Review of Charlie Beckett’s Supermedia

So it’s been weeks since I’ve ahd a chnce to put some thoughts down into a blog post, but an email from Charlie Beckett, director of the new media think-tank at the LSE and London School of Communications, about his new book called Supermedia [full title] has finally spurred me into action.

Supermedia is an optimist and positive book outlining how the media can enhance its forces-for-good using the internet. its essential argument is that:

  1. journalism plays a vital role sustaining healthy liberal societies;
  2. journalism (like most industrial economic complexes) is being re-shaped by the internet;
  3. that we are a media cross-roads where we have the chance to shape the future of journalism for the better;
  4. that when we talk about contemporary journalism we mean, in effect, digital journalism.

Charlie terms this type of contemporary digital journalism: Networked Journalism. Networked Journalism includes what we term ‘citizen journalism’ bit it is also a type of journalism that “is a reflection of emerging realities” as well as an opportunity to transform the ethics as well as efficacy of journalism.”

Now I haven’t read the full book, just the introduction (available with other chapter excerpts over at Harvard University’s Berkman Center). But it seems to me that in creating the concept of Networked Journalism Charlie is seeking to explore how journalism – and by extension – the news media can function in an internet-enabled or to use Yochai Benkler’s term, networked information economy.

This gets my thumbs up. There is a lot of general talk about how the social web and its various tools is changing media production for the worse – eg. the dumbing down argument (in fact, Private Eye magazine, the original challengers of establishment views are one of the worse purveyors of this which really annoys me – but that’s for another post).

The only issue I would raise about this line of argument is that in a networked world where everyone can publish their news, Charlie takes a specifically journalism-centric approach to the question of who actually owns contemporary media production.

Nowhere (at least in the book’s intro) is this made more clear than the following sentence: “Networked journalism offers the news media to enhance its social role.”

In my notes I wrote: “Or offers society to enhance its news media role.”

The point I’m making here is that the internet rejects the traditionally formalised structures and boundaries we artificially created around things like “the media” and “business” and “politics”. To borrow David Weinberger’s idea, the internet makes all of these traditionally siloed areas of life miscellaneous.

To push that idea a bit further, the interent removes these areas of life of their identity until we chose to invoke those identities in what ever form suits us best – not media publishers, not politicians, not business leaders, us.

So with this logic, the news media is no more. Or at least is no more different than citizen journalism, blog content, Flickr content etc. Charlie discusses the importance of these new social media tools, but still privileges ‘real’ journalism as a separate part of this new media ecology. In my mind the internet rejects any and all hierarchy and distinctions between citizen journalism and professional journalism.

Anyway, I’m getting abstract and I don’t think this represents any faults with Charlie’s arguments. Charlie himself tells us early in the intro that “I do not pretend to be objective … So I’m afraid that it is back to the journalist this time to understand what is happening to our news media.

Supermedia is a book about what is happening to contemporary journalism, written by a journalist, from a journalist’s perspective. That’s not a problem – that’s the framework through which Charlie is interpreting the miscellaneous landscape of the internet.

One final thought on this is where PR or the professional communications industry sits in this view. I bet that for every 10 citizen journalists or bloggers there is a PR person trying to work out how to influence what that blogger blogs about.

This clearly presents challenges and opportunities to the growing ethics and efficacy of the news media. Maybe this issue is covered off later in the book but I’d love Charlie’s take on the subject.

Technorati tags: Charlie Beckett, Supermedia, Polis, London School of Economics


  1. Agree completely – his adaptation of my model ( treats the audience too much as a supplier of data for me. The inference is very much “thanks for that, we’ll take care of it now.” There needs to be more give and take. The walls need to come down.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Paul. I’m glad you agree – I cooked up my response on a train journey to work. having an academic back it is very pleasing indeed 😉

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