Monday, 30 November 2015

Debate: What is the media for today?

Most debate around the future of media assumes we know what role the media plays or needs to play in society. Past roles the media (aspired to) play, such as delivering objective comprehensive news, are implicitly dismissed without explanation, and new roles such as democratising and inclusion are embraced without reflection. In extreme cases technology is assigned agency, with society passively changing to its will. If the media, and society, is to make the most of the new possibilities technology offers we need to more clearly examine the roles the media needs to (and can) play, and clearly establish the goals of our media futures. We have brought together three distinctive protagonists to help us consider these goals.

Andrew Keen

“[W]e increasingly regard citizenship in terms of self-expression rather than self-knowledge”
Andrew Keen

“If anyone were being invited to anything with real power they wouldn’t be invited inDr Andrew Calcutt on citizen journalism

Charlie Beckett

“I can’t believe the argument that the citizen should not be part of journalism. It means you don’t trust your public”
Charlie Beckett


Andrew Keen, author

Charlie Beckett, Founding Director, POLIS

Dr Andrew Calcutt, Principal Lecturer in Creative Industries and Cultural Studies and Programme Leader, MA Journalism and Society, School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies, University of East London


Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas


Charlie Beckett The news media is for what it always was for. It can be a watchdog, informer, educator, entertainer, campaigner, profit-maker or forum. Journalism in ‘professional’ or ‘amateur’ form can be a force for good or ill. There is nothing immutable or inevitable about news media. But new technologies combined with changing social and economic forces open up the possibilities (and threats) of new communications systems and processes. By embracing a more connected and open form of news media that encourages public participation I believe that journalism can enhance and transform itself as a practice and as a part of the public discourse and political activity.

Andrew Keen The purpose of the media is to inform people what is happening in both their own countries and the world. This is the foundation for creating a responsible citizenship and is one of the great challenges in western democracies, where we increasingly regard citizenship in terms of self-expression rather than self-knowledge.

Andrew Calcutt Media (plural) are for more than one thing. But plurality does not exclude priority – nor should it. As media professionals, we should take the lead in establishing the primary purpose of media. Partly because we professionals have failed to take a strong lead, in the recent period media have tended to become the means through which many people make a spectacle of themselves. In user-generated-content, non-professionals upload themselves as wares for others to share; meanwhile we media people are often ready to drop the cogito and adapt our professionalism to the principle of manifesto ergo sum.

Not all these developments are negative, since they represent an attempt to continue the social by means other than the political. But they are a weak attempt upon a substantial task, and we professionals are culpable if we allow others to invest themselves in something so insufficient. Instead, we should champion objectivity as the essential counterpart to human history-making subjectivity. Not the ‘objectivity’ from which the majority were excluded, but the collaborative and contentious process of making the world as reproduced in human knowledge of it, correspond to the world which only we humans could have produced. Similarly, only when we make this social reality into an object of the deepest inquiry (typically the particular task for professionals) and widest scrutiny (the role of the general public), are we collectively qualified to subject it to progressive social change.

New media, in their capacity for both dissemination and centralisation, should be oriented to a democratic objectivity that matches human history-making subjectivity. This is what media can be for.

Reports and Commentary

Video of the session provided by Robin Hamman

Experts vs. the user, Clara Lemon on the Futurelab Flux Weblog: “The conference was a lively and unexpected platform for a very stimulating debate on this issue. I certainly feel better able to promote empowering users involvement the production of anything, but remembering that it is important to ensure that expertise isn’t forgotten and is an essential part of the ingredients”.

‘Pay-per-view’ is future of online journalism, says Andrew Keen, Laura Oliver,, 20/06/08

Reflections by Charlie Beckett [one of the panelists] on the POLIS Director’s Weblog

Live blogged notes by Rain Rainycat

MediaFutures and the Remembrance of Media past by Alan Patrick on the broadstuff Weblog

Summary by Mirona Iliescu on cheezy cheeky Weblog

Reflection on and critique of Andrew Keen’s argument by Robin Hamman on Weblog

Report on some of the post-introduction discussion on the PenPlusBytes Weblog


The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy Andrew Keen (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2007) [UK edition] []

Supermedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save the World Charlie Beckett (Blackwell, 2008) [] Also available to read online or download from the Berkman Center media re:public preparation page [PDF]

White Noise: A-Z of the Contradictions of Cyberculture Andrew Calcutt (Palgrave Macmillan, 1998) []

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Fred Turner (Chicago University Press, 2008) []

Bookmark for Networked journalism: For the people and with the people, Charlie Beckett, Press Gazette, 18 October 2007

Bookmark for The future role of public service broadcasting, Sir David Attenborough, BBC, 30 April 2008 [video]

Bookmark for Storyville ‘Blog Wars’ BBC Four, 17/01/06

Bookmark for New frontiers in journalism Ben Hammersley, BBC NEWS Magazine, 27 June 2007

Bookmark for Auntie’s favourites, John Lloyd,, March 2 2007

Bookmark for Three cheers for Gutenberg – and long live dead trees, Simon Jenkins, Guardian, January 6, 2006 by Nico Macdonald

Related events

Book Launch: ‘Cult of the Amateur’ by Andrew Keen at ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) (Monday, June 25, 2007)
The Great Digital Seduction at RSA, The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (Tuesday, September 4, 2007)
Insight with Andrew Keen: Is the internet killing journalism? at Frontline Club (Thursday, September 6, 2007)
Mass Collaboration or Extermination by the masses? at NESTA (Monday, March 3, 2008)
World Press Freedom Day Debate: New Media is Killing Journalism at Frontline Club (Friday, May 2, 2008)