Where is the news going to come from?

Quoted in Buffalo News about the local citizen...
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As the media industry consolidates and more and more people are simply linking to news – you might start to wonder where all the news is going to come from. There’s a great quote that was passed along to me by Jordan that goes:

what no one seems to understand is that “news” doesn’t just magically appear on twitter/the web/etc. Most of it is scraped off these “old dead media” sources. I’m constantly amazed by the childlike mindset of the digerati to this process. It’s like kids thinking that food comes from the grocery store. Kill off the farmers and the journalists and see how much magic food and news just “finds you” for your consumption

Lots of stuff is derivative on the web and it makes you wonder if the world is going to just become one big echo chamber. Or will journalists do more stuff on their own?

Personally, i don’t think the analogy holds. Food must be grown but news doesn’t have to be paid for by journalists at major media companies.

  • Not every newspaper needs to write a report on the ballgame. ESPN will cover that for us.
  • We don’t need to pay reporters to go to town hall meetings and report back, people are doing that for free.
  • We don’t need local papers writing opinions on what’s happening across the globe. A handful of paid opinion pieces plus organic perspectives (blogs / twitter / etc.) are enough for me.

What the world needs is not to cut off the supply of news but to radically change the way it’s published and the economics behind it. Most news is still being produced and most of it is being delivered at very low cost or free. If it’s more expensive than that, it has to go.

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Let's Talk About Revolutions (in media)

Pop!Tech 2008 - Clay Shirky

I reread this morning Clay Shirky’s great SXSW piece about the media business and i wanted to share some of his thoughts here.  Let me go through the end of the article a bit.  He starts:

Elizabeth Eisenstein’s magisterial treatment of Gutenberg’s invention, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, opens with a recounting of her research into the early history of the printing press. She was able to find many descriptions of life in the early 1400s, the era before movable type. Literacy was limited, the Catholic Church was the pan-European political force, Mass was in Latin, and the average book was the Bible. She was also able to find endless descriptions of life in the late 1500s, after Gutenberg’s invention had started to spread. Literacy was on the rise, as were books written in contemporary languages, Copernicus had published his epochal work on astronomy, and Martin Luther’s use of the press to reform the Church was upending both religious and political stability.

I want to draw the obvious parallel to today’s revolution in publishing and in technology. I belive that just having email and IM has increased the literacy in America (maybe the world).  Not 15 years ago no kids were daily expressing themselves in written words, now they do all the time.  In 1996, i would frequently get emails in ALL CAPS and poorly written.  Now it’s a must-have skill.  But let’s continue with the speech….

What Eisenstein focused on, though, was how many historians ignored the transition from one era to the other. To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child’s play; those dates were safely distanced from upheaval. But what was happening in 1500? The hard question Eisenstein’s book asks is “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?”

Chaotic, as it turns out. The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?

I find this same thing is happening with columnist and journalism.  Poor articles just get overlooked or debunked in comments.  The threshhold for well researched facts is higher as the audience is double-checking you every step of the way.  What happened with Aristotle is happenign today with every sports, politcal, and news writer in the world.

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

Sound familiar to anyone? Can you say BLOG or TWITTER – such a simple concept.  Take publishing an article on a web page and shrink it to a blog or 140 characters.  What seems like a minor change has some profound responses.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

Old stuff is indeed getting broken. Newspapers are gone or going fast.  Magazines are next.  Paper is being replaced by netbooks, iPhones and Kindles.  These devices are embracing different technologies and shorter-form content.  This is the real revolution that’s happening in front our face.  That Time Magazine you have in your mailbox will be a story you tell your grandkids about, “hey kids, get this, i used to walk to the mailbox and pick up a ‘magazine’ that had stories in it written down, printed once a week and sent to me.” and they will look at you the same way i look at my grandparents when they talk about a world with radio programs only and no TV.   Our new world has more content, better content, that is more easily shared and discussed – and it’s a beautiful thing.

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Newspapers & Craigslist

As everyone talks about the death of newspapers, i’d like to remark on one of the majors elements in this death spiral: Craigslist.  To me the two major killers of the newspaper are:

  1. Decrease of authority & differentiation
  2. Lack of classified revenue

First, the decrease in authority and differentiation.  Every web site and publication needs to be an authority on something, anything.  Newspapers in the past were authorities for:

  • local news
  • international news
  • sports
  • entertainment

Over the past 8 years, they have no become the authority for only one of those: local news.  International news is dominated by CNN, Reuters and others who focus explicitly on that area.  Similarly, sports is dominated by ESPN and Fox News and Entertainment has a variety of outlets that provide much more in depth coverage and reviews than newspapers ever did.    This decrease in authority minimizes the importance of newspapers to readers.  For most categories listed above, it’s a nice piece of reading material to have but by no means necessary.


The second piece is Craigslist.  In 2000, newspapers pulled in $20 billion in revenue from classifieds. That went to $10 billion in 2008.  So, in 8 years revenues for newspapers got chopped in half (stats here).  Where did this money go, most of those services are now free on Craigslist.   Craigslist took $10 billion out of the industry and pocketed about $100 million of it.  To be exact, Craigslist is pulled in $80 million as of April ’08 (stats).  Who knows what that will be for 2009 but prob at or around $100k.  With a  staff of 28 people so that’s pretty damn good.

Imagine that, a staff of 28 people is decimating an entire industry.  That is the true power of the internet.

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Portfolio’s Failure


I’ve heard a lot of talk about the decline of print media these days. There were great speeches by Clay Shirky and Steven Johnson at SXSW.  Recently there was news of Conde Nast’s Portfolio magazine shutting down after plowing through $100 million in two years.  Some people have used this as an indication of the flawed model of print, but reading this story from an ex-employee i think it’s more an issue of mismanagement and lack of execution.


Here are some exerpts:

First, let me amplify, the magazine was a failure. It was not market conditions or the general economic meltdown that forced Si’s hand, it was a failure to create something that people wanted to read.

Yet in too many ways to enumerate here, we did not operate in what I fondly call a reality-based environment. In Lipman’s meetings, firings were never firings, stories were never bad or ill timed, mistakes were never made. The air had long been sucked out of that room, and few staffers seemed to believe anymore in the mission of the place, despite a collective desire, and I mean this, to do as good a job as they could do, given the circumstances.

Would the magazine succeeded if it was run currectly?  Who knows, but i do know from past experience at former companies that sometimes too much money is a bad thing as there is no urgency or common goal.  And when you have a leader making decisions that don’t make sense, you can’t help by become disillusioned and discouraged.  That seems to be what happened here.

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Sports blogs are the best

As I’ve been talking about all over this blog, traditional media is on the decline (here and here). Papers are on their way out and everyone knows it.  Ever since i was a kid, I’ve always loved the local sports pages but one thing I’ve been doing for the past few years is reading sports blogs instead of the local paper’s coverage. Why? Because there are a few benefits:

1) They are biased. Obviously, sports reporting for a local town are biased but they try to come off as neutral and objective.  They definitely aren’t and it’s nice to read a blog where the writer is unabashedly biased towards your team.  It gives them the freedom to speak freely and accomplish my next point

2) They are funny. Sports blogs aren’t afraid to rip someone down in a funny and often juvinule manner. This is sports, not world news

3) They are mean. I almost never read in a paper that someone is playing poorly.  If someone has a bad game, they don’t mention it – they only focus on who scored the points and why one team won.  They rarely go into the details of what was happening. They don’t give you a feel of the game.  Blogs will tell you straight-up what’s happening.  If you don’t watch the game, this is huge.  It’s as if you are getting a report from a friend (subjective blog) rather than a robot (objective newspaper).

4) They are passionate. These writers analyze the crap out of the team. They drum up stats that would only arise if someone was spending night and day thinking about the team. They compare players to supermodels, they conjure up theories about their pregame warmups.  They provide much more thinking about a team than a local beat writer.

5) They web-based meaning they link, embed, reference and do all the stuff that other web sites do. These are things that newspaper columns don’t do.  Having YouTube clips in a column makes it infinitely more readable.  Seeing sports is fun.  Linking to other points is a good idea.  These things doing happen with local columnists and it limits the usefulness of their output.

All of these things are why i love sports blogs and i’m also happy to see that my bud Jim Bankoff (Qloud investor/chairman) recently became CEO Of Sports Blog Nation (or SB Nation) which has a network of over 185 blogs covering almost every sport.  There’s a good article in yesterday’s WashingtonPost. These blogs and others like them are going to be my go-to for getting news (Twolves blog here) and you should probably check them out too.

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