Whenever people talk about the future of media, they talking about it as if it’s a coming Armageddon.They always miss the most important fact, which is that, for consumers of media, things have never been so good: they have access to more media than ever, for free, all the time.
They have access to stories that wouldn’t have been covered in the newspapers of the past. They have access to a cornucopia of news from all around the world. They have access to countless opinions.
From the consumers’ point of view, media has never been better. And really that’s the only thing that matters.
But what about producers? What about journalists? The picture might seem grim, with newspapers going down the tubes. But we are starting to see a new picture emerge, one which is also encouraging.
Firstly, we see that it’s easier than ever for new voices to come to the fore. With barriers to entry to writing approaching zero, writers can make a name for themselves and eventually become known. For example, your present correspondent has been able to write professionally about US politics even though he’s never lived in the US, something that would have been impossible before the internet.
Another example is a young writer like Evan Soltas, currently an undergraduate at Princeton University, who got his start on his personal blog and quickly started writing for the Washington Post and Bloomberg.
Secondly, we see that it really is possible for online outlets to make money, and do it while practicing investigative journalism. Gawker Media. The Huffington Post. Business Insider. Buzzfeed. All of these ventures are financially successful and frequently produce high-quality journalism.
But thirdly, and this might be the most interesting, we are seeing the rise of the media entrepreneur. In a sense, the media entrepreneur has always been with us. Think of the Malcolm Gladwells of the world, who build up their personal brand through the media and later monetise it through books and paid speaking arrangements.
Now the conception of the media entrepreneur is expanding. As social media breaks down the barriers between audience and writers, personalities are becoming more important.
So, for example, well-known technology journalists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, previously employed by News Corp, are starting their new venture, which according to reports will be valued in the tens of millions of dollars at launch. Or think of someone like Nate Silver, whose blog was first licensed by the New York Times, and now by ESPN.
We are seeing the world of journalism become a bit like the world of sports, with its superstars, and its market, with stars going from one team to the other. But, unlike in sports, it’s possible for players to create their own team, and to be successful in niches.
And it increasingly seems that no niche is too tiny. This suggests that while there will be a “superstar effect”, the long tail will be fat enough that many media entrepreneurs will be successful in their own ecosystems.
It’s always been clear that the internet would be great for journalism and consumers. Finally, we are starting to see how it can be great for journalists, too.