Jay Rosen has written a very interesting article describing why the authority of mass media is eroding. Media attention looses much of its value if, as Rosen states, the authority of the press has been eroded. His premise, that the internet has removed the ability of the media to define “legitimate debate”, clearly points to both a great opportunity and a challenge for theatre. The opportunity is that the legitimacy that mass media once bestowed, can now be developed by virtually anyone. On the other hand, any individual or group looking to find or develop a following is pretty much on their own.
Rosen’s article reveals the unspoken assumptions we have all been operating under with regards to the media. Assumptions which had not been distinguished, but upon which the system was based. With these assumptions revealed, the uncertainty many experience in our current environment is easily understood, and it is obvious why all media are struggling to develop compelling content.
This decline in media’s authority creates a related problem for theatre, and the arts in general. Media attention is now less valuable. Most obviously, reviews and stories have less of an impact, and even advertising looses effectiveness. The question then becomes, as the influence of traditional media declines, will new media be as effective in replacing it? If new media is not as effective, how will the decline of traditional media affect, or even transform art, or at least the way art is created and presented?
In a larger context, however, the same forces that are at work on the media are also at work on the arts. These forces will result in as big a shift in the arts as we are seeing in media. Arts organizations that resist making changes of the magnitude now being required by media organizations will see their relevance decline and even their eventual collapse.Joseph Fosco