2.Should new media replace the old?

Addressing the question of whether new media should replace the old evokes thoughts on what it is that is new about new media and if this calls for a radical replacement of the old or a middle path can be taken that seeks to accommodate both. Lievrouw and Livingstone (2002, 2006 cited in Lievrouw 2011:7) identified three key components of new media, namely its material artifacts (hard and software components), practices (e.g. texting, voicemail etc.) and social arrangements like ownership, regulations and so on. While these elements also characterise the old media, new media differs in four important ways which can also be taken as the major pros of new media. Its technologies are changing all the time and at times are combined with older technologies to create new ones. Added to the recombinant character of new media´s technological design is that it is highly networked. New media is also characterised by its seeming presence in almost every corner of the globe. Opportunities to interact blur lines between media producer and consumer.

Taking the design of new media technologies first, by resisting lockdown and changing all the time, there is the advantage that designs are suited to the ever changing needs of people. Instead of reading a story in the newspaper with a still photo of the event, the internet enables people to also view videos of the events and usually there is a link to related articles and so on. This networked architecture of new media gives users a wide selection of information and cultural resources. Equally important is that new media provides the opportunity to establish a democratic media culture through its feature of interactivity i.e. users can engage with the media by uploading their personal interactions and expressions within a few minutes of breaking news and these responses are also accessible to other users. Related to this is the possibility to use new media and information technologies in socio-political and cultural movements e.g. in culture jamming and other genres of alternative and activist media.

Given this rather positive account of what the new media is doing and its potential to enhance participation in socio-economic and cultural matters it is tempting to call for the old media to be discarded. However, the reliance of new media on ICTs make it difficult to replace the old media just yet because of the digital divide and the divide which Pieterse (2005:12) rather calls a socio-economic divide is not easy to bridge. Even where people have high access to computers and the internet, this can lead to cultural fragmentation and self-centredness. While new media provides conditions for participation it can be used by people with ulterior motives to destabilise society and thus raises questions of security.

Old media is cheaper for poorer countries whose infrastructure is not yet fully developed. The sort of political control with few players characteristic of mass media systems can be seen as necessary in certain polities to maintain social coherence and national unity e.g. in countries with secessionist problems community radios can be abused by rebels. On the other hand, the same control of the media can be abused by the state in misinforming citizens and suppressing genuine dissent.

It appears, the old media will not be replaced anytime soon. The question of whether the new should replace the old is also a question of contextual analysis i.e. where in the world are we talking about? If at all there is to be a replacement, research should be directed to what conditions are necessary for the complete cross-over.

4 comments

  1. Hi Isaac,
    I was reading ”Alternatiive and activist New media” by Leah Lievrouw and her distinction between new and old media is interesting.She mentions a mainstream media created a few decades ago by an industrialised ruled media system ,produced by institutiional firms,that we can imagine powerful.
    In chapter one still,she gives the feeling that technology challenged this mainstream media and launched democracy in thie media sector because it open the door for more ideas,smaller groups and independant workers.
    I will start the theme of conflict of interest next week,but too me it was interesting that technology which once belonged to the privileged elite became a tool of democracy and that it is a caracteristic of the New VS the Old media system.
    I noticed in Lievrouw book,that new media seemed more adaptable to change with all the system of interraction they have,and that even more recent technology tools or concept could fit recents innovation.
    It seems true because for exemple,an Iphone can adapt to new applications,to progressing technology,but a newpaper cannot really compete against new technology.
    Contrary to you,I think that new technologies/media are not a cause of sel-centredness or cultural fragmentation,since,websites like facebook,youtube allow discussion on topics we wouldn’t hear about otherwise and then opens ti a certain openness.
    New media can adapt quickly to new informations,even though of course manipulation as you wrote about can be a feature of it,but it is also the case of mass media (you mentionned the radio and rebels) so I think both can be subject of manipulation,I think we agree on this,however I think new media are more interractive than mass media in which only on side of the story is told,and people can try to fight manipulation better with New media.
    If we think about propaganda during wars before new technologies,there was no way to counter attack except for demonstrations,when nowadays,a single “Twit” can help.

  2. I know that our questions are rather black-and-white rather than nuanced, but they are so for a reason – we want to get at the heart of this debate rather quickly, and it makes it easier for us to discuss and debate a topic when we are forced to test arguments against each other. However, I must admit I find it rather easy to answer this particular question with a reassuring NO. Perhaps it is due to my own background in radio journalism, but the ways in which new and old media are working together to form a more comprehensive communication network are impressive to me, and one form is not superior to the other. Instead, they both have a role to play depending on the situation and the context.
    According to Lievrouw (2011: location 130), the “changing landscape has created unprecedented opportunities for expression and interaction, /…/ to gain visibility and share their own do-it-yourself information sources, and resist, talk back, or otherwise confront dominant media culture, politics and power”. However, is this simply not creating new power structures that still marginalize those who do not have access to the language and skills needed to perform these tasks? The digital divide is part of the problem, but there are still certain skills that are preferred in the new media landscape which are only possessed by some.
    Therefore, if we accept that new media is and will continue to play an important role in activism as well as development, should we not turn to the question of how these new tools can be shared, and taught, to more people? Whose responsibility is it to make sure all citizens can participate in the new platforms?

    Also, what happens to mass media systems once they start embracing new media to its fullest? These are “structured mainly around hierarchical, top-down forms of organization, to ensure centralized control, to facilitate the reliable mass production and distribution of media products to mass audiences, and to capture and return steady streams of revenue back to the producers” (ibid, 303)
    Today, most international and local media producers are all involved in the “new media” game, at least at surface level. They all embrace the new technology to the extent that the audience’s tweets are all over the screen, and “iReports” are being filed from every major news story. However, this seems to be only varnish to me – no true changes have been made in the structure, they simply pretend to be handing over control to the viewers while still maintaining editorial control. Does that water down the “brand” of new media?

  3. This is an interesting topic. Personally, I believe that we will se a blending of the “old” and “new” media, where both will be influenced by, and borrow features from, each other. I agree with Ellie Rennie when she critizises the early technoliterate libertarians´ grand statements on the Internet as an ideal democratic space (p. 164-167). Access is key and access to Internet is not universal. However, I think we might be surprised by the developments in Africa, for example, in the close future. The rapid increase in mobile phones, as well as a rise in internet access could mean that the develooment of media infrastructure will take a totally different turn in the continent compared to the history of community media development in the “global North”. Still, we should not forget that technology as such is neither democratic nor is access to internet necessarily always empowering and a change in power structures. Read my review of Jenna Burrell´s text on internet fraud in Ghana for example: http://wpmu.mah.se/nmict132group2/2013/09/30/ict-and-empowerment-too-good-to-be-true/

    • Tove, I completely agree with you about the merging. I am not sure that this distinction is as important to those who consume or participate in media as it is to us who are studying it. The lines are blurry, and they continue to become even more so. I mentioned on a post on your group’s blog that I have been involved with a community radio project in Zimbabwe, and I was originally surprised at how much they use technology on an every day basis. They were much more tech savvy and experienced than many of my Swedish Radio colleagues, and it was much more natural for them to use both new and old media interchangeably, according to what the situation needed. Sometimes they produced traditional radio programs that were then transmitted via Bluetooth or USB-sticks, sometimes they are burned onto CDs and sometimes they do road shows. Merger.
      Similarly, there is definite blurring going on in the traditional media, too, as mass media producers are trying to “get into” the social media game as they believe it creates more loyal audiences.

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