a choice of how information and
entertainment will be conveyed to us as other problems or projects vie for
our daily concentration. A few years hence, we can only guess at the
technological innovations we will use daily in this combined media.

Many people moan that society is charting a course that is destined to
bring down the republic. Who knows? If some disinterested voters are
energized by the New Media to find out what is going on, they may actually
participate at the ballot box. Others might even get busy with entertainment
projects promoting high moral principles and family fare. This increased
attention to government and other current events would be two happy results
of convergence. The potential impact of the converging New Media is immense.

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