How the Traditional Media Misunderstands Net Neutrality: We Are Producers, Not Consumers

Last week, the NY Times’ Joe Nocera wrote about net neutrality, a topic I’ve discussed before. In Nocera’s piece is a parenthetical aside that illustrates how those ensconced in large-scale corporate media simply do not comprehend what the net neutrality battle is all about. Nocera:

(Which brings up one of the true oddities about the fervor over net neutrality. Cable television distributors make decisions all the time about what people can see and how much they have to pay for it. If special sports-only tiers aren’t an example of placing some content over other content, I don’t know what is. Yet because it is merely television, and not the sacred Internet, nobody seems to view this practice as a crime against humanity. But I digress.)

Wow. He just doesn’t get it. I’m no internet triumphalist, but what upsets people about the possible destruction of net neutrality is that it limits their ability to distribute content to other people. Most people, podcasts notwithstanding, aren’t going to produce their own TV shows, but many people (including the Mad Biologist) have something to write.
In other words, it’s not that millions of consumers are angry, but, rather, millions of producers are:

In the pre-interenet, and certainly pre-blog era, you had a very different relationship to politics, even if you were aware and relatively active: you were a consumer.
By consumer, I mean that you used to have to wait around and hope that some columnist or editorial board would speak for you. There were some alternatives, such as writing letters to the editor, or in the early days of the internet, posting at electronic bulletin boards (remember those?). But now with blogging, it is possible to speak for yourself. That completely undermines the role of the punditocracy. There are a lot of smart people out there who never had a voice before, and now they do. Why listen to a pundit about the Middle East, when there are serious scholars who are quite familiar with the region who can offer commentary? Why listen to Gregg Easterbrook about science when you have these here ScienceBlogs with real, live, professional scientists?

I realize I’m ‘just a blogger’, but, if this is any indication of how the NY Times sees the future of news, they’re in trouble.

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5 Responses to How the Traditional Media Misunderstands Net Neutrality: We Are Producers, Not Consumers

  1. Mad Mike,
    You’ve nailed it aptly. I wondered before why it’s a seldom heard point of view. I suppose you might have happened on it right here, in that the most widely broadcast voices are also the most insulated from street-level Internet content. They’re in ivory towers (um, except the towers are made of green-tinted reflective glass in all likelihood).
    I might also perhaps be partly due to a mass-media mindset that says that “obscure” creators of content are also (and thereby) unsuccessful ones. I don’t want to get into all that long-tail wankery, and I know citizen-journalists are often better in theory than practice, and it would be cheesy to wax all poetic about grassroots-anything.
    But, you know — still. A lot of creative people are putting their stuff out there, and it would be a pity to remove or suffocate that tier of content creation. I think it adds vitality throughout the ecosystem.

  2. SimonG says:

    It also stiffles innovation. The Internet allows someone to start a new business with little more than a good idea. But not if their message is stiffled.

  3. Epicanis says:

    I prefer to say “Participant” rather than “Producer”, but that’s a semantic quibble.
    All I can say is it makes me happy to see I’m not the only one saying this.

  4. Quantos says:

    I think Mr. The Mad Biologist, you have lost your sense of perspective.
    To illustrate: You take a single awkward metaphor that was a single parenthetical paragraph in an otherwise very good and illuminating business oriented opinion piece from a single writer in a single paper on a single day and blow it up to “those ensconced in large-scale corporate media simply do not comprehend what the net neutrality battle is all about.”
    The metaphor he uses is imperfect for sure, and criticism of it is warranted. However to say that it shows “How the Traditional Media Misunderstands Net Neutrality” is an awfully large swath of condemnation to throw around based on 80 words. I would add also that cherry picking data is hardly true to the scientific spirit.
    The New York Times features many authors with many perspectives and to attribute any single small piece of data to an indication of how some supposed monolithic organization functions shows an unfortunate misunderstanding of how media works.
    To condemn an entire section of industry from a single paragraph is ludicrous, just as it would be ludicrous to write “Bloggers don’t seem to understand how to read the news media” based on this posting.
    Please be more precise in your condemnations in the future i.e. don’t just say “the Media” if you mean a single individual, and don’t throw around narrow-minded statements with little to no data to back them up.

  5. yogi-one says:

    @4 Quantos: Point taken, but still I think Mike is basically correct. I read a lot of NYT stuff, editorials as well as articles and NYT magazine more in-depth stuff. Some of it is top-notch reporting by very skilled professionals, it’s true.
    Here’s the thing: NYT still treats internet participation as a consumer activity. Yes, they have a team of bloggers, but they hold them as being essentially the same as traditional columnists, only they hit ‘enter’ to publish instead of taking it to their immediate upline editor.
    Yes, they have comments, but this is not given much sway. Most NYT articles have hundreds of comments by an assortment of people with all kinds of agendas. The comments of an NYT article are basically useless compared to say, the efficacy of posting a comment here on Sb.
    And other than having your comment buried under dozens of others within minutes, the NYT offers nothing to online readers.
    Contrast this with Google or Facebook. Google or Facebook doesn’t charge users for anything because they aren’t treating users as consumers.
    No, the consumers that Google sells to are advertisers and investors. Their users are product. They don’t charge their users for the same reason that a consumer electronics shop doesn’t charge their assembly-line workers for final product.
    They are the product. Google and FB goes to their customers, and says “look we have produced millions of users for you to try to sell your business products to.”
    Google even says “hell, we’ll also make applications that users have to buy your traditional products to use, then give them to our users (our product) to increase attractiveness to you, our customers.
    Similarly, the new model in the blogosphere is a trend that Sb didn’t start, but sure helped amplify: bloggers are there to lure readers.
    In the blogosphere, the bloggers and the commentors are doubling up by both producing content and themselves being products that can interest other business partners. Bloggers and users are products of the parent organization, and they in turn are producers of contents, hits, ratings and the other metrics that business partners want to see.
    Success of your product is measured in hits, search engine ratings, and these yardsticks in turn attract advertisers and other business partners.
    Increasingly, this is the trend. Users and readers are being trated as products, or producers of product and advertisers, manufacturers, and investors are now the customers.
    Mike is right to point out that not only the NYT, but also some of the other tradional media heavy-hitters, are way behind the curve in adapting to this sea-change in the industry.

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