I just finished reading a rather well put together post detailing the misunderstandings of traditional media when it comes to open source. The points made in the piece were timely and for the most part accurate enough to resonate with my experiences (as an analyst) with various segments of the tech media and open source software industry. However, the reasons and motivation behind what might be termed as a pervasive state of misapprehension, is far more telling not only about the media but also the entire open source software industry. To me, it isn't simply the intrinsic realities of media or even journalism (both professional and grassroots) which prevent a larger majority from 'getting it.' Rather it is also the approach to outreach by the open source software community, in general, that is fueling this significant void in understanding.
Interestingly enough, the same dynamics which have helped propel open source into mainstream consciousness serve as impediments as it seeks to reach mass audiences through the media. The strong, open, inwardly-attuned communities which are fertile environments for the production of software assets don't do very much to encourage effective outreach. Amongst open source software communities, where word of mouth and demonstrated technical ability are critical elements of social capital, it remains a challenge to context switch into vis-a-vis mode where more formal methods of communication are required. Granted, there are a growing number of capable P.R. firms working as the go-between, but are limited in terms of how much informative background it profits them to provide.
Ironically, I have also observed how the very low-barriers to participation have buoyed impressive growth, tends to commission more of a liberal, laissez-faire attitude towards those considered 'outsiders' such as the members of the tech media. For example, in a community-driven existence where participation is typically encouraged, there is a tacit assumption that those who want to find out more will be able and willing to take the personal initiative to understand through exertive exchange. However, such an assumption rarely holds for those more interested in a concise scoop as opposed to engaging in the extended learning/growth process.
As a general rule, the media in their normally assigned roles aren't around to determine the intensive depths of qualification, but to function as outlets for grounded and factual information. They're given neither the time nor charged with the duty of becoming exceptionally well-versed in each and every area they cover. Yet the reality of open source in its current evolutionary stage is that those who understand it best do so based on extended amounts of experiential knowledge. Resulting in a vast chasm between the average level of understanding within the boundaries of an open source ecosystem and those outside of it (i.e. the media), it takes a concerted effort to meet anywhere near half-way.
Part of the challenge related to reaching larger numbers of the tech media is working around the tendency to view open source as little more than cost-free proprietary software. When this happens the variances contained within the open source model which enable more cost-efficient software to be produced are ignored in favor of focusing only on the cost differences. The fact that open source is in fact a platform or that it offers more than just open access to source code but also a multitude of participatory avenues, is conveniently ignored or brushed into the shadows. I've always felt there is significant room to both conceptualize and express clearly what the open source model means to users, customers, partners, etc. I've raised an eyebrow at the motivations behind recent moves by the OSI but maybe it could step forward in this arena and consider producing media toolkits which address these topics and more? OSI-branded materials might go quite a ways towards establishing some compelling thought leadership.
I anticipate the increasing maturity of the open source software industry to foment the need for proactive outreach by its participants but also to capture an increasing share of the tech media's attention. And it's going to take both to bridge the gap in active cognizance, one which affects each side for the worse. Hopefully small steps forward to open up the dialogue will warrant progress in that direction.