Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How the Mainstream Media Could Thrive

The demise of the traditional media outlets (newspapers, TV, magazines) has long been predicted, and indeed revenue has plummeted. The mainstream media has largely failed to figure out how to remain relevant in an era of nearly infinite free content: blogs, YouTube videos, Twitter streams, etc.

I think I've come up with the answer.

It has now become cost-effective for a major media outlet to create a rich, multi-faceted presentation of each story it covers. That is a level of sophistication and cost beyond the capability of most bloggers. I call it rich reporting.

So for example, while a blogger could certainly write a good article on whether Obama has been good for business, that piece would be grossly inferior to this week's Economist feature on that topic. That consists of a text-based debate between two world-class opponents on the issue. It's moderated by another world-class person. Readers can vote during the debate and change their votes as the debate proceeds. The up-to-the-minute pro/con voting is published in real time as are reader comments. After the debate, there's a post-mortem in which readers can participate. Now imagine that when the topic was appropriate, the debaters could introduce video evidence. Even without video, such content is much more appealing than nearly all citizen journalism.

Let's take another example. Many news stories start with an anecdote about a person. Imagine that the reader could elect to see that person's story in a one-minute, high-quality video. Or in the case of a science story, the viewer could see a vivid video presentation of the core complicated scientific process, for example, the mechanism via which global warming could be the result of sunspot explosions. Such high-quality user experiences would be infeasible for solo content providers to provide.

Rich reporting could even extend to the Web's most trafficked sites: porn. Sure, YouPorn and PornHub feature thousands of free porn videos, but most, I'm (ahem) told, are story-light, script-idiotic, visually grainy and/or poorly lighted. I believe there's a market for porn in which users would subscribe to a site with high-quality porn of varying lengths. Nick Bolton, New York Times writer and author of I Live in the Future says that porn industry has always led the way in the use of technology and predicts, "The next generation of porn and storytelling will be hyperpersonalized, placing you almost directly in the scene. That will give you control over what you see--almost like you're standing on a holodeck, a room that uses holographs to simulate reality."

The mainstream media has the advantage of money. If the MSM exercised the restraint to cover fewer stories but with rich reporting, I believe the mainstream media would not only thrive but provide a better product for all of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lots of outlets are already trying this, more or less successfully. Take a look at the NPR Ipod / Ipad application, for an interesting take on this.

As for the Economist, well, yes, they're brilliant there. If I want to read a magazine, I'll read the Economist online or off.

Lots of outlets do very much this format, though. People magazine does it for celebrity cellulite.

The problem is that here in the US, the economist is pearls before swine.


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