Co-founder of Vox media explains why old media are dying

Joshua Topolsky founded Vox Media to compete with existing mainstream media.

He writes about how media are always looking for the next “new thing” to save their moribund industry and, in the process, deliver ever worsening standards of media.

The media industry now largely thinks its only working business model is to reach as many people as possible, and sell — usually programmatically, but sometimes not — as many advertisements against that audience as it can. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying.

They are also wrong, I believe, in the long run.

And every few months — or let’s say annually — a technology, or idea, or person comes along and the very stupid and slow media industry thinks that New Thing will fix everything. Get them back to the good times. Make those pennies into actual dollars. One year it might be the iPad, the next it might be an “amateur journalist” network, maybe last year it’s You Won’t Believe What Happens Next, maybe next year it’s video (or live video?), maybe it’s bots. Maybe it’s Instant Articles. Maybe it’s your new app.

Certainly it could be a little bit of all of those things. But actually it’s not any of them. You can always get some runway out of the New Thing. You can always get a quick hit that looks like success from the New Thing. But rarely — almost never — is the New Thing what fixes your problem.

Currently it is “integrated news desks” in New Zealand. Unfortunately, it isn’t working. And here is why:

Your problem is that you make shit. A lot of shit. Cheap shit. And no one cares about you or your cheap shit. And an increasingly aware, connected, and mutable audience is onto your cheap shit. They don’t want your cheap shit. They want the good shit. And they will go to find it somewhere. Hell, they’ll even pay for it.

The truth is that the best and most important things the media (let’s say specifically the news media) has ever made were not made to reach the most people — they were made to reach the right people. Because human beings exist, and we are not content consumption machines. What will save the media industry — or at least the part worth saving — is when we start making Real Things for people again, instead of programming for algorithms or New Things.

The NZ Herald reportedly spent more than $3 million developing their paywall solution that was going to solve all their problems. It is ready for deployment but they are too chicken to do it.

So what will matter in the next age of media?

Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media. Thinking of your platform as an actual platform, not a delivery method. Knowing you’re more than just your words. Thinking of your business as a product and storytelling business, not a headline and body-copy business. Thinking of your audience as finite and building a sustainable business model around that audience — that’s going to matter. Thinking about your 10 year plan and not a billion dollar valuation — that’s going to matter.

I’m glad they aren’t thinking along those lines. It creates disruption…and in disruption there is opportunity.

But before we realign around all those Real Things, it will be very bloody. Bloody, and violent, and depressing. Content makers will die. They’ll be bought up. They’ll be split apart. Their TV networks will fail. Their partnerships will end. In fact, this is already happening.

We’ll have to learn a thousand hard lessons, most of them centered around the idea that if you want to make something really great, you can’t think about making it great for everyone. You have to make it great for someone. A lot of people, but not every person.

I tend to be a glass half full person. I actually think this is an incredible opportunity for the smart people in media. We can unfuck ourselves. We can build new things. We can start over, however we want.

At the risk of sounding self-promotional, that’s what I’ve been working on for the better part of a year. I’m only interested in making interesting things for interested people. Want to support it or be part of it? Ping me. I love talking.

Or ping me and Regan; we love talking too.

 – Medium


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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