Two Decades of Internet Disruption

So far, the Internet has not only changed the media industry in this millennium: it has transformed it – and in some cases, overwhelmed it. As he retires after two decades at Internet NZ, Jordan Carter reflects on how the web became the primary means of reaching people – and the problems that brings.

Jordan Carter, outgoing Managing Director of Internet NZ.
Photo: provided / Internet NZ

Kiwis could easily use media without the internet 20 years ago when Jordan Carter first joined Internet NZ, the non-profit group that campaigns for safe, secure and efficient internet access and services.

At the time, television and radio were available for free over the air – and you could catch the daily news by buying the newspaper, or even subscribing to it.

These days you still can – but if you don’t also subscribe to an ISP, you miss out on instant news and on-demand entertainment. (However, you will not be exposed to extremism and overreaction online).

Jordan Carter has seen the Internet grow from an attractive option for the media industry to become its main source of audience and innovation.

For some media, the Net has been an instrument of misfortune, rendering entire sectors superfluous and draining their advertising revenue.

Money that once went to media jobs, news and content is now going overseas to what were once new startups, but is now pooled in the wealthiest and fastest growing companies in the world. world.

He was in Paris three years ago with Jacinda Arden to negotiate the Christchurch Appeal, which aimed to stamp out online extremism. Three years later, the Prime Minister was in the US this week to tell Harvard students “now is the time” to tackle social media algorithms amplifying extremism.

“I certainly didn’t understand how it would play out in terms of the social consequences,” Jordan Carter said. Media monitoring.

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Photo: photo/RNZ Mediawatch

“The big problem for the media industry was that the control of the ad dollar was gone. Classifieds in the newspaper industry disappeared quite quickly. But what people do on online platforms has revealed our preferences. If people don’t want to see news content, providers are always going to shift their algorithms to something else,” he said.

“Fair and balanced journalism is good for democracy. But it turns out the way our brains are wired isn’t so good that people keep scrolling through their feeds repetitively. The interaction of this with the news media is just an unfortunate and irrelevant side effect when it comes to big tech platforms,” he said.

The digital divide is real

When Jordan Carter became Managing Director of Internet NZ, one of the big issues at the time was broadband connectivity and rollout.

Concern about the “digital divide” in the media has since eased. These days, many talk about Internet services as if they were ubiquitous or universal – as well as fast.

“A radio doesn’t cost you $60 or $80 a month like a broadband connection. The pandemic (Covid-19) was a good case study of the risks of lack of digital equity,” he said.

“Households were trying to cope with remote work or children in school and some were not near a network like fiber or even sufficient mobile signal. Affordability was a real barrier for some people,” he said.

“There’s a huge public interest in making sure nearly everyone can have broadband access, but there’s not an ongoing discussion in our society,” he said.

“Fixing things for people who don’t have access to them isn’t a giant problem that would take billions of taxpayer dollars to fix.

“Successive governments have done a great job on connectivity and network rollout. But (they have been) obviously resistant to this small investment that would be needed to fix the problem.

“It’s just unfinished business that I’m frustrated to leave behind,” he said. Media monitoring.

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Photo: PHOTO / RNZ Colin Peacock

A decade ago, media companies were under pressure from shareholders and owners to shore up their bottom line, as hoped-for digital revenues failed to fill the advertising void lost on the internet and growing online social media.

Sky TV has attempted to merge with Vodafone in a deal Mediawatch has interpreted as a sign that media companies could be swallowed up as mere content divisions of much more profitable telecom operators.

“I think you were completely wrong. I would be super surprised to see an evolution to bring together the big connectivity providers and the content providers,” Carter said.

In the end, the Commerce Commission rejected the ‘VodaSky’ bid, but media companies started sharing content on other platforms to increase their reach, with websites and social media becoming their primary channels. information sharing.

It’s only been in recent years that established news media companies — and new startups — have made serious attempts to raise revenue from online subscribers and donors.

Has the media reacted quickly enough to the Internet and then to the power and speed of broadband?

“No – but I don’t think any sector has,” Carter said. Media monitoring.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Internet New Zealand's Jordan Carter.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Internet New Zealand’s Jordan Carter.
Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

“Think about the music industry. It started to face this challenge earlier and for a long time, the music industry revenue went down. People were saying it was the end of the music industry. music, but you don’t hear that stuff anymore because business models have evolved,” he said.

“People are still paying to go to live concerts and so on – and I think you’re starting to see in the local media environment some subscriber journalism with systems like Substack and Newsroom for example, that people are willing to invest for content,” he said.

“Some of the biggest media companies have started to make more use of the options that technology has made available to them. And it will be fascinating to see where the management buyout of Stuff goes over the next few years,” he said.

Another variable of recent years is the so-called “culture war” and political battles over freedom of expression. Will it make it harder to make the internet safe and profitable?

“It’s part of the mix that makes it a little more difficult to solve some of these problems. We are in a bit of an information war – and I think what happened in Ukraine highlights that,” Carter said.

“The Russian state, for quite a long time, has been using some of the vulnerabilities in this social media environment to intervene in other countries. They seem to be saying, ‘Well, we can never win a head-on confrontation with liberal democracies, but we can use these systems they have built to undermine their social and political cohesion.

“It’s a risk that people are becoming aware of,” he said.

“Ever since publishing was invented, people have been publishing weird opinions. The problem isn’t when a person chooses to express a “random view X” that they might or might not agree with. The problem is when their systems amplify it in a way that then creates social divisions that didn’t necessarily exist.

“Media systems have attached themselves to the most controversial and polarizing viewpoints and then continue to stir them up in ways that alienate people from one another,” he said.

“In New Zealand, we can look at reforms that we might be looking at, like hate speech laws, and say, ‘How can we create systems of laws and regulations like we do in every other environment? media outlets that can combat the systemic spread of this stuff?’ And I think it might lower the temperature a bit.

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic about it. But there’s a challenge here for how we deal with these online user-generated content systems that have somehow grown up without the law following.

“Ten years ago, philosophy was really ‘cyber-libertarian’. Stay away, just let the internet do its own thing,” Carter said.

“What happened in Christchurch was the wake-up call that said we really needed to have effective responses to content that is just beyond pale. And I’m proud to have been a part of the evolution of this point of view.

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