What's Next for Big Media?

By Chris Dixon  JAN 03, 2011 2:10 PM

Traditional approaches grapple with next-gen solutions.


David Carr of The New York Times recently offered his take on the forward state of media in 2011. Having covered the industry for many years, my assessment of his views is, “I’m not so sure.”

The article struck me as a Hail Mary pass to say something "significant" for the New Year, and was not particularly thought through; indeed, it may have been an affirmation of the state of confusion at the New York Times (NYT).

Let's break it down. Technology has disintermediated traditional distribution platforms, putting pressure on plain old paper (read: death of newspapers, death of magazines). New tablet devices and smartphones are making it harder for graphic differentiation given the limits of plasma, LCD, and form factors. Plain old news, "what happened where and when," has become a commodity, easier to access through PULSE on a cell phone than from a paper.

Rise of the cloud and standardization will make it difficult for incumbents, particularly as behavior associated with news and information consumption shifts from linear to cloud -- available anytime, anywhere -- and development of IP TV. This is news? If you had spent a little time with a teenager in the past five years and watched the behavioral shift to mobile and computer versus wire-line and TV, it has already smacked you in the face. Mr. Carr, hindsight is 20/20.

The bigger issue is what is next, and what the role of the reporter or editor in the new world is. My take is that editorial and editorial voice matters big time, and consistency of focus, a defined point of view, and, yes, a place to have some fun is the place to be. There is a reason Fox (NWS) has been successful, and it has a whole lot more to do with Roger Ailes's editorial voice and pack of commentators than with any impact of technology. It's also why AOL's Patch (AOL) is gaining real traction in local communities. Now is the time to remember Wayne Gretzky and skate to where the puck is going to be.

Today, in a perverse throwback to Hearst's yellow journalism, it is as much about making news as reporting news. It also puts real pressure on the stuff that journalists and editors put out there. Asking questions, stimulating ideas, and being completely honest with an audience, sharing the journey and asking the questions has never been more important.

This is not a time to sit like an old grey-haired lady looking disdainfully at the new revolutionary techno nerds, wringing your hands (sorry Mr. Sulzberger). The opportunity is incredible, and I believe that we've finally entered the time for the digital magazine, which we now call "an application," fueled by the rise of the tablet.

Look for confirmation of this trend coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show this week, and hang on for the ride of your life. This digital revolution will not only benefit the consumer with a customized media experience, but also the producers of news who are agile and open-minded.

My apologies Mr. Carr, but we are at the beginning of the rise of the vertical, where the vertical is the subject, whether it’s based on technology, fashion, or finance, and there has never been a better time to be an application operating within a "vertical" using multiple distribution platforms. Much of your view is an acknowledgement that a tech writer employed by the New York Times who writes a column on Monday has a hard time competing with content on All Things Digital or Tech Crunch, which stories throughout the week.

This is a great time to be writing and creating content, and telling stories in text and audio and video for audiences who are passionate about the particular arena which a publisher has decided to focus on, and are not interested in hearing a singular opinion once a week. Consumers are now better informed and can go anywhere if they don't like what they see. That's the real challenge, but publishers must harness new delivery mechanisms to reach their audiences, and the successful ones will unlock their creative daring to make sure they ride the wave rather than getting wiped out.

There are some big waves out there, but what fun. Hang Ten!!

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