NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen visited BYU on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. He addressed students about the ways modern communication is changing.
Rosen explained that traditional mass media did not allow its audience to communicate with the message transmitter. He said people could connect up to a newscast or radio show or newspaper, but they were horizontally disconnected from other audience members.
“They were receiving what the media was putting out, but they couldn’t talk back,” Rosen said. “Now in the Internet age, the media talks to us, but we also talk back. The Internet goes both ways. Your television set does not.”
Rosen said this new dynamic has changed every form of communication, including journalism, public relations and advertising. The Internet has created so many sources of information, he said, that communications professionals can no longer derive their credibility from knowing more than the average person.
He compared communications professionals to doctors whose patients run Google searches on their symptoms and treatment.
“In order to be an authoritative, trusted doctor under these conditions, what do you have to do?” Rosen asked. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m the doctor,’ you have to say, ‘Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the information. I’ll help you research it.’ That’s transparency.”
The same principle of transparency applies to communications professionals, according to Rosen. He explained that today’s journalists need to act as curators, not monopolizers, of information.
“Media is moving from the majesty of professional authority to the routine of public transparency,” Rosen said. “A lot of what we see in new media is people who generate trust that way.”
He also said the media needs to treat its audience members as real individuals with lives and interests, rather than categories or numbers. This is one of many adjustments that communications professionals need to make to avoid “losing” respect and audience members.
“Any profession in the media, from journalist to documentary maker to advertising person to public relations person has to grapple with this shift in authority, the new balance of power, the availability of all kinds of information to the people formerly known as the audience,” Rosen said.
The BYU School of Communications hosted the lecture. Rosen is the author of the blog Press Think and has been part of NYU’s journalism faculty since 1986.