After having it sit on our hard drives all this time we are putting it up for reading and commenting. It is, sadly, more or less as relevant today as it was when we wrote it. Here is a link to the full version of Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet.
And here’s another of my favourite passages, (written before the arrival of the kindle!):
Print Media: Nostalgia is not a growth model
Mostly, it is baby boomers who are nostalgic for newsprint, and they are not a growth industry. Sure, there are some, younger, holdouts. But these are generally students of the Columbia Journalism School, not those they hope to write for. Yes, the texture of a newspaper is nice – but the newspapers can’t afford to print and distribute them and, so far, you’ve been unwilling to pay a premium for it.
More seriously, media traditionalists often cite two examples— incidental reading and ideological objectivity—to explain why physical newspapers will and should remain the main distribution channel for print media. However, the purported value of physical newsprint simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Scanning the pages of a newspaper is indeed a virtue. It exposes readers to articles they might not seek out, broadening their range of news and opinion. However, this process is no different from what happens online. Links, aggregators and email steer readers to a far broader range of articles than they could conceivably imagine by simply flipping through a newspaper. Indeed, the internet enables this incidental reading better than newspapers. Take the BBC website, where any given article has links to related pieces both across the internet and in different sections of the site. A political article might cause a reader to click on a link to a related piece in the Science/Nature or Africa sections. Once there, they are confronted with an array of ‘incidental’ headlines. The tunnel syndrome argument simply doesn’t hold weight.
The other oft-cited example of the value of newspapers is that they prevent readers from falling into self-selected ideological silos. The argument follows that, when left to their own devices, innocent readers will gravitate towards the poles of their ideological bias. What they need, and should pay for, is a physical entity that provides them with a limited, but ‘healthy’, range of information.
This argument ignores the fact that many newspapers operate as ideological poles themselves. The New York Times clearly favors the left whereas the Wall Street Journal appeals to the right. More importantly the internet, unlike print media, provides tools to overcome these silos. Not all content delivered through an aggregator will be consistent with a reader’s perspective (indeed, one can imagine a customized aggregator that specifically targets news pieces that challenge its readers). More importantly, the internet gives readers the freedom (and safety) to select content from a broader range of perspectives. Most liberals wouldn’t be caught dead with an issue of the National Review in their hands, and when was the last time you saw a pinstriped Wall Streeter reading the Nation? But thousands of liberals read the Corner (the group blog of the National Review). This is because the ease, speed and anonymity of the web stimulates exploration that the physical world prohibits. In addition, many posts are written in response to other pieces, to whom they inevitably link (imagine the Nation sending readers to National Review!). Neither traditional nor New Media can single handedly mediate or resolve political difference, but at least New Media links the poles to one another, rather then creating isolated playgrounds where pundits can safely take shots at one another.
While sometimes seen as nostalgia, these arguments are simply a proxy for a deeper set of concerns felt by elites who fear the day the unkempt masses are finally freed to choose and read what they will. Controlling your customer has a never proven to be a sustainable business strategy, and for a business deeply concerned with freedom, it is disturbingly anti-democratic.
This piece is pulled from a longer piece we wrote called Missing The Link: Why Old Media still doesn’t get the Internet.