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The Definition of “Media” Needs to Change

More than any time in recent memory, today there is a shortage of objective media in the United States. The diversification of media platforms and the explosion of accessibility to media have contributed to undermining a business model that supported objective media for about 100 years. In an effort to reach more segmented, but more passionate audiences, media has become more politicized. However, American democracy needs objective media even if the business model for it may no longer exist.

So where is that objective media to come from? Not for profit organizations and organizations for whom content is not their primary line of business are potential sources. For both, the current environment creates an opportunity to provide objective sector-specific information that is viewed as a trusted source by experts and the generally interested public. In doing so, it gives them an opportunity to build an audience of their own.

The type of outlets that I’m speaking of include my employer, The Brookings Institution, and Kaiser Health News to name a couple. Neither are a traditional media outlet, but both have issue-area experts for whom reaching a direct audience helps fulfill the mission of the organization.

At Brookings, on top of the regular written content produced every day by our roster of over 300 experts, our communications team creates products like podcasts, videos, info graphics and other curated social media products. These things are all designed to build audience and make the content as accessible as possible. I’ve noticed that few similar organizations, some of our immediate peers excluded, are as aggressive as we are at availing themselves of the opportunities available today to both produce and share content. I suspect that the reticence still has to do with the human and operational costs, but over the course of my career, I’ve seen the benefits to making that investment.

Unlike Brookings, which has a history of independence, some sources will not be objective. In those cases, an organization may want to explore building separate channels that do seek to be objective because it provides value for the audience they seek.

The amount of time Americans spend online has grown by an hour just in the last year. People are reading, watching, and seeking out more. Young people, in particular, are building their reading and watching habits that they may carry for decades. If you have content to distribute it is important to take some of the direct responsibility for its production and distribution. None of this is to take away from the critical role that traditional journalism plays, but there is undeniably more space to be filled in the media landscape.

I am often asked if Brookings thinks of ourselves as competing with traditional media outlets and I always say, “no, but I do think we are all competing for people’s attention.” While platforms like Medium are cutting staff because of the pressure to monetize there are viable alternative outlets that don’t need to monetize and offer valuable sector expertise. To-date these organizations haven’t been considered media, but that definition simply needs to change.

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