Consumption versus production in the new media age

The distinction between enthusiast and producer has become less certain, particularly in the news media. Microblogging platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have made the ability to produce content and have say significantly easier. Longform platforms like Blogger, Medium and WordPress mean analysis, investigations, and more can be created and disseminated through the internet, for free. Barriers to entry to produce the news are at an all time low, and the definition of “journalist” is changing. Does it include bloggers? Influencers? What training do they need?

While the blurred distinction between enthusiast and producer is true in other areas as well, the difference remains in the means of production; whether a physical product is required, and how it is transferred between people. With news media, people are not selling the product, but the advertising around it. Yes, this is changing via paywalls, events, and other revenue opportunities. However, historically, the more eyes, the more money, the greater someone’s brand. This creates the potential to branch out and for an enthusiast to move into the professional realm at an established news organisation. Consider, for instance, a number of big name “bloggers” that reside within news organisations (Nate Silver, Paul Krugman, &c). 

The advent of digital media has also had repercussions on the consumer/audience. In 1995, Tulloch and Jenkins wrote they would: “adopt a distinction between fans, active participants with fandom as a social, cultural and interpretive institution, and followers, audience members who regularly watch and enjoy media… programmes but who claim no larger social identity on the basis of this consumption.” This distinction focuses on the identity of an audience member within the particular media type - science fiction. However, this is true across media types. Similarly, it has strong links to community identification and affiliation. Indeed, the notion of community is prevalent in many of the discussions of this audience transformation, as it is inherently based on a shared understanding of the media or the images portrayed in the mediascape.

Abercrombie makes a compelling case for audience development, suggesting a continuum from consumer to fan, to cultist/enthusiast, to producer. He uses this in the context of fan fiction, relating it to novels and TV series. These categories differentiate primarily along lines of the object of focus, media usage and organisational structure. The step from enthusiast to producer (or petty producer, to use his words) passes the barrier from content creation for emotional or identity reasons to creation for commercial gain foremost. While a valuable way to contextualise audience development, this definition does not go far enough in modern times, where the distinctions are less and less relevant.