Rupert Murdoch, Old Media and The Church

kinnon —  May 6, 2007 — 1 Comment

Rupert Murdoch hasn’t experienced the kind of success he has without accurately understanding the world he finds himself in:

Everyone knows that networking–once a face-to-face affair, sometimes captured in a Rolodex–is now worldwide, instant, and impervious to constraints of distance, time or cost.

Those of us in so-called old media have also learned the hard way what this new meaning of networking spells for our businesses. Media companies don’t control the conversation anymore, at least not to the extent that we once did. The big hits of the past were often, if not exactly flukes, then at least the beneficiaries of limited options. Of course a film is going to be a success if it’s the only movie available on a Saturday night. Similarly, when three networks divided up a nation of 200 million, life was a lot easier for television executives. And not so very long ago most of the daily newspapers that survived the age of consolidation could count themselves blessed with monopolies in their home cities.

All that has changed. Options abound. Fans of small niches can now find new content they could never before. Going elsewhere for news and entertainment is easier and cheaper than ever. And people’s expectations of media have undergone a revolution. They are no longer content to be a passive audience; they insist on being participants, on creating their own material and finding others who will want to read, listen and watch. (HT: Terry Heaton)

This is the world that we who call ourselves the church (not necessarily the congregation) also find ourselves in.

Pastor friends have recently asked me how they are to define their role in this new world – better sermons than they could ever preach are available instantaneously online, every theological point made can be checked in nanoseconds – the tendrils of the internet invade the very pews plush chairs or coffee shops frequented with parishioners, relationships are no longer defined by time, space and place – but too often by pixels dancing on an LCD, while blogs attack/critique every intention – dire warnings on orthodoxy read into books recommended, theological questions of the friendships kept. How does a leader navigate in the world of ubiquitous interconnectivity?

Old media mavens like Murdoch seem to understand and respond appropriately. He gets the world of discontinuous change we live in and realizes the need to quickly adapt or disappear.

News is in more demand than ever, but the vast network of Internet-savvy news junkies want their news with several fresh twists: constantly updated, relevant to their daily lives, complete with commentary and analysis, and presented in a way that allows them to interact not just with the news but with each other about the news. They won’t wait until six o’clock to watch the news on television or until the next morning to read it in isolation. This plainly provides a challenge for news providers but also an opportunity to be far more engaged with the audience.
Companies that take advantage of this new meaning of network and adapt to the expectations of the networked consumer can look forward to a new golden age of media. Far be it from me to suggest that either I or my company have all the answers. No one does. But the future of media is a future of relentless experimentation and innovation, accelerating change, and–for those who embrace the new ways in which consumers are connecting with each other–enormous potential.

Where Murdoch may stumble in his analysis is in the old media concepts of “audience” and “consumers” – (as Jay Rosen reminds us in an article that sparked a lot of traffic to this blog). Much often these same words (audience and consumers) drive the delivery of “church services.”

Murdoch’s article leads me to ask, what is the church in this wired world? And how can you lead in the midst of the network?

UPDATE: And this just seems appropriate to add from Cluetrain brother, David Weinberger (who’s new book, Everything is Miscellaneous is on my must read list. If I wasn’t moving in ten days, I’d be ordering it from Amazon this very minute. Read Cory Doctorow’s review.)


Whatever case you want to make about the Internet, you can make. Want to show that it contains the most wretched ideas and images? There’s a whole bunch of sites you can point to. Want to prove that it is the salvation of democracy and rational discourse? Google and ye shall find. Want to show that it’s a haven for red-headed sociopaths who raise chihuahuas for their milk? Yup, you can probably find those sites, too.

So now when people complain that on the Internet people flame one another, or they live in echo chambers (and notice that those two claims are mutually exclusive), or that people on the Net encourage the destruction of all morals, I don’t disagree. All those things happen. But the full truth is, I believe, that on the Internet there’s more of everything. There’s more porn, there’s more righteousness. There’s more anger, there’s more support. There are more sites where people gang up on their enemies and more sites where love transgresses its boundaries.

More of everything.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to Rupert Murdoch, Old Media and The Church

  1. How are pastors to define their role in this new world? I’d say, you can’t compete with ubiquity. There will always be someone smarter, more articulate, better resourced and prettier. Don’t try to compete. Don’t try to compare yourself to those who seem to be better at what you do. Just be your authentic self. Don’t perform a role. Discover your calling and do it. Serve the niche that God brings into your path. The beauty of the network is the beauty that we all have long tails to serve. The secret is that people want to network with real people, not roles. As a result, see the change of “roles” as liberation, not chaos. You are now free to serve without the constraints of tired structures and worn-out conventions. You are free to be the one you thought you were to be when the call began to be heard. You are free.


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