Communication and Civil Society (VII). The limits of the mass media and the emergence of mass self-communication in the digital age

Notes from the Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age, organized by the Communication and Civil Society seminar of the IN3 in in Barcelona, Spain, in October 26-27, 2011. More notes on this event: comsc.

The limits of the mass media and the emergence of mass self-communication in the digital age
Lluís Bassets (El País Associate Director), Manuel Campo Vidal (Journalist), Mayte Pascual (TVE Journalist), Ricardo Galli (, Klaudia Alvarez (Communication group DRYbcn), Vicent Partal (Vilaweb, chairs)

Ricardo Galli

(this speech is partly based on Ricardo Galli’s article Pienso, luego estorbo — I think, therefore I’m in the way)

Some of the reactions against the 15M movement were expected — as the ones from the extreme right wing — but some others were unexpected, and nevertheless were as foreign, strange, surprising for the activists of the social movements.

Several initiatives like #nolesvotes or Democracia Real Ya’s protests for May 15th (15M) became extremely popular in online platforms, with massive acceptance and viral communication and, notwithstanding, they would not appear on the papers. Why?

  • Lack of belief that things would come to something real. That is, lack of belief that there would not be a transposition from online spaces to offline spaces.
  • Lack of a press conference. Indeed, there were some, but were unattended by journalists.
  • Avoid a call effect: if it appears on the papers, there is more likelihood of success. Thus, let us not air it.
  • Phagocytosing of the topic by some journalists, that love being the subject of their own news, instead of reporting the real characters of the movement.

After the 15M, some media begin to cover the events, but also to discredit both the movement and some of the more visible heads (or arbitrary so-called heads of the movement — which were not).

Some of the things that have happened — and media still have to learn — is that lots lots of things have happened since 15M, there are lots of people involved, the movement is evolving… and nonetheless, it is still being ignored.

Lluís Bassets

We have to think of mass media as institutions that are evolving themselves, and sometimes it is this very same evolution or transformation of the media the most interesting event. Media are not mirrors of the society, but institutions that are part of it. And, as such, are actors worth being analysed too.

We also have to deal with the 15M phenomenon in its context: the Arab Spring and the economic crisis. This is a global revolution due to a crisis of representation, of mediation: the mediation of governments, of trade unions, of media.

What is a TV, a radio, a newspaper on the Internet? sections? a 24-hour cycle? Media have to become just the contrary of what they nowadays are. And journalists do still have a future — and a very bright one, indeed — if they stick to their core values: verifying the sources.

But big journalism needs time, reflection, quietness. And the problem is that the pace of the new times is so fast that makes it difficult for this journalism to take its time.

Manuel Campo Vidal

Media are in a deep and long transition. And not only because of the crisis of the paper vs. digital, and not only because of the crisis of advertisement. The economic crisis only implies more speed and depth, but the transition is not a consequence of the economic crisis. The nature of crisis of media is the divergence between old and new media.

But conspiracies might not be the best way to explain what is happening, the reasons why media companies and most journalists are fighting against the unstoppable change. It has to be acknowledged that we are living in disconcert: we know what we are leaving behind, but we do not know where are we heading to.

The Arab Spring was tweeted, but Twitter did not spark the Tunis or the Egypt revolution. Or Facebook. Or any other social networking site. The Internet was a valuous instrument, one without which the revolutions may have not been the way there were, but by no means the revolutions began on the Internet.

The real challenge now for traditional media is to recover their lost reputation. Reputation, in an Information Society, is the only thing of value (information is free), and that is the capital that a journalist should take care of.

Mayte Pascual

There is a mutual lack of confidence between traditional media and digital or new media. And mutual understanding would be highly beneficial for both parties.

We need to be more communication-literate to understand the new era we are entering. More and more things will be explainable in terms of communication, and thus we must know how communication happens, how it shapes people’s minds, etc.

And traditional media have to learn too how the inner functioning of social movements.

Klaudia Álvarez

What is relevant is not whether a medium is traditional or new or digital, but who owns it, who is speaking through it.

Related to that, another huge different is whether in a given medium sender and receiver are interchangeable or not. Can I be a sender and not only a receiver in that medium? This really makes a difference.

Being a writer and not a reader, having a blog, is not only writing or having a blog, but changing your mindset: you are building your own reality, they are now aware of their possibility to create a reality. Communication autonomy is about building realities.

But empowerment happens only for people that can actually be empowered, that is, people in the bad side of the digital divide, or socially excluded, are more difficult to reach by empowering tools.

And empowerment comes in detriment of (traditional) media. And traditional media usually fight this loss power, which indeed happened in the 15M.


Manuel Castells: if there is something left to journalism, it is credibility. And there is a clear deadline for the disappearance of traditional media: the day all people now aged 60 or older are already gone. There is thus an unavoidable need for a transition, but this transition has to be smooth, with as less victims as possible.

Arnau Monterde: the collective intelligence is transforming the way information is created and distributed, the way the sources are verified. Thus, it is very difficult to state that media-literacy is a personal must, because now the media are produced by the collective and collectively. It is the outcome of minor contributions that becomes a major contribution.

Campo Vidal: there is a media bubble that is unsustainable, both economically and socially speaking. There are — in some fields — too much media (e.g. digital TV) and clearly overrated.

More information


Civil Society and Politics transformation in the Internet Age (2011)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Communication and Civil Society (VII). The limits of the mass media and the emergence of mass self-communication in the digital age” In ICTlogy, #97, October 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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