Digital technology is transforming not just how media is made, but who is making it. At elite digital brands, readers and the general public are having an unprecedented role in shaping media and content creation.
At a paidContent Live session hosted by Slate chairman Jacob Weisberg, three media companies described a new breed of creators who are equally at ease with content and technology. This has led to the emergence of non-traditional media influencers such as comment communities at Reddit, and at Vox Media sites The Verge and SB Nation.
“In the day, if you wanted to create media, you had to start as an intern making coffee,” said Vox CEO Jim Bankoff, adding that now anyone with $100 can make a movie. He explained that this democratization of content creation has resulted, in some cases, of Vox hiring people on the basis of their comment contributions.
This has led to a culture of empowerment in which everyday people are as fluent in media as many traditional journalists. More and more, they are taking to public platforms to not just report, but to take part in the news.
Erik Martin, GM of Reddit, cited “random acts of pizza” — a community on the site that sends pizza as a gesture of support, most recently to emergency workers in Boston.
But does this new culture of public participation also has a dark side? Slate’s Weisberg pointed to Reddit’s current efforts to identify the Boston bomber, including posting a suspect’s photo on the site, as approaching vigilante justice.
“Reddit may be creating the next Richard Jewell,” said Weisberg, referring to a police officer who foiled an Atlanta Olympics bombing plot only to be falsely accused as a suspect in a traumatizing “trial by media.”
Martin said he regarded the role of Reddit employees as “groundskeepers” who helped discrete communities determine their own standards.
Dan Roth, a former Fortune editor who now oversees news on LinkedIn Today, offered a further example of how non-journalists are creating media. He described how executives like Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson are now writing regular columns in their own voices. While such contributions in traditional media typically amounted to no more than press releases, Roth said that readers’ ire at inauthenticity has forced even corporate executives to reevaluate how they write.
Check out the rest of our paidContent Live 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below: