Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The best thing I've read lately...

...at least in the realm of professional reading, is Andrew Blau's great new piece, The Future of Independent Media. Available on Global Business Network's web site, the paper provokes us to think about the rapidly changing interplay of commercial and noncommercial sectors, the varying understandings of these differences by generation, the challenge to philanthropic support if the costs of producing new work becomes minuscule while the costs and challenges of getting visibility for new work become enormous, and the need for all who interact with media (makers, users, funders, marketers) to redefine success.

I'm sure there is even more to this paper for those who work in media. As one who read it for its implications for philanthropy, I have to ask, "Is media the coal mine canary for all areas of philanthropic support? Aren't the dynamics of markets and new definitions of success going to be important in their own way in education, health care, environmental issues, and so on?"

In his focus on independent media, Blau does a fantastic job of explaining how technological shifts are fundamentally changing the who, how and why of media production - from a system of scarcity to one of superabundance. The shift is from a few audiences for big hits to countless audiences for small niche pieces. In turn, the funding needs move from creation to visibility, and the whole adds up to profoundly different set of operating assumptions for the role of philanthropic support.

Certainly, given the effects of globalization, demographic changes, technological acceleration, and public priority changes, the ground is shifting with the same seismic intensity (though, no doubt, for different reasons or in different directions) for philanthropic support of higher education, social services, land preservation, intergalactic exploration, agricultural innovation, and so on and so on. But do those philanthropists know it? Probably not as well as those who will be direct beneficiaries of Blau's piece on the media.

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