The first punch in the first round

Rich Skrenta of Topix throws in the towel on we media — way, way, too soon, I think. Because people at the latest We Media conference — just like the last one — couldn’t agree on how the various tribes of news can and should work together — once they ever stop baring their teeth or beating their breasts at each other — Rich says it’s not going to happen. I’m guessing he sees no hope for global warming, either. Says Rich:

The problem is that the hopes that Dan Gillmor raised for the media industry in his book — which kicked off this whole business — have largely failed. . . .

There is actually a media revolution in the works. So what’s going on here? By implicit definition, participatory media is non-commercial. If it’s commercial, someone owns it, and it’s not “we” anymore.

There we disagree. That’s the problem with PayPerPost, not with commercially supported media, big or small. And we have not even begun to plumb the possibilities of commercially supported networks of small media. Rich continues:

Furthermore, as soon as a new media venture crosses the line and tries to become a business, it either becomes a successful business or a failed one. Businesses aren’t about ideology, they’re about getting a job done and earning revenue to keep the thing going. Even wild success tends to leave ideology behind. Ideology is the realm of nonprofits and failures.

And here, too, we disagree. First, the definition of business success depends on the business. And I’d argue that journalism has been driven by ideology — by the desire to make the society more open and the world a better place as a result. More:

There is still a power law to success, and the few continue to reap disproportionate rewards, as they always have. Pub media turns out to be a farm league for big media. The bloggers who “make it” look more and more like regular media than “us”. They graduate to to the A-list, and start to get lumped in and criticised along with the establishment. Success looks like a sellout to a big media company, or a good business doing job boards and conferences on the side to pay the bills.

And there we really disagree. It is a mistake to judge success by the standards and old assmptions of the old media economy. Not every blogger wishes to be big media and not every blogger who doesn’t shouldn’t be judged as a failure. (I’ll spare you the reprise of the there-is-no-A-list argument.)

What Rich is leaving out, I think, is the network model: working together both journalistically and commercially. I believe that’s possible and I don’t believe we’ve even begun to scratch the surface of possibilities.

I do agree with Rich that conferences need to get past arguing. I say they need to get to the job of innovating. But more on that later.

It is way, way too soon to throw in that towel.

(Disclosure: Rich’s company, Topix, is a competitor in some ways with the company I work with, Daylife; he lists both in his post in a collection of new-media news startups.)

: And amen to Richard Sambrook on what should be next:

Enough of conferences going over the same ground, enough of bloggers (several of whom make their living from consulting with big organisations) saying big media doesn’t “get it” and only they have insight, enough of big media publicly agonising over how to respond to the huge disruption the internet has brought. Enough of the fallacy of thinking there is some kind of power struggle going on. It’s about integration, not subsititution…
For me this year has to be less about talking and more about doing.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    And I’d argue that journalism has been driven by ideology — by the desire to make the society more open and the world a better place as a result.

    Napoleon and Hitler thought they were “enhancing society” as well.

    Curiously enough, “enhancing society” is the NYT’s self-declared core purpose.

    Jeff, you can judge journalism by its dissembling intentions, the rest of us will judge it on performance and quality metrics.

  • http://www.thezeroboss.com/ The Zero Boss

    Businesses aren’t about ideology, they’re about getting a job done and earning revenue to keep the thing going.

    Problem is, that’s a big business approach to business. Most mini-news sources (e.g., blogs) are run as independent proprietorships where profit isn’t the only driving factor. For many of us, it’s not even THE driving factor.

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