Return of (true) Mass Media: Let there be millions of sparkling conversations!

Being the fourth monkey?
Being the fourth monkey?
“Historically, organised and commercialised mass media have existed only in the past five centuries, since the first newspapers — as we know them — emerged in Europe. Before the printing press was invented, all news was local and there were few gatekeepers controlling its flow. Having evolved highly centralised systems of media for half a millennium, we are now returning to a second era of mass media — in the true sense of that term. Blogs, wikis and citizen journalism are all signs of things to come.”

This is how Sir Arthur C Clarke and I summed up the transformative change that is currently taking place in the world of mass media, in an essay we co-wrote for the Indian news magazine Outlook in October 2005.

We’d given it the title ‘From Citizen Kane to Citizen Journalist’ – a formulation that I’m still proud of – but the editors changed it to ‘Arise, Citizen Journalist!’. Of course, our original title made evocative sense only for those who knew the popular culture reference to the movie Citizen Kane.

I recently had a chance to revisit these issues and explore them further in a half-hour, in-depth TV interview with media researcher/activist and fellow citizen journalist Sanjana Hattotuwa. This was part of The Interview series produced by Young Asia Television, and broadcast on two Sri Lankan TV channels, TNL and ETV during the second week of February 2009.

Sanjana covered a wide range in his questions. Starting with a brief reflection on my 21-year association with Sir Arthur Clarke, we moved on to the bewildering world of new media and its co-existence with the mainstream media. We discussed the fragmentation of audience and the concern that some current and would-be bloggers harbour: is anyone listening or reading?

And more importantly, how do we get conversations started and going. I look back on my own experience as an active blogger for almost two years, and assert that if we have something new and worthwhile to say, and know how to express it well, we can slowly build up an audience. There’s no blueprint or road map – everything is in ‘beta’ mode, and the name of the game is try-it-and-see!

Here’s that full interview on YouTube, broken into four parts:

Sanjana Hattotuwa talks to Nalaka Gunawardene – Part 1 of 4:

Sanjana Hattotuwa talks to Nalaka Gunawardene – Part 2 of 4:

Sanjana Hattotuwa talks to Nalaka Gunawardene – Part 3 of 4:

Sanjana Hattotuwa talks to Nalaka Gunawardene – Part 4 of 4:

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

3 thoughts on “Return of (true) Mass Media: Let there be millions of sparkling conversations!”

  1. Thanks again Nalaka for a great discussion. We covered a lot of terrain in 24 minutes! I wish the YATV video quality was better – will put up a higher quality video on Vimeo when I get my hand on the DVD of our programme.

    Looking at the past week’s content alone on Groundviews (articles + comments) it occurred to me that we need many more Groundviews type exercises on the web, and in particular those in the swabhasha such as Vikalpa done by my colleagues ( and and Perambara ( by Internews.

    There are of course challenges, and I recall a post I made titled “Journalism of the Future? Problems and challenges” a while ago on my blog (, that has been quoted widely as articulating just some of the issues you and I are acutely familiar with when dealing with obdurate, myopic donors as well as parochial, mercenary individuals and organisations. Both I fear stymie the necessary growth of new media initiatives that explore the human condition in a manner that complements MSM, but goes much farther.

    All the best,


  2. You can rant about mainstream media all you like, but the fact is they have outreach that minions of new media can only dream about. This bashing of mainstream media is more out of spite and envy than anything else. Given half a chance all you new media people will also become as dominating and controlling as everybody else. In time to time, you probably will. So give up all this socialist rhetoric and come clean muy friend.

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