When all your friends are media outlets

I don’t know whether it is the circles that I move in, but lately, I have been feeling like the boundaries between public and private life have are being blurred to a larger extent than I had ever really imagined… With the rise of blogging, Youtube, social media and the rest of the tools we now have at our disposal, it is almost natural that people, in their own right, start becoming media outlets.

Writing a blog is one thing, and it can take as long or little time as you give it (hum hum), however, people are taking DIY media to the next level, using the whole gamut of channels and media experiences to develop audiences around original content.

I first started noticing that I had inadvertently entered a circle of friends for whom the creation of content is an important creative outlet when I befriended David Neustein. David is first and foremost an architect (see recent work on the Other Architects website), but also a very talented architectural writer and journalist. Interestingly, David doesn’t blog. Instead, he’s developed a brand as a journalist for established publications. But not blogging does not preclude David from having a media brand attached to his persona and he does continue to feed that brand through an active presence on Twitter and Instagram... David’s writing is part of his portfolio of services and therefore, he uses more established press outlets to disseminate his ideas gathered through private practice and teaching at UTS.

David is the person who really introduced me to the idea of using content creation and writing as a way to develop a personal brand and thought leadership. And for this I am very thankful to him. But other of my peers, friends and colleagues have deployed more aggressive (and I daresay effective) strategies to get some airtime within niche audiences interested in digital, entrepreneurship, design and architecture.

Jason McDermott is a colleague and friend whom I respect greatly. Jason used to work with me at Arup and since returning from international travels last year, has established himself as an entrepreneur par excellence (maybe that was too much French in once sentence…). Jason is now co-founder of an interactive health company called Sensorium Health that looks at using art and visualisation of bodily functions to perform certain medical needs like relaxation, distraction, health education. This enterprise is a co-creation with artist and friend George Khut, who you might remember from a fantastic TEDxSydney talk last year.

Have a look at the video, it’s really great stuff!

As an entrepreneur, it seems to be important to have a developed personal brand that you can trade on. As a digitally savvy entrepreneur, Jason understood the implications of this very early on and developed an art collective with two former colleague called Design the Future (dtf). This collective has been super productive and specialises in the development of interactive public art. Soon, it became apparent that the commissions themselves were only part of the way in which dtf could share their design philosophy, interrogations about design and collaborative mindset with the public. The commissions are, by definition, lumpy and therefore don’t enable a continuous stream of conversion to occur between themselves and the public.

Divergent Minds is the first podcast that emerged from this collaboration and this need to find more dynamic and accessible media to share content around the values that binds this collective together. And what is totally awesome about that, is that Divergent Minds is on iTunes, alongside all the other great podcast content that I like to tune into! That’s gotta be a sign that these guys are going to make it big…

What this experience reveals really (and Jason and Frank are not the only ones in the world to realise this) is that there is little standing in the way of any one person becoming a radio station or a broadcaster in the traditional sense. Having a career in media can be something you develop as a hobby or as an additional string to an already diverse set of channels that one can use to throw ideas out there and start a productive conversation.

The Great Discontent is yet another model of DIY broadcasting that successfully combines audio, video and writing to produce unique content. This model has inspired a further and more platform-based approach media production for Jason: TKLR. Divergent Minds is only one of the channels, or stream of themed content, that TKLR supports: other include Creative Agency, Asides and StartUps.

TKLR and the Great Discontent before it are media platforms, yes based around personal brands, but perhaps more importantly, these platforms showcase the networks and peers that a particular individual is connected to and the content and insights these people can offer to someone else’s brand. And with that shift, also comes a shift away from being the author or creator, to being the curator, or producer. A role with less direct visibility but perhaps more strategic impact.

In another vein, my dear friends Siobhan Toohill and Adrian Wiggins of Pure and Applied, a digital strategy and interactive design start up, started their media life by hosting amazing events called ‘Design Friday’ in their home and tapping into their amazing network of influencers and design-minded friends to present original content. These events are private, yet they are filmed and therefore eminently shareable with the rest of the world really.

I was the guinea pig for the very first Design Friday, hosted by Siobhan, curated by Adrian. Have a look at my musings on whether digital media has changed our experience of culture.

But hosting events at their lovely home was not enough for these two pioneers. Similarly to Jason, the production of the content needed to become more constant in order to retain and sustain the interest of the community. From this has emerged a new platform, called Out the Front, that has not been launched quite yet! I also had the chance to play a small part in that development as well so don’t miss the launch on October 31!

In short, I am really struck by the commitment to creating and sustaining a genuine conversation that these people have. Being a media outlet is hard work and can prove tricky to monetize without losing authenticity or the trust of your audience. But it is also a really important counterpart to the content that continues to be generated through the press, especially in the fields of design and the built environment.

This idea of becoming a media outlet is not only a hobby for the truly dedicated, it is also a matter of survival, that many cultural institutions are having to contend with. As the vessels for content, audiences are increasingly looking to venues to share a point of view, to curate stories, to share insights that can’t be gained from others. The Tate has moved in this direction as a museum with the creation of its Blogs and Channels page. Feeding such a platform with high quality content is not necessarily what an institution like the Tate is best staffed to do, but increasingly, the expectations of the public will refocus what core museum skills are which will, I believe, include journalistic and production skills alongside the rest of what is needed to be a successful ambassador for the arts.

The digitisation of cultural content is something I want to address in a separate blogpost but I would like to invite readers to share insights into how their friends may have become media outlets. Have they been successful? How are they positioning themselves?


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