Back in the 90s I thought blogs would be the antidote to the bullshit of news, but it didn’t turn out that way. Here’s what happened.
- 1. The early bloggers did deals with investors, so they needed revenue.
- 2. Mostly they become marketing channels for the companies. For example, I like Om Malik, but the only stories GigaOm covers are ones from big companies and startups with VC money. Om is a nice guy and all the people who work for him are nice people. They also have jobs to do. If you look at his conferences they are marketing events for the people who speak. That leads to a certain type of discussion, and ignores a lot of other things that require thought and discourse. Same with O’Reilly, TechCrunch, etc etc. You can’t blame a shark for being a meat-eater. But you shouldn’t think they’re anything other than that.
- How do I know how this works? Because as a company CEO I have participated in it, and if I’m ever a CEO again I will once again participate. So obviously I don’t think it’s bad. But let’s not think we’re getting our daily dose of tech news this way. What we’re getting is marketing.
- 2a. It’s not just tech. TPM, Redstate, Politico, Buzzfeed, Huffington etc, don’t stray off the accepted path, or the market won’t know what to do with them. The product they sell? Campaigns, the ability to shift public opinion so more government money ends up in your bank account, or your taxes stay low, or you’re allowed to warm the earth for free, sell arms to bad govts, keep the UN out of your country, etc. Again, I’m not going to question the value of what they do, only to say what we need to do is much bigger than what they do.
- And music journalism supports the music industry.
- Sports journalism supports the NBA, NFL, MLB, Olympics, NCAA, etc.
- 3. Plan B was that user/bloggers would review the companies’ products, and we’d at least get non-bullshit product news that way. That worked for a while, then people started using Twitter, and have been reduced to 140-character grunts and snorts. You can tell a little truth in 140-character chunks. Very little ones. Nothing factually interesting. For that you need a little elbow room. If that’s really going to happen, more people have to write blog posts.
- 4. There are a few product-oriented blogs out there. But not enough for critical mass. Some of them make money, some even a lot. But there isn’t enough to read to cover most of what I’m interested in, and also the stuff I don’t know I’m interested in. If we could do more networking on a more regular and systematic basis, that would create incentives for more people to do it, and would build flow independent of Twitter. But blogs work like everything else. Installed leaders don’t generally help upstarts. Might impact the bottom-line. Go back to the sharks analogy. It takes some big thinking and betting to see that we’re going to starve outside Twitter soon, and we’d all do better if we invest in each other and in opening doors for newcomers. We’re playing out the prisoners dilemma, as we always do.
I still think there’s a way out of it. But it means that bloggers have to do more cooperating than they’re likely to want to do. Believe me, I’m an expert in how hard it is to get bloggers to cooperate. I always have a bunch of propositions for them. Only a very few of them have even been seriously considered, much less adopted. Usually that happens when I give them my flow to get them to do something.
I’m into level playing fields. There isn’t one now. We’re in really bad shape in terms of news distribution. And it’s going to get worse.
We’re always in the predicament Benjamin Franklin described at the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” If we could get past that we could start really reinventing news. Now.