Old dogs can learn new tricks

Mark Cuban tries to argue that old media can’t get it and that old media and citizens’ media “will never successfully meet.” I disagree. He says:

In traditional media, you are first defined by your medium. There is some constraint to the physical or digital definition of the medium the content is delivered on or by, that for the most part determines how you are perceived.

That’s simplistic. There’s no reason that big media cannot break free of the shackles of its medium. Many or most won’t try, that’s true, but there’s nothing to say that a newspaper reporter must stay trapped by paper. Cuban continues:

Sure there are bloggers that want to make money from their blogs. Yes there are blogging networks that are corporations that want to make money. They are the infintisimal minority. 99pct of blogs are about what someone has to say. 99 pct of traditional media is about making money. Which is exactly what leads to the resentment between bloggers and traditional media and why blogging on traditional media websites will find it tough to be successful.

Don’t you love how a rich guy dismisses the urge and need to make money?

Cuban further says that blogs have an advantage because they are personal while big media has the disadvantage of being institutional. With that, I agree.

  • I have a much different take on blogs and why Big Media will have trouble incorporating them than Cuban has. His statement is definitely somewhat muddled, but I don’t see where the “rich guy dismisses the urge and need to make money?”

  • Interesting food for thought, Jeff.

    Personally, I think that the bigger hurdle for mainstream-media pros is not getting past their medium (newspaper, TV, whatever), because I see many longtime news pros doing that daily.

    The greater hurdle is about the nature of communication that happens via media, I think. That is: I think old-school news pros have a harder time adjusting to the conversational, interconnected, collaborative, and cumulative nature of many types of new media and online tools. In short, they’re often comfortable with the role of “reporting” to a largely passive audience — but less comfortable with engaging in an ongoing public conversation which actively involves not only “participants-formerly-known-as-audience” but also other media outlets whom they formerly viewed as “the competition.”

    So I don’t think it’s as much about money, or technology, or channels as it is about psychology.

    Just my perspective,

    – Amy Gahran

    Editor, Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits

  • There’s another point that’s articulated in the cover story of tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine—not available online yet unfortunately.

    It’s called “What Will Happen to Books,” but it might as well be called “Books Explode” (hat tip to you, Jeff).

    The piece is too long to condense sensibly in a few words. The upshot is that copyright is holding back the digital revolution in books. (This is not news to people who know the book business.) Here’s the money quote (elided):

    >>But the universal reign of livelihoods based on [copies of isolated books bound between inert covers] is not over….Too many creative people depend on the business model revolving around copies for it to pass quietly. For their benefit, copyright law [which holds back the digital revolution in books] will not change suddenly.

    If you extrapolate from there, you can see that even if old media folks were ready to migrate (and I think more of them are ready than are not ready), there is nowhere for them to go…and make a living. Unless they are entrepreneurs, which most people—certainly including most “creative” people—are not.

  • Jeff,
    go to the top guy of any public media organization, and most are public, and ask about the stock price vs the “trappings of the reporters for the newspapers it owns”. The reporter may want to break free, but the CEO is going to make sure that he is selling papers first.

    Sure they are enabling reporters to have blogs. But their blogs arent open ended. At least not that i have seen. Sports reporters have sports blogs. Opinion columnists have opinion blogs. Movie critics have movie blogs. etc.

    CEOs focus on share price first. Check that. They focus on number of shares and options they can get in their deal, then they focus on share price.

    We are no where near traditional media being able to walk away from the confines of their medium and turn to digital media as a core competency.

    not even close

  • mark,

    You are assuming that newspaper CEOs competently focus on profit. Furthermore, I have to completely disagree with your insinuation that profit-seeking is a shackle on old media companies.

    Would you run the NYT like Sulzberger – alienating customers at every turn?

    I think not.

    Good luck tonight. I hate the Spurs.

  • I think it’s not that newspapers want to make money, and blogs are personal, but more a matter of emphasis.

    Many blogs may make some money, but, with only a handful of exceptions, that income is an adjunct to the person’s real source of income.

    With newspapers (and broadcast) making money is the primary focus (as it is for any public company). Depending on the corporate culture the firm may be more or less attuned to its customers, more or less willing for its staff to wander off the reservation and more or less willing to try loss leaders or other experiments.

    One can afford to alienate an advertiser on a blog, but what happens with a major media outlet. I don’t believe the wall between editorial and advertising is quite as high as papers like to claim. So blogs can say thing which are difficult to get into the traditional media, either because it is off the wall, too biased or not documented. How this is different from the era of the broadsheets and the height of the newspapers escapes me. At the turn of the 20th Century NYC had about 100 newspapers – the blogs of the day.

  • Off topic but why hasn’t anybody called blogger/journalists “Estate 4.0” yet?

  • Mark,
    In most cases, of course, I won’t argue. But I will argue that you can’t exclude the brave exceptions. I’m too much of a fan of The Guardian, but there I see them producting entertainment out of a news organization (the Ricky Gervais podcast) and a positively wacky blog on cricket that’s more about the reporter’s life and hangovers than the scores, which everyone can find out elsewhere. I’m arguing that it’s not impossible if people have courage to be different. Most don’t. But some are quite desperate enough to try.
    As for focus: I hear readers complain mightily when I take jaunts away from media. Like you, I don’t care; if I want to write about Howard Stern, I will. But the expectation of focus can affect both forms.
    And as for share price and all that: Well, I, too, need to earn a living in this process.

  • here is where we differ Jeff. To me, the identity of an organization is defined by their core competencies and where they focus their current and future money making efforts.

    Just adding some light flavor to the recipe doesnt really change the dish.

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  • Mark,

    Agree in large part. For major news outlets to become a contributing part of the new media they will have to re-imagine their role. No, not their role in disseminating information, but in how they disseminate information. Their technology enabled monopoly has ended, now is the time to adapt to the new competition.

    That said, don’t underestimate what a small change could portend. A more informal, conversational tone for example. A greater willingness to cover events the old age of scarcity didn’t allow. Even providing links to other outlets who cover matters they don’t. After all, as Jeff keeps telling us, what matters is not the content but the conversation. In this new media world it will be those who best promote conversation who prosper.

    For an example of how this could start check out Seed Magazine and the science blogs they host.

  • Nola.com and The Times-Picayune showed how quickly a big media organization can change.

    At Syracuse.com, here are three blogs with different personalities. If only they had a comments feature.




  • Basketball analogy: Traditional media right now is like an old guy trying on his kid’s basketball shoes. He looks like an idiot but then he finds shoes that fit and humiliates his cocky JV teenager in a driveway hoops showdown.

    Big media isn’t going to survive with better technology because in 5 years it’ll all be commoditized, they’re going to survive by giving their bright old journalists freedom and tech training and maybe forcing them to train the next generation.

    Capitalism, distribution, competition pre-internet weren’t models of efficiency but the wheels are now optically greased. Maybe some of Mr. Cuban’s distaste for Corporate News assumes that the changes wrought by the internet somehow don’t apply to corporate efficency as well?

    There is a correlation between focus, core competencies and momentum. If momentum causes businesses to fail in the face of an uncertain future then corporations will adapt to the new environment just as they adapted to the old system of broken distribution.

  • Dennis Rodman

    Cuban’s a billionaire and he can’t fucking spell.

  • Mark,
    But you didn’t define it by competencies but by medium. If old media continue to define themselves by their media, they are dead. But if they realize what value they bring to a relationship, then it’s different and old media can bring value to this new world. Doesn’t mean they have to be bloggers. But they can provide content (news) to bloggers; they can provide ad revenue (yes, bloggers are not rich and want to make money, many of them); they can provide knowledge (see NashvilleIsTalking and Terry Heaton showing vloggers how to shoot better video); they can provide promotion (the new networks will be networks of recommendation and trust). There are a lot of ways they can provide value if they are willing to try. And in the end, it does feed back to the core competence or core value of news in the old days: finding new and better ways to gather and share news and information with more people from more sources (many now direct).

  • Mano

    I agree with Mark.

    It will take a new generation(much younger) to make the trasition. Meantime, those who grew up in the “print” world will continue to run it the best way they know, until their generation passes into oblivion(control).
    In the technology business there are many many examples of this . .
    most old dogs don’t want to learn new tricks, they don’t want to rock the boat until they have “retired” !!!!

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  • I guess I side with Mark for slightly different reasons.

    I think old dogs can learn new tricks. The problem is that it probably doesn’t matter.

    Blogs and other collaborative/participatory platforms are usurping relevance from traditional media for the same reason reality programming is so popular. Sure, reality programs, like blogs, are cheaper to produce, but a significant majority of television viewers dig them because they can feel a part of them and can often affect, at least in part, their outcome. The content seems as if it’s being generated by folks who could be our more charismatic and sometimes more knowledgeable peers instead of by a larger, much more remote Hollywood machine.

    Sure news is becoming less of a lecture and more of a conversation. And, yeah, blogs ship with tools out of the box that better facilitate that conversation: comments, trackbacks, RSS feeds, etc. But it’s not about the ability to facilitate the conversation. That’s cost-of-entry. The question is who do users want to have that conversation with?

    What if it’s not with newspapers?

  • What did newspapers do before the Internet? Aggregate information.

    What is one of the biggest needs in the blogosphere today? Aggregating information.

    What’s the difference? The space available. Today a newspaper with the storage and bandwidth can host and disseminate daily issues consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. The problem then becomes, finding the material.

    And not just print. Audio, video, and animation. Aggregating and distributing information however it is presented, along with guidelines and tutorials for better presentation. Invite people to become reporters, for it is only through contributions from the general public that this sort of thing has any hope of success.

  • I completely disagree that old media companies consistently concentrate on profit making. Efficiency lies in moulding yourself to the latest techniques and they are very well adapting to it.
    Who the hell says that ” old dogs cant learn new tricks”

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  • I guess I side with Mark for slightly different reasons.

    I think old dogs can learn new tricks. The problem is that it probably doesn’t matter.