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Me on Media

As I was coming back from my bone-liquefying cold (defined as one that leaves you draped over the sofa like a boneless chicken), I got a last-minute request to stand in for Andrew Nystrom of the LA Times on a LA Press Club panel discussing trends in the news industry in the face of all this customer-generated content.

They just sent over some pictures….

Here’s the lineup. From the right, Mickey Kaus of Slate, Erin Broadley of Village Voice newspapers, Thomas Kelley of Yahoo, me, Jill Stewart of the LA Weekly.


Here’s Jill laughing at my ineffable smugness (I’m putting this picture here to try and train myself not to ever, ever use that facial expression in public again).


I had three basic points, which I’ll cover here briefly:

One. Mainstream media as we know it is toast. It’s not toast because blogs and Twitter are cooler, or bloggers and tweeters are better journalists; it’s toast because the institutional structures that were built with the cash flow from monopoly pricing – on ads, on music, on books – are unsustainable. There is a market for the Los Angeles Times – a really big market (that could be bigger if they’d listen to smart people like Jeff Jarvis) but it’s not big enough nor lucrative enough to support the institution as it forseeably exists .

Until the institutions crash and burn and can be rebuilt, there will be a vicious circle of declining revenues, cuts, declining quality, declining audiences in response which will lead to further declines in revenue, and so on.

I’ll fearlessly predict that this year is likely to be the Year of the Alamo in mainstream media; newspapers will seek antitrust exemption to collectively go behind a paywall, Hulu will go subscription, etc. And we’ll see if the drop in audience can be made up with the revenues earned – and the institutions sustained.

Two. Modest but increasingly sustainable levels of revenue will be available to the top of the power curve (as now) and down into the mid-tier as advertisers get comfy with blogs etc. and my ads move from Google and tribal Fusion to mainstream ad networks and reasonable CPM-equivalents.

That means that a successful neighborhood blogger, or a successful niche blogger in a deep enough niche, can make a blue-collar (no BMW’s) living as a content creator. That’s already happening on a small scale, and as it grows – fed in part by the attention mainstream media is going to shun in order to keep the paywall up – we’ll see interesting emergent behaviors.

Three. At some point, someone in the mainstream is going to Get It and give up on being a site, and begin to become a network. I’m betting it will be a regional paper, alt-weekly, or sport-specific journal. When they do, it’ll be katy-bar-the-door if my assumptions about the world are correct.