Letter to colleague Caryn Gootkin in response to  questions she posed when writing her article ”If Eusebius can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the MasterChef kitchen”

Following on my tweet about media companies, and how they seem ironically so bad at communication:  Why are media companies struggling today? Because they haven’t got the concept of the social web. And I’ll tell you in a moment why I call it the social web, and not social media.

But first, in the words of Jack Dorsey, executive chairman of Twitter, CEO of Four Square, and a founder of both: “Twitter is not a new media. It’s the global conversation we’ve always thirsted for.”

Ever since the days of the Egyptian scribe, the media has positioned itself as a one-way channel which sends messages out to the masses, and which only ever gave its audience a small right of reply – often grudgingly – in the form of letters to the editor (edited, of course, by the um, editor) and, if they thought the writer was important enough (or if they thought he agreed with them enough), on the op-ed pages.

But that’s not communication.

Remember the English teacher at school, slowly reading dictation for us to copy down, silently, unquestioningly?

Like that.

In communication, both parties listen first and speak second. And this is why I prefer to call it the social web – it may be disorganised, messy, sloppy, and even unkind and often unethical, but it’s a two-way conversation.

The media seems unable to do that. Populated as it is by so many people who think they know more than the experts they quote and interview, it’s become a place in which people force their opinions on others. It’s push, rather than pull marketing. It’s the editor who splashes the anguish of a child on the front page, using the excuse ‘it’s what our readers want.’ And bases that argument on questionable research from small focus groups.

And that’s why I prefer not to call it social media: the very concept of media implies one-way thinking. (Advertising being the ultimate expression of this.)

For the first time ever, the social web has given us a conversation that’s totally measureable, and that’s quantifiable. And, for the woman in the street (more so than for the man, since women have long been held in contempt by the media: witness the reporting in the mainstream press about the suffragette movement at the start of the last century), this is causing a transfer of power that is scaring the living shit out of the media houses.

Second, you asked about a recent event where a simple apology would have diffused the situation.

I give you ‘The Spear.’

The media had a field day, and I have to admit, I was totally behind the strident calls for Brett Murray to, er, wind his neck in.

But then I started to watch the conversation on twitter. And suddenly, it wasn’t just a fascist government banning what I thought of as a rather poorly executed piece of art.

If ever I thought about public nudity, it was usually with a wry grin and a sneak peak (just for the purposes of scientific comparison, you understand). The media, on the other hand, whipped itself into a froth of righteous indignation. As you do.

Then last week or so, Zapiro came up with another cartoon about Zuma, this time depicting the entire man as a penis.

From both of these incidents, I learned a lot more about my fellow man from twitter than I did from the media. Like this: I learned that many black people in this country are appalled at depictions of nudity, and especially of the nudity of their parents. And let’s face it, even if he is a poor dad indeed, JZ is the hypothetical parent figure of the nation, since he’s our elected president.

That stopped me.

But did it stop anyone else? Murray? Zapiro? The media houses?


A lot of water’s been passed since then, but still, I can’t help thinking of the reaction to that painting of the Prime Minister of Canada. ‘Emperor Haute Couture’ shows a naked Stephen Harper, leaning back on a lounge chair, with a terrier at his feet and with his (the PM’s) interesting bits covered by a small, perfectly round black patch.

Said the Prime Minister’s office on Twitter? “We’re not impressed. Everyone knows the PM is a cat person.”

Even on the web, the, erm, soft answer turneth away wrath.