In a recent NPR piece, The Tricky Business Of Predicting Where Media Will Go Next, there are some fascinating details, from the implications of an Apple conference hosted in Japan in 1992, to the details of the platform models of both The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
In 1992, Apple hosted a conference to discuss the intersection of technology and news. Bob Kaiser, then-editor of The Washington Post was there, alongside the great and good and occasionally weird of the two industries. The letter is a treat to read, it appears that almost everything that we all take for granted now in media, sharing, editing our own content, bespoke payment models, was mentioned in the conference. The only notable omission in our current smorgasbord of media options is the opportunity to insert yourself into existing films. That would be fun, although there are video games that run along similar lines.
It is rather poignant however, as Kaiser in the NPR piece references the letter but also how the climate of success and power in 1992 at The Washington Post meant that no-one was scared enough to trial the big ideas and innovations that were necessary. To be fair, they gave it a fighting try, by launching their classified ads online however they lost ground to the Craigslists of the world.
In terms of now, the NPR piece goes on to cover the existing business models for the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
The Huffington Post is built on aggregation.
1) Use blogs from all over the web on any subject, elevate those blogs by putting them on the front page of the HuffPo site.
2) Curate the stream of incoming content, there is an enormous push on this, the editors are always being trained to hone and refine their particular editorial ‘voice’.
3) Encourage commentary (and, this is my thought, use this a metric of success?)
4) As the business grew, invest in original content.
They have been wildly successful in this endeavour as they started this at about the same time search engines were the primary means of finding the news. Buzzfeed is doing it slightly differently, they operate on the assumption that people now find news and content via social networks, which is certainly true of younger users. Apparently 60% of Buzzfeed’s users are 18-34, whereas the average Fox News viewer is 65. Buzzfeed does not have paywalls or subscriptions and they make their money through ad revenue. They are so optimised for social that their CMS has dynamic elements to it, I did ask the Buzzfeed editor, Ben Smith, to elaborate on this however no response as yet. Ah, he’s a busy man and it is a Sunday so we won’t begrudge him some peace. Rather like Reddit, the presence of an article on the front page of Buzzstream, relates directly to how shared it has been. So, whilst strictly democratic, it does almost remove the editorial role, which I think is rather sad.
As Bob Kaiser said way back in 1992:
“Successful media provide an experience, not just
bits of information…Confronted by the information glut of the modern world, I suspect even the computer-comfortable citizens of the 21st Century will still be eager to take advantage of reporters and editors who offer
to sort through the glut intelligently and seek to make sense of it for them.”