Even New Media Doesn’t Understand New Media

March 29, 2011

Written media without a strong voice is just plain boring. Newspapers are dying off because their core revenue streams — classified ads and the like — are quickly disappearing. But let’s face it, the only reason classified ads had to support newspapers in the first place was because the rest of the content was generally uninteresting.

Most newspaper markets ended up as natural monopolies which protected the paper from competition and resulted in editors going after market penetration with no wish to insult anyone. This produced a lot of generally uninteresting media content — write a few general interest local stories and grab everything else from the AP. Usually only the sports section had a strong voice and that was OK because everyone local rooted for (or hated) the same team. The primary exception to this was the bigger markets (such as New York and Chicago) which could support enough newspapers to end up with tabloids and papers with strong points-of-view appealing to smaller segments of the market.

I realize I’m way over generalizing here and there have been some amazing moments in newspaper journalism over the past decades. So don’t go all Pentagon Papers on my ass. I’ve been a newspaper reader most of my life (except the last 10 years). My main point here is that I think the newspaper industry did a much better job of killing newspapers than the internet, Craigslist, eBay and all the usual suspects. In aggregate over the last 50 years, most newspapers have sucked. Sorry.

I muse on this history because of this piece from Business Insider about John Gruber’s great blog Daring Fireball. The writer has it completely wrong when he writes “Gruber might still have a tough time selling his little media company for a lot of cash, if he ever wanted to — it relies too much on its proprietor to be worth much if he ever quit….” In fact, the only reason there is any value in DF is because of John’s voice.

Welcome to the new world of the written word. Good media is about strong voice and point-of-view and creators with both (like John Gruber) have never been more important. Content farms are a passing fancy, we will look back in five years and laugh at that game. The internet is moving away from optimizing around Google (which is really what the content farms are about) and towards optimizing around the pass along world of Facebook and Twitter. When was the last time someone you know tweeted an eHow story?

In the near future, we should expect to see a new wave of companies that know exactly how to capitalize on the value of content sites with the voice of a single proprietor. They will look a lot like the music labels and movie studios of yore. And they will be the most interesting thing in media.

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