GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The great tech war of 2012 is warming up, writes Fast Company, meaning that four biggies are stepping on each other’s toes and pretty soon the slug fest will begin, featuring Amazon, Apple, Facebook nnd Google. “There was a time, not long ago, when you could sum up each company quite neatly: Apple made consumer electronics, Google ran a search engine, Amazon was a web store, and Facebook was a social network. How quaint that assessment seems today.” [bold added by GenevaLunch]
I like Fast Company, a magazine that produces some well-researched and well-written material. But even here, we can’t call it a magazine, in these days of amorphous companies, including amorphous media.
Media is still a line of business, the question is whose
Here’s how Fast Company, what I would call an online news magazine, describes itself; if you look hard you’ll find the word media in there, and note the lack of italics, which are generally used to denote the name of a publication: “Fast Company is the world’s leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and FastCompany.com inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations and create the future of business.”
If you’re one of the sticklers who still wants to know why GenevaLunch calls itself an online daily newspaper when we don’t have a print version, I can only say a) I usually shorten it to “we’re an online daily” to avoid the debate and b) at least we produce news and that’s our main business. We’re part of a shrinking industry, with newspapers trying to hold on to that part of what they do while looking elsewhere to make money. We’re staffed by volunteers, in answer to your unasked question, what’s our business model.
Make way for quasi-news
The latest development in the news industry is the quasi-news business, with two branches. The first is smaller social media tacking on news services to make their sites sticky. At first glance this looks like a smaller, shadow version of the big upcoming tech wars, but that’s an illusion. They mostly stir around the news rather than producing it themselves, they have no editorial team overseeing news although they sometimes hire a reporter or two, hapless freelancers. These groups are a target for the second branch of this new business, companies that produce and sell “news” cheaply to other businesses which want to pitch their own news service without going to the trouble of manufacturing the news themselves. I am getting several calls a week from these new companies, most of which claim to be in London (I have my doubts). Their news packages are a mix of public relations rehashes and re-arranged aggregated news.
This only seems to upset people when the subject is politics and government power, but the quasi-news industry makes sure there is plenty of celebrity stuff to keep interest high. I was told in a call from London last night that they can give me any mix I like of Lady Gaga and what’s happening to the euro.
I turned down the offer.
ProPublica (journalism in the public interest) carried an article in May about the implications of “PR up, journalism down”. Author John Sullivan noted that “the Pew Center took a look at the impact of these changes last year in a study of the Baltimore news market. The report, “How News Happens,” found that while new online outlets had increased the demand for news, the number of original stories spread out among those outlets had declined. In one example, Pew found that area newspapers wrote one-third the number of stories about state budget cuts as they did the last time the state made similar cuts in 1991. In 2009, Pew said, The Baltimore Sun produced 32 percent fewer stories than it did in 1999. Moreover, even original reporting often bore the fingerprints of government and private public relations.”
The demand for news is there, it’s just moved to FB
Farhad Manjoo, author of the Fast Company article, writes that “Facebook, meanwhile, is now more than just the world’s biggest social network; it is the world’s most expansive enabler of human communication. It has changed the ways in which we interact (witness its new Timeline interface); it has redefined the way we share—personal info, pictures (more than 250 million a day), and now news, music, TV, and movies.”
News is like any other product, with R&D, production, packaging, distribution
FB is a distribution channel for news. What does this mean? That someone still has to produce the news in the first place, a fact that quick sharing of news among friends, online, tends to blur. At a social media evening jointly hosted by the US Mission in Geneva and the Diplomacy School a young woman in the audience declared that like most of her friends she doesn’t get her news from news organizations, but from friends online and their links.
Duh, I was a little surprised that for a graduate student she doesn’t seem to have asked herself where the news originally came from, since I don’t think she was talking about citizen news and iReports, which were mostly a flash in the pan and are now used by media to make them appear connected and interactive. I don’t think she meant the Arab Spring with direct-from-the-battle-line reports or the boom in news moving around on cell phone informal networks in Africa. I’m pretty sure she was referring to the various bits and pieces of news shared by friends on FB, Linked in, Twitter and on local social networks, the stuff I see batted around by my friends, colleagues and acquaintances who somehow became online “friends”.
This is news without the packaging. Packaging is part of what magazines and newspapers and now online media offer. The friends distribution system is a free-for-all. The cost goes down as a result of this loss of packaging and distribution, a fact media are beginning to realize can work in their favour.
A nod to the brand
The danger is that the brand disappears. Fast Company is lucky because I made my source clear here, cited them and linked to them. A few hundred other unscrupulous people won’t bother and will rewrite some of what Manjoo wrote, never giving him the credit he deserves for a really interesting and rich article.
And while I’m being honest, I will admit that I found his article because one of my FB friends is The Browser, who makes me sit up and notice all kinds of interesting articles (thanks, dear Browser folks).