I took an early mark today to attend some of the PubCamp Web 2.0 Media (un)conference in Sydney. Unfortunately I had to leave early and so missed the later unconference sessions, but I have a spy who promised to provide a detailed report. Still, there was enough in what I did see to make me glad to have made the (short) trip.
Proceedings opened with an address by organiser Jed White of itechne, followed by a series of short presentations, many of which were teasers for longer sessions later in the evening. The most animated of the speakers was Stephen Collins of acidlabs, whose presention, “Slouching towards intertwingularity” was a colourful rallying cry for the participatory culture that web 2.0 can create. One particularly thought-provoking observation was that the 100 million person-hours that have gone into creating wikipedia equate to the time spent by Americans watching ads on TV every weekend!
Things took a different turn with a panel discussion on new versus old media. All of the panel had a background in traditional media and some were still there. Some way into a somewhat staid discussion, a call was made to listen to the twitter back-channel. Quickly, Jed White brought up Summize and we were all able to follow the chatter. Although I have been on twitter for some time now and had heard about the back-channel effect at conferences, this was the first time I had seen it in action for myself. Not surprisingly, the twitterers were firmly in the new media camp and a rather confrontational atmosphere quickly developed. Panellist Kathy Bail, editor of the AFR magazine, had spoken of the importance of having sizeable editorial and journalist staff to support quality content. This was given short shrift: death to old media, their ivory towers and expensive lunches was the general theme from the floor.
This theme continued with a debate on whether new media is a “dagger in the heart” of content producers and distributors. Media veteran Richard Walsh spoke for the affirmative and new media enthusiast and CEO of Norg, Bronwen Clune took up the case for the negative. While the hearts of the people on the floor clearly lay with Clune, Walsh was the more polished speaker. He acknowledged that there was no going back to the old media ways and even that new media was good for the consumer. However, he was deeply concerned that where old media had developed a highly successful model for supporting journalists, musicians, film-makers and artists in their work, new media represented a threat to professional content producers. At the heart of this threat was what he perceived to be the erosion of copyright as consumers have increasingly been able to take content without paying the creator. Walsh also expressed the view that advertising always corrupts journalism and yet advertising is the only real revenue model for new media.
In a sense Walsh is right as many new technologies are disruptive and precisely because they allow new (usually young) blood to displace old. So new media is certainly a threat to established creators and an opportunity to new creators. Of course, established creators do not just consist of crusty old newspaper publishers, just think of Metallica’s attitude towards mp3 sharing. My own view is that erosion of the power of copyright has actually been accelerated by misguided attempts to clamp down on copying through digital rights management, law suits and extensions of copyright terms.
Nevertheless, some of Walsh’s points are worth considering. While young journalists, musicians and artists can disseminate their work faster than ever, will they ultimately be able to make a living, perhaps even buy a house and raise a family? Early on these things may not seem important at all, but perspectives change with age. In the case of music, people point to concert ticket sales as the answer, but what about journalists? Perhaps the answer is that citizen journalism will not be a full-time job. The question of advertising also troubles me. Independence of content from advertising has always been a challenge for old media, but will this become harder still with detail click-by-click measurement of the “value” of every story? Perhaps there is room here for a radical rethink of the public broadcasting model with a decentralised government funding model for truly independent new media content creation.
The other thing I should point out is that even before things got going, I was chatting to the guys from Media Hunter who then whipped out a video camera and began asking people about why they were there and what they though of web 2.0 media. So stay tuned for the Stubborn Mule on film (but don’t get too excited)!