This post is the culmination of the themes I’ve started in the following posts:
You might want to read them for the full backstory. This post is long, and is going to involve a time commitment, but it’s thorough, and I’m going somewhere with this story. Read it on your lunch break.
Perhaps I’m starting with too grandiose of an assumption, but I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the old forms of media distribution are limping along to their graves. I could spend a few paragraphs belabouring this point, but there are plenty of other places on the Internet and in the blogosphere you could find those statistics.
What I think is clear is that the blogosphere has given rise to a new form of journalism that sits somewhere between editorial and “just the facts, ma’am.” One of the most popular accusations I see from folks whenever a piece of press they don’t like that “it isn’t real journalism.” In the tech blogosphere, a sub-variant of this accusation is that they’ve made the lowest order of blog posting: a ValleyWag-ish posting.
In both cases, these accusations are akin to the ever-popular YouTube and Digg debate tact: “Your a fag.” It shows a lack of awareness of what modern blogging is about and a void in the accuser’s arsenal of actual salient points to make.
There Currently Exists a Glut of Information.
The problem with news today is that straight news content is a commodity. Even opinion is a commodity, but in particular, documentation of the events of the world and the individual niches where news happens is commonplace. If I asked you for a resource to find the latest information on what’s going on in the very specifically targeted world of online video podcasting, I could probably get a resource list of at least thirty blogs, ten or online magazines, a TV show or two, four or five video shows, and countless audio podcasts that regularly cover that information.
For a real world example of the glut of information that exists, take the last few posts I’ve done imploring the community for information regarding the tech scene in Austin. The comments and my inbox were literally flooded with new sources to add to Mashable’s OPML file of blog resources.
The creme rises to the top, though, and what has proven to be the creme in the meritocracy of the Internet is qualified and accurate opinion and analysis coupled with solid facts. As a corollary to this, what pushes a source over the top in terms of popularity and prominence is a thriving community with a health ongoing discussion taking place.
The New Journalism is the Old Conversation.
You can’t talk about this topic without bringing in a bit of the history involved. The flash point where the public at large realized that the blogosphere was a place where news could be broken was the Rathergate scandal. For the purposes of this illustration, the process showed that the spontaneous conversations that take place in the blogosphere can be a much more powerful mechanism for fact checking, research and resource gathering than the double, triple, or quadruple sourcing and quoting procedures in place with traditional media institutions.
In the case of LittleGreenFootballs, and a few other blogs that tracked the fallout from the Rathergate scandal, it took less than a few hours for the memos Dan Rather and Marla Mapes used to “prove” President Bush faked his service records to be suspect in nature. It was a day or two for the memos to be conclusively proven as fakes. All of this took place in the chaotic conversations “below the fold,” so to speak.
Of course, both Marla Mapes and Dan Rather were nationally humiliated and relieved from duty subsequent to the incident, but the process story is what I want to focus on here – despite the fact that this all took placed on what can be charitably described as a blog with a conservative political slant, facts and truth (devoid of politics) were distilled more quickly than any Old Media institution could make happen (even opposing Old Media networks with presumed financial incentive to make their competitor CBS look bad).
The Conversation Works for a News Discovery Process, But What Works for Business?
If you take a look at what sorts of purely New Media institutions are succeeding online right now, you need to focus mostly on the tech sector. There are certainly a number of blogs and online magazines that are doing pretty well for themselves, but many of them are either evolutions of an Old Media institution or recent acquisition of an Old Media company. I’m not such a purist that I deem them unreliable sources of information, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to put them in a category not labeled New Media.
Inside the tech sector pure New Media category, you have companies like TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, ValleyWag and VentureBeat sitting at the top of the heap. These are news organizations that came from nothing a few years ago, focus on news as a conversation, and all have very similar blogging styles with very diverse audiences.
Your average post in any of these publications falls into one of a number of categories:
Event Annoucement: Large publications regularly host
partiesbusiness networking events. These posts serve to announce for, sell tickets to, or show pictures/video from these events.
List Posts: The 12 Reasons Most Bloggers are Bald. The top 25 Electronic Devices for that Scruffy Beard of Yours from Pete Cashmore. The 30 Best Social Networks for Underwater Basketweaving. They’re good ways to get your readers to bookmark your sites, and are (in a way) a karma building exercises for bloggers. They show you’re creating more than transitory, news-cycle-based value for your readers.
Editorial/Pure Opinion Posts: Every person on the planet has an opinion. Bloggers at major publications who have been judged as capable of providing accurate analysis are more than willing to dispense it on their very tall soapbox. The bloggers who can peer into their crystal balls and discern trends and futures are the ones who are theoretically judged adding the most value.
Miscellaneous Features: These include podcasts, videos, interviews, guest posts, how to’s, etc.
… and finally News Posts: This is where New Media differentiates itself from the Old. News isn’t any longer about a 500 word posting with witness and color quotes and triple checked sources. In the blogosphere a financial premium is placed on speed and analysis. That second bit is often the part that is left out by detractors of New Media.
Inherent to the format is an implied expertise on the subject matter focused on by the blog. This leads to less of a need for expert opinion to be constantly consulted for
validation of the story.
A constant accusation levied against New Media is that the rush to get the story first comes too often at the expense of correctness. There is a lot of nuance to best practices in the blogosphere that could remedy that, but the gist of the solution lies in the fact that the blogosphere is more like a conversation than it is a means of broadcast.
As is said many times in defense of blogging, corrections and further color commentary almost always come in the comments field, and in the ensuing discussion around the web in tools like Google Reader, FriendFeed, Facebook and Twitter. There’s an art form to eliciting comments, and a straight news piece simply won’t do it. Even on the most highly trafficked of newspaper websites, straight news pieces get little to no comments, while the blogs (written in the authors’ voice) on the same site will get mountains of interaction.
The Void is Growing Faster than it Can Be Filled
We’ve yet to see the first major media news organizations to completely drop off the map, though there are a great many that are teetering at the brink as we speak. It’s hard to say, then, what it’s going to be like in a world without AP, Reuters, The New York Times and other sources of global embedded reporting.
We’ll find out soon enough, though, since their revenues and budgets are shrinking to the point where they can’t support global news operations the way they currently do. Blogging and New Media news organizations are only part of the replacement. Successful blogs are only going to report on narrow niches of information where there’s likely to be a business market to profit from.
Add to this fact that when it comes down to it, the blog content management system is generally a piss poor way to consume straight news. The RSS feed that it generates is great for it, but tell me, honestly and truly, when Mashable was producing upwards of 40-50 news posts a day, didn’t you feel a bit overwhelmed and annoyed at all the clicking and scrolling on the website?
As most blogs who have grown to the size of Mashable (or larger) have realized, we’re not really looked to for a place on breaking news on every thing that may be going on in tech. We’re looked to as a place to make sense of the news.
What Comes Next?
The reason that I promised this post about three weeks ago and am only delivering it just now is that the more I wrote here, the more this became like a book than a blog post. What’s even worse is that this has started to become more of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and the topics are forking out in front of me. I’ve literally spent the last three weekends in a row writing four or five entries that are all about as long as this one.
Here are the focii of the next set of articles in this vein of thought, and a short description of where I’m going with it:
- Even News with Analysis is a Commodity: I’ve talked about the financial and engagement reasons why there must be spin and analysis in news based blog postings. Still, opinion and informed analysis is almost dirt cheap these days. The next evolution (at least how I see it) in how the “A-List” blogs treat news will trickle down to every last blogger who is doing anything tied to a news cycle. The best part is there’s a business model here! (I know, they can revoke my Web 2.0 card for that. You won’t tell, will you?).
- Just as the Content Evolves, So Must the Delivery Method: This is a topic so important, it’s almost urgent that I get it out as soon as possible. I’m talking about video and audio. The landscape is changing so rapidly now that it’s becoming a character flaw to be in the business of professional New Media content production and not be doing something with audio or video.
- The Role of Micro-Blogging: I’ve recently broadened my focus back away from the two big ones (Twitter and FriendFeed) to examine older platforms like Tumblr, Jaiku and Utterz as well as some of the new federated solutions. We’re heading toward a unique convergence point here, and everyone who blogs will at some point in the future be using these tools as a part of their content creation process. Without exception.
I’ve got a few other germs of ideas that may spin off from these, and there’s likely going to be a mix of video and text on some of this. Still working on it, quite honestly, but this gives you a peek at where this is heading.
Any feedback you have would help me shape this series moving forward, and would be greatly appreciated.