Economist new media survey

Somewhat, but not very, belatedly, here is my summary of the Economist’s new media survey: the survey itself is available to subscribers only.


  • Moveable type was introduced in 1448 and spread across Europe to allow people to produce texts that anyone could read (ie not in Latin). Radio and television contributed to the age of mass media, at its zenith in around 1960.
  • In 2001 “moveable type” was invented again as a better blogging tool, marking the gradual transition to a new era, that of participatory (or personal) media. The corporate media giants have yet to realise that this new media is not about what they distribute to users, but about users putting as much into the network as they take out.


  • A blog is a personal, online diary, social by nature but the unedited voice of a single (usually) person, linking to other blogs that the author recommends via a blogroll. Blogging is a means of self-expression and a revolutionary way to communicate. Livejournal/MySpace blogs have an average of seven readers, personal blogs more typically a few hundred.
  • Blogs began in 1997. Everyone will have a blog within five years, and journalism will be a conversation, not a sermon. People will participate, connect and converse.


  • Yahoo news is a mixture of professional and amateur content: during events like Katrina or the London bomb attacks, citizens uploaded and tagged photos on Flickr; some were posted on Yahoo news by the editors. This is an overwhelmingly positive movement.
  • Recent scandals have shown the fallibility of trusted mainstream media sources (eg Jayson Blair of the New York Times). Newspapers are downsizing. Classified advertisements are losing out to online services such as Craigslist and Googlebase.
  • The “old” media must evolve, remove subscription walls which bloggers will not link to, and join the conversation (encourage reader participation).


  • The English-language Wikipedia has more than 1 million articles and is almost 12 times larger than the print version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; it is only five years old. Its information is freely shared and is editable.
  • Wikis allow groups of people to share a page, for example team members in a company.


  • Podcasting began in 2004 and is when an audio file (recorded from anywhere) is posted on the Internet. People can listen to it, download it, and subscribe to feeds from a podcaster. Podcasting is therefore about “time shifting”—listening offline to something at a time of the user’s choosing.
  • Podcasting is a less social (and less revolutionary) medium than blogs or wikis, but it has immense power: listeners become their own programmers; they are freed from advertising; and they can listen when they want. The costs of producing content are dramatically lowered. Podcasting does not mean the end of radio.


  • Second life (SL) began in 2003; it is not a video game but a “metaverse” in which about 100,000 people live, make things and parcticipate in society as avatars (online extensions of themselves). Larry Lessig, an author, gave a talk in SL, and lots of avatars actually showed up.
  • Things created in SL are exported into real life – eg games, fashion, songs, films (of events in SL). SL reduces the costs of making a movie to zero.

What is a media company?

  • The Internet is a much larger change than the coming of television. The user is the programmer; and small audiences are good for advertisers. (The long tail.) Although there is professional media content on the web, the general trend is towards more user-generated content, such that the Internet will become more and more like a “stock exchange” in which users create (offer) and search, share, navigate and enjoy (bid for) content. Advertisers will also bid to have sponsored links placed in front of these users.
  • Google is a media company run by technology people ( a search engine with lots of free internet services). Yet it does not produce what media companies traditionally manufacture: content. People need help navigating round content (Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia). Yahoo, on the other hand, is a media company now doing research into the sociological aspects of the internet.
  • Network effects (eg telephone services) and exchanges (eg EBay) increase in value as the number of users increases. They also become barriers to entry by rivals. Hence YouTube (1 year old), which lets people share and upload videos, and Amazon are rushing to exploit network effects.
  • What will happen to the “old media” is unknown. Some will find niches (eg family content for Disney). Some will try to combine old empires with new marketplaces (MySpace/News Corp. and AOL/TimeWarner).


  • Society is in the early phases of a media revolution on the scale of that started by Gutenberg in 1448. Benefits include the democratising effects and global reach; threats include pornography, religious fanaticism and terrorism.
  • Linda Stone argues that we are victims of “continuous partial attention” and long for protection, meaningful connections and focus. New media companies understand this – the era of participatory media could be more serene than the era of mass media. Nobody really knows, though. “Every society gets the media it deserves”.

The Economist survey ends with a list of sources and further reading.

Minx said…

Ahh, answers to questions I was too ignorant to ask!!

8:52 PM

James Long said…

Thanks, Maxine, for this precis of the supplement for those of us without an Economist subscription (we had one but we never read them so…).

Part of me finds an overview of new media a very useful thing, and part of me has a sense of people on one side looking over at what people on the other side are doing and assessing it, systematising it (e.g. I’m not sure that you can really define the elements of a blog, as these things change all the time), and generally revealing that they’re a bit afraid of having to be involved.

Anyway, thanks again!

9:23 AM

Maxine said…

Yes, know what you mean, James. I was reading the survey for interest, and being of "a certain age" and therefore having no short-term memory to speak of, I wanted to log my notes so I didn’t forget it all. But it does seem to me that, articulate as the Economist is, the bottom line is that nobody has a clue where it is all going. But I do like the statistic that everyone will have a blog ere too long.

And Minx, quite. I love some of these tecchy blogs, but I am a fan without comprehension much of the time. I just admire all these clever people who seem to get so into things I never knew could exist. I dip my toe in the water now and again, and hope my children will take pity on me and keep me vaguely in touch! (So that when I am 80 I can still be doing whatever blogging has mutated into by then.)

9:23 PM

Frank Wilson said…

Yes, Maxine, no one in fact knows how this is going to develop. But those who are participating have an advantage, because one can understand this phenomenon only to the extent that one participates in it.

1:30 AM

Maxine said…

I agree, Frank, and I have in my queue of things to write about a posting of Liz Strauss’s that leads on from the sentiment you express in the last part of your comment.

3:45 PM