Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Unmediated vs. Mediated Information

The serious allegations and investigations surrounding members of the Duke men's lacrosse team and an exotic dancer have reinforced a new paradigm about where people get information about current events and how that information is disseminated.

The day and age when mediated information, either through official news outlets and reports or paid advertising, was key are gone. Even when these media were the only source other than person-to-person word of mouth, there were concerns, e.g., news reports were often based on fragments of information as the reporter or editor or even headline writer made connections, laid out the story, made sense of complex topics.

This worked well at its best and still does, but it’s called mediated because someone else is controlling or interpreting. Of course at its worst it is sensational, agenda-driven and full of hyperbole. Advertising too can be misleading or over-promise.

Today, though, people may first learn fragments from mediated sources, but this is quickly overcome by listservs, blogs, and yes, the grapevine. If the issue is emotionally charged…well, most folks have seen the pros and cons.

What it means, though, for communication professionals is that one can’t rely now solely on official statements based on thorough evaluation of the facts then mediated by traditional media. People either get information and feedback in real-time, or the viral nature of unmediated outlets will fill in the blanks, and things can get out of hand in a hurry.

People’s lives and reputations can be destroyed, perceptions can be shaped on fragmentary information or no information at all and instances requiring full facts and justice can be overwhelmed by the need to make a statement.

Not sure we’re headed into better times for information. But things are definitely changing and so will how and where information is disseminated.

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