A Note to my Readers (both of you), and the Future of News

After a one-month hiatus from blogging, expect to see a site re-work and new content on alexjmarshall.com over the next few weeks.  I’ve been busy getting back into MBA-mode recently, as well as working on my new consulting project at Wikination.ca.

There are more blogs coming, but in the meantime, here’s a few things to keep you occupied:

I recently read What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (2009) and Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008).  Highly recommend both.  Put them on your reading list.

I’ve also been less frequent on Twitter, another casualty of getting busy with side projects (the fact that I’m no longer working in research full-time also hampers my content production).  If you’re on Twitter, make sure you’re following @matthewi, @jayrosen_nyu and @NiemanLab.  I’ve been reading a lot about the future of publishing lately, and those three are the experts, very stimulating stuff.  If you aren’t on Twitter, shame on you.

And now, a mini-blog to make up for my recent absence:

———

The Future of News?

A lot of mainstream attention has recently been granted to the decline of newspapers.  I think that what we’re seeing is a major paradigm shift, with the news and media industries about to face a major overhaul.  So how can major news sources adapt?

I think the future of  news needs to resemble Slate.com’s “Other Magazines” section.  News sources need to focus on news, not production and distribution.  As we move away from the era of filter-then-publish and towards publish-then-filter, news companies need to focus on filtering and editing as their value proposition.  The best and most successful news companies won’t be those with the best reporters (an increasingly commoditized task), but rather those who can best filter and aggregate what’s already out there.

To explain a bit further, here’s an example:  Check out coverage of the recent MLB draft on the Blue Jays website, and compare it to a similar article on Battersbox.ca, a popular Jays fan site.  I’d argue that the latter has much stronger content.  So why doesn’t BlueJays.com host it?  The material is stronger, the authors and commentors are working pro bono, and hosting it on the Jays’ central portal would provide a deeper engagement for their core fan base.  BlueJays.com would gain a substantial network economics benefit if all of this discussion was happening on their site, not that of a disconnected third party.  Essentially, by creating a silo around their content, the Jays are missing out – and it’s a big marketing loss.

On a broader perspective, I’m not arguing that we don’t need professional reporters and analysts – a seasoned NY Times journalist will usually produce better material than a moonlighting blogger.  But that doesn’t mean that a major news source shouldn’t be incorporating the best of these bloggers into their sites.  You might argue that Slate is aiding their competition by including the Other Magazines section – and you’d be partially correct.  But the key is that because of their Other Magazines section, my daily news reading usually starts on Slate.com – I can read their original articles (which are great), but I can also read their analysis of what’s being put out by their competitors.

The key here is that Slate is focusing their Other Magazines value prop on filtering through the massive (and undigestible) amount of third-party content on the Web.  There’s a lot of value in this; I can’t possibly seek out and read every good article that gets produced every day.  But if the NY Times or Slate does this filtering for me, then I’m likely to visit their sites and use it as my news hub.  That’s how you gain a network economics advantage in the news business.  And that’s why BlueJays.com needs to find a way to incorporate Battersbox.

Established news companies hold a major advantage in that they already have professional editors and enjoy higher levels of trust than do most bloggers and smaller niche writers on the Web.  They just need to figure out how to leverage this advantage in the new age of publish-then-filter.

———–

Here’s some more food for thought:  A May 11th New Yorker article by one of my favorite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, “How David Beats Goliath.”  When a David beats a Goliath, it’s because he’s played by different rules.  Great read.

Finally, I’ll rant that I lost $30 on the damned hockey game last night.  That wasn’t supposed to happen – who loses game 7 on home ice, seriously?  Ah well.  Enjoy your weekend.

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