When the Last Pillars Fall

Two distinct news stories last week indicate that two of the last pillars of traditional journalism are caving to the new media era. The first was the firing of Jill Abramson at the NY Times over her opposition to native advertising (hat tip: Scott Monty). The second was a leaked Reuters memo from Americas editor Dayan Candappa directing journalists to write all of the news service’s stories to be no more than 500 words in length with the exception of exclusives.

In both cases, traditional notions of quality are at stake. Driving the two changes — one a firing, the second an editorial shift — is the need to remain competitive in a dynamically shifting media world.

In the case of Reuters, an old argument about short copy and quality seemed to be at play in Candappa’s words. Spending inordinate amounts of time writing longer repetitive stories isn’t helping the wire service.

Yet, how much competition does the wire service experience? Certainly, it faces fewer and weaker traditional competitors.

No, its current competition is the TMZs and Huffington Posts of the world who publish a quick blog story or publish a racist Donald Sterling audiotape. An old school rendering of these new media first stories doesn’t help Reuters, which for all intents and purposes is a cut and paste service for many news organizations that don’t have national or topic specific reporters.

Still no one likes to see an editor tell reporters to invest less time and copy in their stories. One cannot help but think that quality will suffer. Perhaps this is just another indicator of TL; DR syndrome caused in part by the move towards visual media discussed here last week.

What is more disturbing is the move to oust Abramson at the New York Times. Several issues joined together to cause her ouster, including her rightful complaint about unequal wages, and what will surely trigger some strong debates, her bossiness. But a core issue remained Abramson’s editorial integrity and an unwillingness to completely compromise the boundary between stories and advertisements.

Almost every publication offers a form of digital native advertising today, including the NY Times. Some publications hold tighter control over their properties, even insisting that their staff produce all sponsored content. Yet they still write and release bought stories denoted by a cute moniker and a different boundary color.

Now we know that everyone is for sale, even the NY Times.

As Power Weakens, New Properties Develop

14123483481_efdf3e6166_b

No one really knows what the disintegration of traditional media quality really means. POLITICO, Mashable, AllThingsD (sold to the WSJ), the Huffington Post, and The Verge and many other new properties have arisen already.

As traditional properties continue weakening in quality — both from lesser reporting methods and untrustworthy sponsored content — we will see more niche upstarts and strong corporate content providers. There will be less trust for media brands and more disruption.

How many people really trust Forbes and all of its blogs and sponsored content properties as much as they did five years ago? I know I don’t! Let’s not even discuss the tabloid mess called CNN.

Media upstarts will come faster and faster now. There is little to hold them back as more mastheads succumb to untraditional methods of monetizing online content. Upstart mastheads will not only displace the old, but the new will eat the new. Every new Internet technology offers another opportunity for a media disruptor to change the rules.

I look at Buzzfeed as an example of a weak new media brand. It’s a gimmick. How long until their formula is replicated? How long until another brand offers righteous silliness in a more mobile and/or engaging format? It’s inevitable.

With each new year we see another series of brands that provide news or entertainment content in a better fashion. In the end, those that don’t evolve story quality will find themselves in a weakened position. Gimicks and poor quality can only last so long.

What do you think?

Featured image by Yersinua pestis.

Did Arianna Huffington Fire Michael Arrington Over Ethics?

Michael Arrington
Image by Joi

Guest post by Richard Laermer

It appears a couple of different takes on Friday’s story about Mike Arrington leaving TechCrunch, a company which he founded in 2005 and was bought out by AOL in April…

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal article one gets the warm fuzzy feeling that Arrington simply resigned to move on to a bigger and better adventure of running a $20 million venture-capital fund, called CrunchFund, which is to invest in start-ups. CrunchFund is backed by AOL and several VC firms.

TechCrunch is quoted as saying that Arrington will continue to write for TechCrunch, but will have no editorial oversight. When the news broke Arrington tweeted “slow news day.”

Business Insider story quotes Arianna Huffington, the President and Editor-in-Chief of AOL Huffington Post Media Group said, “Mr. Arrington is not being paid by TechCrunch, he does not report to TechCrunch editors and does not report to her or other AOL Huffington Post Media Group personnel.

Reading between the lines, it’s obvious that Arrington didn’t resign. This has all the flavorings of someone who has just been fired.

When Business Insider asked for a clarification on Arrington’s new role (if any), Ms. Huffington said that “Mr. Arrington will be welcome to contribute to unpaid blogs to the company as long as he stays within AOL blogging guidelines.” She went on to say that Arrington’s relationship with at AOL is not with TechCrunch but with AOL Ventures.

Business Insider pressed for clarification on Arrington’s role at AOL. They were finally told that Arrington no longer works for AOL in any capacity. Strong words for someone who the WSJ would have us believe that he just merely resigned. As Business Insider noted this sounds more and more that Ms. Huffington ousted Arrington.

There is a funny coda to the Arringtongate story, according to Business Insider: Suddenly, Arianna Huffington decided she could not have a bad vibe in “her house”.

“The editor just got bounced from the staff by his boss, Arianna Huffington. She found out Arrington and her boss, Tim Armstrong, were planning to launch a VC fund about the very startups that Arrington writes about. Not in her house.”

Oh, really?