David Carr and Michael Wolff Spar on the Future of Media
I Want Media held its first-ever discussion forum, The Future of Media, at New York University on June 4, 2008.
The Future of Media presented a panel of leading media journalists in a discussion on how the Internet and other digital media are transforming the traditional media landscape. Panelists exchanged ideas and opinions on how newspapers, magazines and television are being shaken up by the likes of blogs, social-networking sites and online video.
- David Carr, New York Times media columnist
- Keith J. Kelly, New York Post media reporter
- Kenneth Li, Reuters global media correspondent
- Johnnie L. Roberts, Newsweek senior writer covering media
- Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch co-editor
- Michael Wolff, Vanity Fair media columnist
Moderator Patrick Phillips is the founder of I Want Media and an adjunct professor in the NYU Journalism Department.
The Future of Media was held in conjunction with the inaugural Internet Week New York, a week-long festival of events celebrating New York's Internet industry.
Patrick Phillips : The topic of our discussion on the future of media is obviously very ambitious and very broad, but hopefully we can make some headway in the hour that we have. First of all I’d like to ask you guys; what do you see as the big story in the media right now? Is there a number one issue that the industry as a whole is facing?
Kenneth Li : I think it’s the same story for the last couple of years… how do you survive and even thrive? How do you transition your business to digital without cannibalizing too much your traditional media dollars?
Patrick Phillips : Which media industry segment do you think is having the most trouble transitioning to the digital media world?
Johnny L. Roberts : I think print. Just even before the advent of the Internet. Print was challenged in getting readers. I stated back in the late 70’s at a newspaper and the montra there in the newspaper then was “How do we get more readers?” particularly younger readers. And I think you see that in what is happening with newspapers today, particularly some of the bigger newspapers.
Michael Wolff : Print has its problems. But those are nothing compared to the problems music has had. The music industry essentially went out of business because it lost the ability to sell their product. I would say that is a significantly larger problem than we have here on the print side.
Johnny L. Roberts : I would agree with that as well. Print was sort of the first to fill the wave of the internet. And they are hurting.
David Carr : The thing is there’s not an audience problem. We have more reader. More younger people than we’ve ever had. 1 in 5 young people visits the newspaper I work at. It’s not doing us a lot of good though. The business model that went with those guys isn’t one where we have figured out how to make those readers as valuable as the offline ones. Michael is right. It has more or left tipped over in music and we have seen what it is like on the other side. The people who have fatter file sizes, TV and Movie business are moving more quickly precisely because of what happened to music because this is not sort of the problem to be dealt with, this is something more destructive…
David Carr : I’m not sure that’s the right way to look at that. I think the right way is to continue to see music as a precursor. So even if you have fat files, as technology accommodates that, the fat file industries will have as much trouble as the music industry.
Keith J. Kelly : There’s also I think, the attention span of people dwindling. And people just not introducing kids to papers, magazines, books. They say kids don’t read, but how many parents don’t have newspapers coming into the house?
The other problem is do advertisers really believe that this is as valuable as the old media was to them? That’s the big problem. Everybody realizes that these audiences are exploding and yet Time.com has 30 people whereas the magazine used to have 300 people. Time.com is maybe marginally profitable at best. Its not gonna ever support the massive infrastructure that the magazine had and the reason is that the add revenue is not driving through. It’s really really lagging.
David Carr : Also because it’s a more efficient advertising buy. We used to say a $25 cpm which was really like a $400 cpm because we were charging advertisers for people who weren’t really looking at the add. Online it’s a $25 cpm but its really a $25 cpm since we can precisely measure that so that’s what you get.
Patrick Phillips : People have been saying for years that newspapers are dying. So… what’s the verdict? What’s the deal?
Keith J. Kelly : Well they’re changing. Somebody said dailies are the new weeklies, weeklies are the new monthlies, and monthlies I don’t know what they are. A little funny example is that the days of EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT with newspapers are gone, they are never coming back. When Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor, there was no way anybody at a newspaper was gonna break news the next day everybody knew it. It broke in the morning and was on blogs then all through the next day’s news cycle. People were saying “I wonder what the post headline is gonna be the next day” Then the headline was “HO NO”. it was a great seller for us. We paid for the Ashley Dupree pictures tens of thousands of dollars. Unheard of amount and it was another massive seller for us. So, what it says is newspaper people really have to reevaluate how to do news.
Michael Wolff : But you still have some endemic problems. You have readers who are older and older I think 59 is now the average age of a reader and that goes up every year. But even more importantly you have a problem with your advertising base. Essentially the thing that has supported newspapers which is classified advertising is gone. That represents 40% of the bottom line and it has almost entirely disappeared now.
Erick Schonfeld : I think there is 2 issues here. 1 is business which I think Michael referring to. That is being completely disrupted on many levels. Not just on the classified level. But the fact that producing content online can be done a lot more efficiently. For instance TechCrunch is basically written by 4 people and we have about 3million monthly visitors. And other web sites that are kind of the equivalent and they could have around 30 people. And that’s even more efficient than print which could have up to 300 people. So we don’t have to make as much money as traditional media site and we could still do pretty good.
David Carr : It depends on your ambition. I mean if you are writing about what you can see from your couch or on your screen 4 people is just fine. But if you want to know whats going on in the green zone, 4 people probably isn’t gonna work very good. There are many people that would argue that absent consumer participation, that things like the Baghdad Bureau which costs $2 million per month, that there is nothing in the business model to pay for it.
Erick Schonfeld : That’s not true. We’re breaking stuff all the time. The L.A. times just wrote a story today about a Sean Fanning start-up that got bought which we reported a month ago. You know, to say that we’re just reporting from our couches and that we’re not
David Carr : I’m saying you’re restricted by geography to fund global reporting. I know that news is coming out of Iraq on the Web. I know that bloggers are having a significant impact but for that war to be comprehensively covered you need something that looks like or acts like mainstream media.
Michael Wolff : Yeah but that’s a tradeoff here. The question is not can you get more news if you spend $300 million a year like the New York Times, the question is can you get $300 worth of news as opposed to whatever you’re spending. So this is the balance, so if the New York Times does not get a return for its $300 million dollars, which many people would argue that it is not, then that becomes a problem. That becomes a further problem when the perception is that the New York Times is in large part getting its news off of the internet too. When their reporters are sitting there and seeing what we can see everyday.
David Carr : That’s a bunch of shit. If you look at the polarity of the relationship between who is annotating whom in terms of the bloggers who wait for this dinosaur to crumble the Earth… I think it was a guy at the Huffington Post. A guy named Harry Shearer was talking about our business problems which are significant and perhaps intractable but who knows, and I said what is it that you’re gonna use to annotate every single date? What is gonna provide the host organism for all of your meta-analysis. To say that we’re monitoring the blogosphere and writing what we see, we’re an organization that makes phone calls.
Michael Wolff : Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah David, we know this. But the truth is that you can’t read the New York Times without seeing the internet annotated. Without seeing a constant reference to this thing that going online or the thing that’s going on television. This is another thing, the New York Times is watching CNN, so at some point there’s a sense of convergence here. And as much as you want to resist it and as much as you want to defend the New York Times, yeah you make phone calls, the truth is that out there there is the perception that you’re not actually offering all that much value anymore. It doesn’t make any difference if you believe you are…
David Carr : Why are we growing online the way we are if we’re not offering original content? We’ve got really great metrics in terms of the growth of our online audience, if it’s freely available and out there for the grabbing?
Michael Wolff : I can tell you the metrics of your online audience. Your online audience grows because you bought a company called about.com. One of the lowest rent, completely unverifiable collections of information on the internet. That’s your business. Your business is not the New York Times online it’s about.com online.
Johnny L. Roberts : Well theres clearly a feeding off here. A symbiotic relationship between whats going on out there in the blogs on the internet and whats happeneing at traditional media. One reason I love the blogs is because they are a kind of megaphone for what I do in the magazine. They clearly do go through the print magazines and the newspapers and take stuff. At the same time they set the agenda on many many days on many many items, particularly in the political sphere. The business sphere. We do look at what’s going on there and you know it’s resonating with an audience out there. And we want to tap into that audience and clearly they want to tap into our audience. And that’s probably gonna take a while to play out as this transition happens.
Erick Schonfeld : Yeah I think that we’re still trying to figure out what the reciprical relationship is between online only media and print media that has online components. And not to take anything away from the New York Times, I’m a reader too and I love your stuff. But still theres a sense that when I read something in the New York Times, at least half the time I’ve already seen that story or a nugget of it. What the New York Times does is it brings a more complete picture of it.
Michael Wolff : Certainly a longer picture anyway.
Erick Schonfeld : Certainly a longer picture. I might have already 70% of it. And the question is, editorially to what extent can media companies give up control, and what makes the New York Times traditionally so great is this editorial control of this very high quality product right? But how are consumers consuming media today
Patrick Phillips : Well the times has given up control to a degree with its blogs and a number of interactive features it has introduced.
Erick Schonfeld : Well no of course. I think they’re doing better than most traditional media companies so not to pick on them specifically. But still media today is about a 2-way conversation and people, formerly known as the audience, want to talk back and sometimes they want to talk with each other more than they want to consume what you’ve wrote. And to the extent that you can make that easier for them to do, I think that you’ll stick around longer.
David Carr : I think that the point you make about information and data being out there, and there for the seeing, and you as a consumer knowing a lot; and then our value is coming in terms of analytics or length. I love that Michael makes a crack about length considering how long his columns are (every word a shiny diamond trust me Michael, its great), but whats happened though is we’ve moved over into Johnny’s space over at Newsweek, and we’ve tried to do real time analytics, and you’ve tried to move towards the daily space, and Michael because he is doing the monthly really does have to do a significant step back and we’ve all had to articulate in ways where our roles have sort of changed and pivoted. And where on a daily basis we’re trying to put out a news magazine like you did 20 years ago.
Johnny L. Roberts : And still there’s a substantial audience out there. Their first read of a story that is on a blog right now and maybe is appearing on the New York Times Web site, will read that on that blog. You know we talk about the erosion and the dying of that print product, but you know it is still paying the bills at a lot of places.
Michael Wolff : Yeah but this is to complacent here. We’re in a business that’s in a radical transition and probably will go away. If Newsweek is around in 5 years you know, I’ll buy you dinner. In the New York Times, its very likely that something dramatic and potentially terrible and certainly historic is gonna happen in a short period of time because its business is in substantial trouble. The New York Post gets to go on because it has the love of Rupert Murdoch but it only goes on on the basis of one man’s devotion. The company that I work for, thank god, has an advertising category that still has not been penetrated by the internet, so I get a little longer than you guys get. But eventually that will happen too. So what we are here, all of us, is looking at our own obsolescence. You’re still going on about people reading, about people need, about our function, which is at this very moment today true, but it degrades at a very very very rapid pace. And its shifting to something else, so something else is going on here as new media is created. So in all of these kinds of things, in these improvements we’ve been talking about what we do and how we recast. What I’m saying is that’s not working it is going over here, which would be fine, and you know we would just be obsolete and the new thing would arise. What I’m saying is this new thing is arising which has no economic model and nobody gets paid for it. And we’re all sitting here in a moment in the headlights. What happens? This is good for as for as I can see, except perhaps the consumer who gets a lot of stuff for free.
Keith J. Kelly : Well ultimately this is good for the advertisers because you get back to the original basis for a newspaper. It wasn’t to inform people it was to sell stuff in stores. If it works for the advertisers and the online model is driving consumers than that works. I just think you have to be nimble and adapt to it and move with it. And recognize that it was an ad driven vehicle at its inception. We got all high might and noble with our ambition, but that’s what it is. It was a vehicle for consumer commerce. And informing, the press, was a good noble sidebar.
Erick Schonfeld : Your cost structure doesn’t transition to that new model.
David Carr : I think that Ericks point about you know. We’re having to walk back the cat to a business model that exists now pretty hard to re-engineer it. And I totally have to second what Michael said about this deer in the headlights thing. The metrics that we’ve been seeing in the last 6 months. If I seem smug now, I was a lot more smug a year ago. The things that have happened in the last 3 months cycle. The ABC’s, the circulation measurements. This year we’re gonna see what secular flight, which is 6 or 7 percent a year away from old media can do when its stapled to a media recession. So its gonna be mid teens that we’re gonna be down. Plus as Michael has pointed out and others… we have an audience problem. So all those things screwed together. I just want to second the fact that we’re very much in a new world at a velocity that I personally did not anticipate. There’s a piano over your head and you know that the wire has been clipped and you wonder at the rate it’s falling.
Johnny L. Roberts : Its pretty graphic when you walk into your newsroom and there are 100 empty offices and where the day before there weren’t.
Kenneth Li : All the panel members here are touching on something that we’re hearing from the markets, which is basically that the kinds of investments and the kinds of times that it takes for the big media companies to meet with the rapid pace of change is not conducive to it being in the public markets. That the public markets demand return on a quarter to quarter basis and its hard for these companies to solve these debates.
Patrick Phillips : We’re going back to something that Erick has said earlier. He talked about TechCruch being a very small operation, only a handful of people producing a news outlet. You can’t compare a TechCrunch, a blog, necessarily to the New York Times, but, is it conceivable that sometime in the future media outlets will be a much smaller operation? Cleanly run…
Erick Schonfeld : You can’t compare us to the New York Times but we definitely see the New York Times technology sections as our competitors. And any time we can beat the New York Times technology section, or the Wall Street Journal’s technology section, or CNET, in a news story we feel pretty good about ourselves, and we do that on a consistent basis. So yeah, we’re 4 guys so we can’t do that all the time but I think we’re doing pretty good.
David Carr : In your competition, they see it the same way. I’m not talking just TechCrunch, though are guys keep an eye on TechCrunch, so for TechCrunch taking a story it’s not like somebody whistling out there, it definitely moves everywhere with their name attached. And whatever wind you’ve got, it’s a much more level playing field.
Keith J. Kelly : That’s totally what happened you know, Anybody from a small university article, somebody gives a speech where in the old days it wouldn’t have been covered at all and now it would become a big controversy so it has mad our jobs easier and harder simultaneously. Easier because everything that’s covered is covered, but harder if you’re as the post and a lot of tabloids go for the big scoop and the exclusive, harder because those things, I go into the 11 oclock story meeting and they say “what do you got?”. And I say I’ve got this and this but 3 of them kind of break by 2 oclock so don’t count on them. One of them I don’t think will break unless something else happens. And the other thing I’ve found is that I used to, whenever it happened that something broke somewhere else of course I gotta go into that “we’re not gonna do it”. Now I find that we get enormous traffic on things that have broken on other sites somewhere else by bringing in our own little unique twists and turn to it. And I think that’s what a lot of media, and I’m only talking about my own personal role in it but a lot of the old traditional media has to do that. They gotta change and adapt, and the old formula from 10 ears ago does not work in the new world and you’ve gotta work what the new formula is. People still amazingly enough get traffic to stories that I would have said were complete second day stories.
Michael Wolff : Well I have 12 people and I can compete with the New York Times and I am competing with the New York Times on this aggregation sight that I have Newser. Essentially everything the New York Times is offering I can offer too, and I can offer it more efficiently and actually I can offer more because I have the reach not just of the New York Times which comes with this environment of a rather parochial view.
Patrick Phillips : Tell us about Newser, what does it do, how does it work?
Michael Wolff : The point about Newser is that it can aggregate across any news site it can go anywhere that exists digitally. It can give it in an efficient way and give you a news experience that is actually somewhat like the old network news experience real quick, real transparent, real entertaining. No work, but you get it all and you can hear 2 or 3 minutes per…
David Carr : I would just say that in terms of Michael competing with , and you know it’s a very synthetic idea that he has, I would suggest the audience members means test that. You open up Newser which has utility but in terms of being a competitor product to what we do… I don’t really see it. I mean you say what it does is aggregate whats out there and synthesize with it, to me it is annotating the work of others.
Michael Wolff : It’s exactly that but that doesn’t, that’s said as a disparagement, but that said in a positive way is what we’re trying to do; getting you the work of others in a faster and more efficient manner. That’s what news, or at least part of the news function has always been. How do I get this fast, quick, and efficiently. And accurate since we’re picking up from the New York Times. It’s as accurate as news is in general.
David Carr : Yeah but what happens to a site when the business model of all those people you’re promoting or stealing from, whatever way you want to look at it, go out of business. What do you do? In that sense you’re a pilot fish, you want the host to continue.
Erick Schonfeld : You’re assuming nobody will come in and replace that authoritative content. The reason everyone annotates the New York Times is because you guys do such a great job at being authoritative and being the first and maybe sometimes the last work.
Michael Wolff : I’d go easy on that great job part.
Erich Schonfeld : I love the New York Times so , you know. But if you guys go away don’t think that some other entity, or hundrends of entities, won’t try to come and fill those very big shoes. It doesn’t have to be 1 entity. It could be groups of… look at the blogs that have become more professional, because in the techsphere you have everything from venturebeat, to gigaome, to center networks which is right here in New York. All of these are a mix of commentary and reporting and some of this content is this sort of annotation that you’re talking about but some of it rises above that. And if you have a hundred or even a thousand of these in aggregate that could be just as good as the New York Times.
Michael Wolff : Theres access to so many other news sites. It used to be if you lived in the tri-state area you got the New York Times, now you’re access to the Times in London, or the Guardian, or the Los Angeles Times. So that immediately changes both the supply of news and the idea of the authority of news.
Patrick Phillips : Are these news aggregators, I presume they are hurting traditional news outlets?
Michael Wolff : I hope we are.
Patrick Phillips : Someone has to produce the original news. Everyone can’t be an aggregator.
Erick Schonfeld : It’s a question of attention. Who is grabbing the attention the most. I mean you look at news or you look at something like Digg, they send traffic back to the original source but that back function still always sends you back to that trusted aggregator to find out what the next story is. And so you can disparage the value of the content there but if you look at what this is, people only have a certain amount of time to consume this information online, or offline during the day, and whoever can capture the most of that attention is gonna get the bulk of the advertising dollars.
Keith J. Kelly : And that is really what its gonna come down to. Look at the t.v. audiences that have been down and down but superbowl advertising dollars keep going up and up. So even though the audiences are smaller, broadcast t.v. is the only place where advertisers know how to capture; where they used to get 20 million now they might only get 15 million or whatever, but they still want that 15 million. It is still an important vehicle to capture.
David Carr : I think the time pressure on the consumer. If you’re looking at the sort of competitive set. I look upon it in terms of mind share. And the kind of growth and development of personal media, to me with checking facebook, uploading photos to snapfish, and talking with my daughter on Ichat, by the time I get upstairs to read the New Yorker and I see my friend’s book you know what, I’m wiped out. And I get up in the morning and Michael is on to something that I want it fast, get it in there and let me keep moving because the amount of time I actually get away from my screen where I’m actually out in the world where I’m actually looking at something besides my little corner of it is shrinking so much.
Patrick Phillips : Michael you are just wrapping up your biography on Rupert Murdoch. What impressions are you getting from him about the media world, whats his vision? Can you give us some insight into that?
Michael Wolff : Well he is a happy man. He is an extraordinarily happy man. Everyone else’s media adventure may have come to disappointment but his certainly has not. One of the interesting and incredibly entertaining aspects of spending time with him is that this is a man in love with what he’s doing. I don’t think for a second does he doubt the business, or expect certainly in his lifetime for there to be any significant downward issues in the business.
Patrick Phillips : Some questions from some of our people here: Michael who is gonna pay your salary in 10 years time? The publisher of Vanity Fair, Newser, or a government organization maybe?
Michael Wolff : I don’t know but I’m trying to make sure in 10 years time somebody will be paying my salary.
Patrick Phillips : What would your advice be to someone who is about to go into the field of journalism now?
Keith J. Kelly : TURN BACK WHILE THERE IS STILL TIME
David Carr : My advice would be to make stuff. I used to work at weeklies and hire a lot of young people and I would not care about specific things on resumes, I would say show me what you have made. Because the technology has come to your desktop to produce and publish as much as you want. Have you demonstrated creativity, initiative. Are you finding an audience, are you writing about something besides does your cat have leukemia, do you have other, broader interests that I can transparently see into. And I do think that you’re gonna be wanting to present a lot of rich media going out into the world so people can see what you can do.
Michael Wolff : Also from a certain aspect this is a great time. I mean when we came into this business what were the options? Go to work for somebody. Those options become lesser and lesser at this point but you are looking at this ability of a big score. I mean that is the opportunity to invent what is gonna come next.
Johnny L. Roberts : Or help reinvent. To pick up on Michael’s point. Certainly at Newsweek, an established brand in the media world that’s trying to reinvent itself; you know the future is youth. And I guess it was yesterday that we were introduced to the summer internship, that hasn’t gone by the wayside yet, and probably more than any other year that I’ve been there, which is probably about 14 years, everyone is extremely interested in this class of summer interns for one reason only, “How can you help reinvent Newsweek?”. At the highest level of the company, both business and editorially, we are asking interns “how do you help us with social networking?”. We don’t have that experience resident here at Newsweek. Its not relying on them but clearly this is a demographic that compared to me has more confidence about this stuff. Its not that we’re relying on them but it is a resource there that I think will be valuable.
Patrick Phillips : One thing that I have been curious about, and Erick I think I’ve asked you this before, is that TechCrunch is the preeminent news source for technology news. But you look at something like the San Jose Mercury News which has been in Silicon Valley for years and years, why couldn’t they develop a TechCrunch?
Erick Schonfeld : They did its called VentureBeat. Annette Marshall was at the San Jose Mercure News. What I’m saying is that you have former journalists moving to this new world. I was at Time inc. for 15 years and you know I decided to plunge into this world because I just think there is too much baggage and its easier to start from scratch than having to do things the old way. For instance, actually I’m breaking news right now, we’re gonna launch later today a new video project of mine that I put up that’s called Elevator Pitches at pitches.techcrunch.com. This is startup founders and CEO’s can give up their 60 second pitch about their startup, what it does and how do you make money, and you can vote it up or down. And that’s what our audience loves they love startup ideas. And here is a video thing that we haven’t really been doing but its low cost because the companies themselves can actually produce the content for us and we make it look nice basically. But I did that with basically a team of 2 developers who basically were doing 20 other things and we got this kind of cobbled together in like 3 months. At CNN money.com, which has huge resources, that would have taken a lot longer to get projects going there and you can just move a lot faster.
Patrick Phillips : And in addition, what you are describing would obviously be a very different experience in print.
Erick Schonfeld : Well that’s the point, you can’t just think about print, or video, or these other media silos. That just doesn’t make any sense anymore. Again I mean look at the New York Times, again I think they are doing a great job of mixing media in terms of video and you know mixing images and different interactive graphics. You know its not just about reading but you have to go beyond that right? A news site has to have software developers. You have to develop applications that readers can interact with if not just reading your news. And that something that news corporations do not have these developers. They are in a totally different style not under the auspices of the editor, they are under the auspices of the IT guy and it is very hard to access those resources.
David Carr : I think the fact that we have a video player on our front page and have for a couple of years since the 2.0 design of the New York Times came out is an indication of how you know how serious and or worried we are. And I think what Erick described in terms of how those people are empowered which way they report, how much sort of administrative good they have to wade through to get there is a significant issue. But the cultural changes, and we don’t know if the clock will run out on it or not, but our video product, they are incredibly aggressive about it. I mean I tried to stop, I do this blog about the Oscars, and I’m not a television guy. You know I’m kind of like a homeless guy walking around with the mic and I tried to ease off doing the video stuff and they said “NO! That’s what we’re into, that’s what we want”. And some of the videos went out onto YouTube and reached an audience of half a million people we otherwise wouldn’t have touched. Whether we can be seen as a place where we’re gonna give you a menu of information on a platform of your choosing and get a whole new generation of consumers to adopt it in a way that allows us to continue on the business model that we have who knows. You know?
Johnny L. Roberts : But the point is that’s going on at these traditional media companies. It’s a struggle because you know, you are encumbered with history, and a business model and structures that have been there for decades and in some cases over a century, and it’s a struggle but it is happening. At some places faster than others but you know, again, I can only speak of what’s going on at Newsweek but you know, compared to 5 years ago whats going on today is dramatically different. There is still a long way to go however.
Patrick Phillips : One person in our audience today wanted to ask, “Can any of you name a print organization that has made a successful transition to a print online platform?”
David Carr : Consumer reports is doing, I think, a bangup job. And they’re doing it with a pay model. Which is unusual.
Keith J. Kelly : Sports Illustrated seems to be doing some well. Time inc. is now saying that the digital increase is now offsetting the print decline of the last couple of quarters.
David Carr : I don’t buy that.
Michael Wolff : You have something like the guardian which online has certainly expanded its brand, its range, its influence, its relative value in terms of dollars.
Johnny L. Roberts : Well certainly the print product is challenged over at the Wall Street Journal but the online piece of it certainly is seen as something of a pioneer in that it was one of the first to successfully charge. I think there’s gonna be some transition going on there the new owner has to figure out his strategy there but you know before Murdoch purchased it there was a lot of noise about going in there and making it all free right away. He seems to have backed off there which suggests that he has seen some success in the current model. How that all shakes out over time we have to wait and see.
Patrick Phillips : Michael did Rupert Murdoch say anything to you about his plans for the Wall Street Journal that you can tell us?
Keith J. Kelly : Buy the book?
Johnny L. Roberts : Well they are re launching this fall. The online is doing stuff like adding blogs even as of now. But a formal relaunch is coming this fall. I guess the big question however is “how much of that content will be free the?” I mean there is certainly more of it free now. Advertiser are clearly pressuring them to make it all free but we’ll know some answers for sure this fall.
Patrick Phillips : Can you see the Huffington Post competing with the New York Times, a full fledged newspaper, in the next decade?
Michael Wolff : No I don’t think so and I don’t think it wants to do that. You know if they do that would be the wrong way for them to go. It’s a gadfly site, it’s an opinion newsletter. Whatever it is it occupies a niche that has always existed but that’s a niche different from a daily newspaper.
Erick Schonfeld : The thing I find interesting about the Huffington Post is that the strongest voices there end up going off and launching their own blogs, their own entities.
Patrick Phillips : The Huffington Post doesn’t pay any of its bloggers, or maybe just a handful. They’ve got hundreds of people working for free…
Erick Schonfeld : Which is why the best writers go off and start their own
David Carr : I think at the Huffington Post ideology is baked right into the rhetoric and there are readers of the New York Times who would say “Well you do exactly the same thing”. I don’t think so… I mean I do think that the Huffington Post in terms of brand build out is a remarkable thing to have watched. And the business model as was pointed out yesterday when they had their big newsbreak about Obama saying what he said. Arianna gave it the okay while she was on a yacht and I read a contrast to whoever the blogger was who was out there sort of on her own nickel. I don’t think the center will hold and I think Erick is right in terms of if they’re gonna pay people in terms of visibility, people are gonna comodify that visibility ad take it out into the world. The best blogs that I read are on Erick’s model which is really smart people funded in a way where they can do it for a living and doing original reporting and breaking stories. News is the killer app on the web, nothing beats it… Ever. Maybe porn but not by much.
Keith J. Kelly : Well you figure if the Huffington Post does really well they ought to inspire other imitators. Time has Newsweek, and other news weeklies. You know if it works great they’re not gonna stand out there along. Other people are gonna say they’ll jump into it. But a lot of it seems almost hobbies oriented, people spouting off opinions.
Patrick Phillips : Do certain categories of news work better than others online? Like is local news more efficient, more effective? Does it draw a bigger audience than gossip, business, or editorial reporting?
Keith J. Kelly : We totally neglected the whole explosion of the celebrity magazine field which 5 or 6 years ago I don’t think people really thought it would be anywhere near the way it is now. And they’re trying to translate that into digital. People copying the TMZ model…
David Carr : Yeah but TMZ is like the perfect expression of a web experience. Which is text, video, narrative; all in a cube and not very windy. And you know what you can see it replicating itself all across the web. It is a beautifully designed site which delivers what you want in a variety of mediums and is robust enough to have grown a television show out of it. Instead of the other way around. Used to be a Web site was a flanker brand to a television show, now you have a t.v. show which is also, I think, really well done that’s grown out of this blog. I think it’s amazing to watch.
Kenneth Li : It’s also interesting that TMZ which has so dominated entertainment and gossip journalism, was created within a unit of Time Warner, and old media company.
David Carr : As was Smoking Gun got bought by them.
Keith J Kelly : Well, Smoking Gun was started independently and then acquired.
Erick Schonfeld : I think the point here is that there’s a lot of experimentation going on and nobody really knows what the new media model is gonna be. But there are a different approaches. There’s news aggregation, there’s being your own sort of mini brand, there’s what you know Chris Anderson of _____ ______ calls being the tallest dwarf. Right you have all these niche sites that are these most authoritative source for their niche content. And if you aggregate the niches that that becomes interesting. You also have to think about different tiers. If you’re an older media company having an online presence, you can have your top quality content that you throw a few reporters and editors at, and then you sell high cpm adds against that content. Then lower down you have blogs and maybe you have information bubbling up from the audience itself, and that you monetize with AddNetwork or even GoogleAd type of advertising and there has to be sort of a flow in between. So if somebody in your audience comes up with a great story or writes a great piece that can bubble up and be put on your homepage or even be printed in your magazine.
Michael Wolff : The other thing that we’re dealing with here is not only this constant change in behavior but this constant change in technology. So we sit here having a discussion which is dependent on developments that have yet to come. But which will come relatively soon. There was a company that I wrote about a couple of months ago that I think was called Media Defender, that essentially they go to the peer-to-peer networks and now you know arguably most fatstream media is now being consumed not through its actual producers but via the peer-to-peer networks. So it’s stolen; that’s music and video both movies and television. So what this company does is essentially they flood the peer-to-peer networks with decoys so that they can create a specific title that you can no longer download. They can inhibit you from stealing it. Now they have gone back to the original producers saying “Let us flood the networks on your behalf and put an add so essentially converting stolen media into paid media. So I think we’re gonna see enormous numbers of these kinds of really transformative developments, which will remake this discussion that we’re having here.
Erick Schonfeld : Media Defender is also the company that took down Revision 3 which is an online video studio. Because Revision 3 distributes legally its own videos through bit torrent which is one of these peer-to-peer networks and Media Defender was using their servers as a proxy. So there’s a lot of bad actors doing things in the name of copyright protection that go a little bit too far. And it’s interesting that the media companies are using this third part Media Defender as a proxy. It will be interesting also to see if there’s any lawsuits as a result of that.
David Carr : I do think that the Hulu model which is networks contributing to a core site that has already grown larger than their Web sites and the aggregate is a great; I don’t know what kind of business it is, but it is a great counter argument in terms of vid sharing when you say “We have something that is a simple, easy UI, it has great content because we contribute to it, its got free which is the only price point that matters.” So that when other sites say “No we’re just promoting what you do.” They can say “No, we’re in that business and consumers can go to a site for free where the benefits will accrue to the people who produce the content, and own the rights to it.” So that a federated group of networks has now set up a site that has grown very very quickly into a useful present on the web.
Tags: Media , Michael Wolff
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