Answering Kramer on the Future of Media

While I could quibble with Larry Kramer (@lkramer) on some of the finer points in his Seeking Alpha essay The Future of Media Gradually Coming Into Focus I agree with what he's saying.

When Larry says "media," he means largely text and non-fiction media. He says that editorially digital media are moving toward finding quality and authoritative voice and that there's no one business model, that there need to multiple revenue streams.

I would add that it's even better if there are multiple, offsetting revenue streams that represent different kinds of cashflows, work better in different conditions such as a strong or weak ad market and so on. There also has to be vigorous understanding and control of costs, with a willingness to spend on what really matters. For example, your coding operation today is as, if not more, important than your printing plants and distribution systems ever were. So are folks who can do great journalism that is honest, open and involves the community. And journalists and editors who understand a bit of how to market their work (social media, of course, is the 800-lb gorilla right now).

I would also add that media organizations have to have the skills of entrepreneurs: nimbleness, a willingness to try new things, a willingness, above all, to ask what Ken Auletta, in his book on Google calls, the engineer's way: Asking why things have to be the way they are. Can they be improved? For example, why does or should even a news organization make most prominent whatever happens to be most recent, in typical bloggish fashion. Can't, as Gawker and others Larry notes are now doing, they show some judgment and curation? On the revenue side, what is appropriate separation of editorial and commercial content? How far can you go to let advertisers into the mix, while still being transparent to users about what's happening (such as the "ad/slants" advertorial copy of True/Slant, now Forbes; or some attempts at Tina Brown's Daily Beast).

The big question I have -- and one I work every day to try to solve -- is whether the mix of new revenue streams and decreased costs of production and distribution can meet at a breakeven model. Every moment, there is downward pressure on ad pricing, and it has yet to be proven subscriptions can work. The landscape is flooded with events. Technology is relatively easy to produce but harder to sell. But there is, surely a bright side and we're starting to figure it out. I took a lot of grief (and was nevertheless happy for the "engagement" ) when I wrote on PBS MediaShift that journalism is getting better in many ways. I'm glad Larry sees hope as well. Now, I'm going to have to get his book, C-Scape, and see what prescriptions he gives.

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