This is what happens when you give a cell phone that shoots video and Twitter, Face-Book, YouTube or other social media to people who are fed up with the status quo. Communities grow and people around the world get involved.
This week’s events in Iran mark a tectonic shift in how media nurtures liberty and thus the way our world works. The new face of journalism is the tip of the spear in a new revolution and will likely seal the fate of tyrants — whether they be a short despot in Iran, unresponsive governments or a deaf media establishment.
A 40 second cell phone video on YouTube shows the new face of the revolution in Iran and is the face of the new media.
It opens with a young girl, Neda, being eased to the pavement by several men an instant after being hit in the chest by a bullet fired from a government sniper’s gun. The camera moves past the men to see her head. She looks at the camera, bleeds out and dies.
Her name, Neda, means voice. Neda has become the voice of the revolution, a rallying cry in Iran and around the world. Just a few hours after her death Neda is one of the most popular tags and search terms on Twitter. Internet users around the world are changing their Twitter time zones to Tehran and forwarding messages and photos from protesters to keep them hidden from Iran’s police.
Old media has no part in Neda’s instant and gory fame nor her instant central role in the future of Iran and possibly the broader Middle-East.
Old media has behaved like the Catholic Church of Gutenberg’s time, before the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. Media had and passed up its opportunity to engage and adapt with emerging technologies. In 1983 Knight-Ridder and AT&T launched ViewTron, one of the earliest online news services.
Viewtron died because Knight-Ridder didn’t see a profit model for selling news online. Almost incidentally Viewtron also let subscribers communicate with each other too. When they pulled the plug on Viewtron in 1986 it was clear that subscribers were more interested in talking to each other about the news than reading a journalist’s perspective on it. Knight-Ridder didn’t understand they had found the genesis and most important component of the media change that would eventually kill the company. People desire to be agents unto themselves.
Somehow the one with the bullhorn doesn’t hear others very well if all they do is talk.
Noted internet and social media expert Clay Shirky gave a presentation to the U.S. State Department in June 2009. If you have a message to get out to anyone it will be worth your time to spend 17 minutes watching his presentation on YouTube.
Paraphrasing Clay Shirky’s closing:
In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap, where the former audience are now increasingly full participants, media is less and less about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating and supporting environments for convening groups. And the choice we face, anybody who has a message they want to have heard anywhere in the world, isn’t whether that’s the media environment we want to operate in. That’s the media environment we’ve got. The question we all face now is, how can we make the best use of this medium even though it means changing the way we’ve always done it.