The Internet is awesome, right?
It’s so awesome that it’s changing entire landscapes and uplifting whole business sectors. The music industry is all confused. Newspapers are gasping for air. Television and film are trying to sort themselves out. During the dot-com era, we just thought the damage would be contained to bricks & mortars (“Watch out Home Depot!”).
You can debate the good or bad of it and wax nostalgically about how good books and newspapers feel in your hands, but you can’t question the undeterred march of the Internet. It is rendering once vibrant and alive business models dead.
The latest flailing victims are the newspapers. News is dead by the time it gets on paper today. The stranglehold on the dissemination of information is no more. News is everywhere, all the time and delivered to us not by some cabal of journalists but by everybody. Say a prayer for the specialized magazines of the world as well. The day of hyper-specialization (outdoor speaker fetish anyone?) is upon us. Anything you want is out there for you, immediately.
Asking how newspapers will survive is like asking how a terminally ill patient will survive. It’s the wrong question. In their current form, newspapers won’t survive. They may exist in some new form with their brands and good will in tact, but good’ol survival isn’t really in the cards. So the question remains: in this day and age of all-the-information-you-want-all-the-time-instantaneously, what could we possibly want newspapers for?
Well, it turns out the Internet brought along its own baggage. It isn’t just the information I want or the information I care about. It’s everything. Everything is coming at me all the time. I am left flagging, tagging, saving, emailing, printing, starring and occasionally ducking for my life as all this stuff comes at me from all sides.
Here’s why I still visit the NY Times regularly: I know that the staff of the NY Times is adhering to a certain level of quality and integrity around what they publish. The NY Times has reserve of good will it’s afraid to lose. As such, they care about what they put out. Everything that lives under their domain name can make or break their reputation.
The outcome for me isn’t just that I get quality journalism and Op Ed pieces. For me, it’s significant: I know that what lives underneath their masthead has been scrutinized and filtered for my benefit. There’s an implicit contract between the NY Times and myself. They deliver content of some basic level of quality and I continue to value their good name.
Swarms of bloggers are not going to replace newspapers because for them there is no masthead. There is no brand to squander away with shoddy reporting or idiotic commentary. The ones that do gain my respect do so by doing two things:
- They consistently put out quality content.
- They don’t leave it to me to be editor-in-chief.
The second point is the real kicker. I love Andrew Sullivan and I enjoy Gizmodo, but you’re doing me no favors by posting 45 times a day. At that rate, you’re talk radio. I may listen in for 15 minutes but the rest of the time you’re not talking to me.
Newspapers already have a head start today. Any average editorial piece will garner hundreds of comments. As an independent blogger, I can only dream of such a discussion around anything I write. The question that remains is what to do with all those eyes and all that good will.
Newspapers need to dive into that swarm of content out there and provide a service: find the good stuff for me so I don’t have to. I trust the NY Times and if they decide to publish or republish something, I know they’ve made certain that it isn’t garbage.
The Internet is amazing, but it isn’t tailored for me. I need help figuring out what’s worth my time. The cockroach that survives this annihilation isn’t the means of distribution, it’s the brands. Whether it’s the old brands like the Times or someone new, the value of editorializing and filtering will be associated with some brand that I trust and respect. Those brands that make sense of all this insanity will win.
So where’s the business model in all this? I’m not really sure. I can only speak from a prospective customer’s perspective. I spend approximately 35% of my time sifting and the rest of my time digesting all the information that comes my way.
If someone can give me that time back and only hand over the quality stuff, I’ would pay for it. I’d pay a pretty penny to make those inconveniences go away.