More for my own benefit than anyone else’s, here’s a quick rundown of some of the ways in which meaning flows through media, as laid out by Henry Jenkins in his book, Convergence Culture:

Our traditional understanding of mass media involves monolithic institutions broadcasting their products to audiences. Meaning flows in a single direction, from producers to consumers. Audience members are isolated, passive recipients of Big Media’s messages:

[Big Media]
1. Meaning flows unidirectionally, from producers to consumers.

This unidirectional model of media was always overstated, and in an era of easy communication via the Internet, is no longer defensible. Audience members review movies and books for each other, share casting information and spoilers about TV shows, write walkthroughs for video games, etc. These knowledge communities coalesce around popular media and create additional meaning for their members:

[Knowledge communities]
2. Meaning flows from producers to consumers, and is shared among audience members.

Collective intelligence is not necessarily shared or generated equally. Some members of a knowledge community provide more useful or trustworthy information than others, and exert greater influence over the generation of meaning within the community. (The ways in which authority is generated within these rhizomatic knowledge communities is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; hopefully I can coalesce these thoughts into a later posting.) Some of these authoritative figures within the community eventually become prominent enough to be noticed by media producers, and through these voices, the audience begins to exert some counter-power over those producers:

[Influential community members]
3. Members of knowledge communities have differing weights; meaning flows back from the audience to the producers.

Another method by which media audiences create additional meaning in response to institutional media is through the production of their own grassroots media: fanfic, parody videos, mashups, etc. A new take on folk culture, cheap and easy production tools allow the masses to expand the universes created by institutional media, and to create more meaning. Community members who produce media take on some of the aspects of institutional producers, and producers who pay attention to grassroots media take on some of the aspects of consumers:

[Grassroots media]
4. Meaning flows between institutional and grassroots media; the difference between producers and consumers begins to blur.

Institutional media is no more a monolith than the audience. Producers create related works in multiple media (film, TV, books, games, breakfast cereals, etc.), hoping to create enriched narratives and increase brand loyalty. In some cases, these interlinked media are used to weave a single narrative thread: The Matrix’s story spans film, DVDs, web sites, and games; Doctor Who’s embarrassingly named “Tardisodes” provide backstory for upcoming episodes. Depending on the media used and the people working with them, various individual pieces may be more or less responsive to the feedback provided by knowledge communities and grassroots media:

[Transmedia]
5. Holy cow, there’s meaning flying all over the place!

This is convergence, the state of media today: Not a single black box controlled by a monolithic corporate cabal, but a fluid flow of meaning back and forth between producers and consumers, between cooperating (or even competing) producers, and amidst the swirls and eddies of the audience. I’m pretty psyched about it.