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"State of Play" Reexamines Gatekeeping Forces in the Media

State of Play: The Gatekeeping of Micro-documentariesSelf-publishing has removed traditional barriers to distribution, but the result is what Nick Michael calls "a soup of undifferentiated content" that makes it harder for filmmakers to get their audiences' attention. These days, the problem isn't putting your message out there; it's finding people who will listen to you.

In today's world of YouTube, Facebook, Wordpress, Tumblr, and Twitter, anyone can self-publish content. The gatekeeping power of the "old media" is no longer a necessary obstacle for mediamakers. But self-publishing platforms are not as "gate-less" as they often seem.

Michael explores this issue in his Master's thesis, "State of Play: The Gatekeeping of Micro-documentaries," which you can read in brief online or download in full from his website. Michael is currently finishing his master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, focusing on the relationship between visual journalism and society.

For his thesis, Michael interviewed 21 micro-documentary directors, journalists, academics, and curators to learn more about the gatekeeping forces that filmmakers encounter in the modern media environment. He discovered that although micro-documentarians "must, on the whole, serve as author and advocate, artist and entrepreneur for their work," they are often unaware of the theoretical constraints guiding their actions and decisions. Unlike their "old media" predecessors, these "hidden gatekeeping forces" exist less in specific individuals and more in "the complexities of the media ecosystem."

To Michael, this shift in gatekeeping power shows that the metaphor of a "gatekeeper" is losing its usefulness. A gate is an access point, but today, everyone has free access. What we need, Michael suggests, are bridge-keepers. Bridge-keepers direct and regulate a continuous flow of content between producers and consumers. "The major players are the same--source, author, and audience--but a message's path from player to player has changed dramatically," Michael explains. "Gatekeepers are still valuable but no longer required."

Read more on Nick Michael's website.