Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Industry's Reverse Shakeout: Phase 2.0 of Digital Media

In my March 1 entry, Death of a Pastime, I touched on the current demise of print media.

While my sentimental side would love to witness the wholesale survival of newspapers, my entrepreneurial side looks ahead with amazement to the opportunities that are taking shape across today’s media landscape: "Phase 2.0 of Digital Media" is what I am deciding to call it.

Phase 2.0 is a media world so upside-down, turned-around and inside-out. Anybody's game. It is one that changes so fast you can't keep up, not on Facebook and not on Google.

No longer is it a world, where TV, Radio and Print work together to support the Net. That was Phase 1.0, at the commercial inception of the World Wide Web, when then-new companies, like AOL, acquired customers with reckless abandon, creating value by providing Internet access and displaying advertisements.

Phase 2.0 is the now, when the Internet has rapidly seeped into traditional media, strangling it, and taking a hold of its content, often making it free. This has been financially disastrous for traditional media and has destroyed the comfortable lock it once had on our eyes and ears.

The companies that survive in Phase 2.0 of Digital Media are anybody's guess, but mine is that a proliferation of opportunities will fall on several. Surviving media companies will be small, efficient and nimble. The ones that can quickly group people--en masse--around specific content, which they can influence somehow for profit, will earn first place in Phase 2.0.

Will it be Amazon's Kindle or Twitter that defines Phase 2.0? With plenty of funding and thoroughbred-like momentum, each organizes and channels content. Neither produces it. Still, how will they profit from amassing users?

Another question in media fragmentation is that content quality often suffers. Blogs, like FMOC, have surfaced one after the other, with no professional quality standards.

In 6 Reasons Why Twitter is the Future of Search - Google Beware, Gyutae Park notes that today's media landscape can be a trustful place due to the familiarity of a user’s network. Phase 2.0 is rife with opportunity to influence people without having to answer to any standard.

Yesterday, in his article, SXSW panel: Don’t worry, kids, the news business isn’t going to die, Nicholas Deleon writes how author Steven Johnson spent his time on SXSW panel trying to "allay the fears of every kid in journalism school." As noted in Death of a Pastime, my hope is that the rigorous standards of quality in traditional media will find their way into Phase 2.0.

The toughest questions facing the pioneers in Phase 2.0 of Digital Media: How do you make money? How do you maintain quality? Neither seems to be connected.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Long Return of New Orleans

I spent the weekend in New Orleans for a bachelor party. I am a huge fan of New Orleans.

Also known as the Big Easy, the Crescent City, NoLa, among other monikers to be sure, New Orleans brings me to reflect on what a special place it is. It is as culturally rich as any other city our country has to offer. With its deep roots and history and fabulous food, drink and music, New Orleans is an important stitch of our nation's fabric.

New Orleans is a place where imperfection is reached, and then remains. More than three years after Katrina, it is still on its knees, but it seems to be rebuilding slowly. New Orleans can be ugly. There is much crime, but I have found that most of it is drug-related and avoidable.

Despite its troubles, New Orleans helps to keep our country real. It is a familiar place to go where time slows down on you and your conversation is always welcomed. Its people are most hospitable. In its historic neighboorhoods are marvelous houses, often in disrepair.

After coming home from this weekend's trip, I realize just how key tourism is to New Orleans' return as a notable city. In reading the Time magazine article, Has New Orleans Bounced Back?, I learned that, in fact tourism is the lifeblood of New Orleans' economy.

With that, I plea to all of you: take a trip to the Big Easy. You, too, can be part of its recovery, which has as much to do with all of us as it does for the people of New Orleans.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Death of a Pastime

In the bookstore, in the convenience store, in your local barber shop, or more likely, online, you might have seen one of Time magazine's latest cover stories: "How to Save Your Newspaper."

If only we could.

I remember in 1995, when Houston's two major dailies came together as one. The Post, acquired by the Chronicle, fell into the abyss, never heard from again outside of an occasional reference to the Hobby family, the prominent Houston family that owned it.

The Houston Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, which also owns the San Francisco Chronicle. In the summer of 1998, I interned at the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, which then functioned under a Joint Operating Agreement. A few years later those two papers became one. And just this week, it was reported that Hearst is threatening to close the San Francisco Chronicle's doors.

While these papers have struggled for some time, the deathknell has come faster than expected. What happened?

The proliferration of online media, from free news content to uber-specific blogging and social networking, is one contribution. Newsworthy or not, we can find nearly anything on the Web.

Habits, although slower to change than media itself, are another contributing factor. As devices, like Amazon's Kindle 2, enter our lives, how we obtain the news and information evolves.

Finally, newspapers, like any business, rely on revenue to keep the printers running. Sure, in some cases, they might operate like professional baseball teams, where big-money families can keep them alive. However, newspapers are being replaced by more profitable endeavors. At least in baseball, spending occasionally produces a world champion.

Admittedly, I'm caught in the middle here. I am a truist, in the sense that I am sentimental to the communal effect a newspaper can have on a large city. But as a technophile, I have an appreciation for the ability to express one's self in the same space as the biggest names in media.

In the end, my hope is that solid and steady journalism remains the backbone of news reporting and that the rigor that the big papers brought to the making of the news finds a lasting way into the digital world.