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WKU graduate co-authors book on ‘Spreadable Media’

The days of turning on the evening news or opening the morning paper to catch up on local, national or world events are long gone. Now when news breaks, we turn to online media or social networks to “like,” “share” or “tweet” the latest news.

Sam Ford

Sam Ford

The fundamental changes in the contemporary media environment are examined in a new book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

Sam Ford, a 2005 WKU graduate, is one of three co-authors of the book about the role everyone plays today in circulating media content and what that means for audiences, media producers and marketers.

“A lot of people don’t see themselves as providers of media, but they do circulate content,” said Ford, an Ohio County native who lives in Bowling Green and is Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm. “The distribution of media content is not owned by companies now but by everyday people.”

Spreadable Media, published by NYU Press, will be released on Feb. 15 but is available online at amazon.com.

Ford said he and co-authors Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green weren’t trying to create a new buzzword with “spreadable” media, but “we wanted to take this beyond the metaphors we’ve been using like ‘going viral’.”

Sharing media content through social media and email has become so commonplace for most people that “we don’t think it’s special,” he said.

spreadablemediacover“Content that we find interesting doesn’t infect us like a virus, and leave us sharing it with others without our knowledge,” he said. “Instead, the content spreads through the audience’s conscious decision to share it.”

For news media and marketing/public relations professionals, this shift in content sharing means that “the audience has a much more direct say in how things are distributed,” Ford said.

The challenges aren’t limited to media or the professionals, he added. “What is our responsibility as a circulator?” Ford asked.

The audience (or those of us who share content) must consider questions like: Is the source credible? What is our relationship to the content or to the person who shared it? What gives the content meaning? What if I find out the content I shared is incorrect?

“We all have a stake in this,” Ford said.

Ford, an alumnus of the Honors College at WKU, graduated from WKU with four bachelor’s degrees — news/editorial journalism, communication studies, mass communication and English (writing). He received his master’s degree in 2007 from MIT. He is an affiliate with both the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and the Popular Culture Studies Program at WKU.

He plans to use the book this semester in his Intro to Pop Culture Studies course at WKU. The 352-page book also is accompanied by 35 online essays, including one by WKU faculty member Ted Hovet.

Ford and his co-authors have been working on the project since late 2007. He worked with both Jenkins and Green as part of the Convergence Culture Consortium project at MIT. Jenkins is Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California. Green is Senior Strategist at digital consultancy Undercurrent.

As part of the book’s launch, Ford and his co-authors will present a featured session March 8 during the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

Ford is co-editor of the 2011 book The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. He was named Social Media Innovator of the Year in the 2011 Bulldog Stars of PR Awards for Outstanding Achievement by Communications Agencies and Professionals.

About the book: Spreadable Media maps fundamental changes taking place in our contemporary media environment, a space where corporations no longer tightly control media distribution and many of us are directly involved in the circulation of content. It contrasts “stickiness” — aggregating attention in centralized places — with “spreadability” — dispersing content widely through both formal and informal networks, some approved, many unauthorized. Stickiness has been the measure of success in the broadcast era (and has been carried over to the online world), but “spreadability” describes the ways content travels through social media.

Following up on the hugely influential Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, this book challenges some of the prevailing metaphors and frameworks used to describe contemporary media, from biological metaphors like “memes” and “viral” to the concept of “Web 2.0” and the popular notion of “influencers.” Spreadable Media examines the nature of audience engagement, the environment of participation, the way appraisal creates value, and the transnational flows at the heart of these phenomena. It delineates the elements that make content more spreadable and highlights emerging media business models built for a world of participatory circulation. The book also explores the internal tensions companies face as they adapt to the new communication reality and argues for the need to shift from “hearing” to “listening” in corporate culture. 

Drawing on examples from film, music, games, comics, television, transmedia storytelling, advertising, and public relations industries, among others — from both the U.S. and around the world — the authors illustrate the contours of our current media environment. They highlight the vexing questions content creators must tackle and the responsibilities we all face as citizens in a world where many of us regularly circulate media content. Written for any and all of us who actively create and share media content, Spreadable Media provides a clear understanding of how people are spreading ideas and the implications these activities have for business, politics, and everyday life.

Contact: Sam Ford, samford@mit.edu

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