We've Been in Idiot Land a While Now, Scoble. Get Comfortable.
Robert Scoble has a heartfelt post today that sums up his frustration with noise becoming more important than substance. Well, welcome to journalism in the Internet age. Actually, welcome to journalism period. It's just more pronounced in an age when we can measure how stories do and tend to place value on them solely for that reason. And it's in no way limited to Tech. If it were, CNN wouldn't be reporting on Paris Hilton.
This was a huge personal frustration when I was at BusinessWeek covering startups before they were hot again and important, but unsexy, technology trends like open source software. I would spend months breaking a story with huge impact, only to be dwarfed by traffic for a story that just rehashed the latest Apple rumor. To BusinessWeek's great credit, they still run those unsexy stories prominently, because the BusinessWeek brand of delivering all the news business people need is just as important as sheer page views. (Ahem, they also renewed my columnist contract for another year. Thanks, John Byrne!)
But is this the same in the blog world? Where the whole business is predicated on page views?
This is the reason I have refused to get into that game and don't put advertising on this site. But I have two concerns as we enter this downturn with a page view obsession the industry has never had before: Will tech blogs maintain their focus as traffic dips and will the mainstream media outlets who pay contractors like me still adhere to the journalistic standards that I credit to BusinessWeek in the graph above?
Because make no mistake: All traffic on tech stories is falling and will continue to fall. Covering tech goes in the same volatile ups and downs as the tech market itself. (We just make less money than anyone else in the ecosystem on the upside!) And right now, only the biggest die-hards want to read about technology. It doesn't matter how much news you break or how good the analysis is, people's wallets and portfolios are being decimated and they want to vent, commiserate and scream. (All via reader comments of course.) I should know: Even when I have done a mediocre job on a story about the economy, I've gotten a comparatively bigger traffic boost. And who can blame readers? Whatever loser company du jour our tax dollars is bailing out now is a more important story right now than anything happening in the Valley.
Now, there's a silver lining here, as there always is in a period of great volatility. But it requires that online media think long-term benefit not instant gratification, which is not historically online media's strength. Silver lining part I: All those New York reporters who parachuted in and pretended to be social media experts are now going back to pretending to be Wall Street experts. I won't name names, but good riddance. Silver lining part II: Bloggers and reporters who stick to covering Silicon Valley while it's unsexy to do so won't get the same attention and acclaim they have for the last few years, but when things come back-- and they will-- they will reap the biggest rewards.
Think Michael Arrington: You know why TechCrunch has beat every other tech blog? Because Arrington started covering Web 2.0 before everyone else. Likewise, Kara Swisher continues to break stories because she has covered the Valley through good times and bad. And, while I got a ton of arrows in my back early on for my Web 2.0 coverage -- remember the derision over my statement that YouTube could fetch-gasp!-$500 million?-- I also had tons of access to some of the wave's most interesting personalities. That is the only reason I got a book deal, and that's the only reason it was a good book. The story practically wrote itself, I just had to hang on and get it all down. This blurb by Michael Malone on the back of the book said it all:
"With the collapse of the Internet Bubble, the mainstream media wrote off Silicon Valley and the dot.com world as dead stories – and thus missed the birth of an even bigger and more far-reaching Web phenomenon: on-line communities and social networks, the so-called Web 2.0. Happily, one intrepid reporter, Sarah Lacy, stayed on -- and she now has given us what will likely be the only real record of what happened during that remarkable era. Her portrayals of the founders of companies such as Facebook and Twitter are dead-on, and her reporting will no doubt be a vital source on this amazing time for generations to come. "
it gives me far too much credit. For one thing, I was hardly the only
one. And really, I was just continuing to follow a story that
fascinated me. I was lucky that I wound up being in the right place at
the right time in 2006 when the story came back-- and my career and
life was forever changed.
But this time I'm learning from it. I'm going to fight the
temptation for lucrative page views, and keep following the story I
know and love: startups, the money that funds them and the crazy
entrepreneurs behind them. I may take an income hit in the near term as
this credit crisis wears on, but as long as I follow the money and the
entrepreneurs, I'll hit on another 2006 sooner or later.
Don't worry, Scoble, a fight over Twitter search features may drive more traffic today, but in the long term good reporting and following your own intellectual curiosity always win out.
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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