There is a long and thoughtful post at Mister Snitch about the citizen media movement which, combined with all the venture capital money out there chasing deals, might just make the About.Com-inspired, Wikipedia-be-damned, bloggers-come-a-runnin’ model proposed by Gather work.
Maybe. Let’s take a closer look.
There’s a Lot of Money Chasing Deals
This is absolutely true. For the time being. A market disruption, Steve Rubel’s predicted Web 2.0 crash and any number of other things could change that. But for now, there is no arguing that there’s mad money out there. Candidly, I believe the Gather funding that kick-started this conversation is proof positive of this.
Mister Snitch compares the Gather plan with the current structure of Blogcritics, where contributors get paid in “attention and swag” as opposed to dollars. Yes, we can all agree that dollars are better (with all due respect to Steve Miller), but all those writers posting at Blogcritics (which is a cool site, by the way), can also post their material on their own blogs and (drum roll please) make money there to go with the attention and swag.
Bottom line: I doubt Eric is all that worried about Gather.
Will the Reporters Come, Even if the Bloggers Don’t?
Another point Mister Snitch makes is that all the soon to be unemployed reporters at all of the dying on the vine newspapers may turn to Gather in the hopes it will enable them to make an independent living by blogging on local events.
I agree that newspapers are dying and that there will be a local trend to the news reporting of the future (in whatever form it takes).
But what I don’t agree with is the idea that somehow Gather will be a better platform for these local bloggers (nee beat writers). Why not just do your own blog or some sort of loosely based blog network with a shared AdSense account. Again, where is the value Gather will add that warrants a share of the revenue?
I’m not trying to pick on Gather. To the contrary, I think it will be an ideal outlet for a select number of (likely not technically savvy) writers, who don’t want to fool with the whole blog thing. I just don’t think it represents some evolutionary advance in the writing, attracting readers and generating ad revenue arena. At best it will be a leading online newspaper, hiring reporters (via a revenue share) the same way traditional newspapers hire writers now. There’s not a thing wrong with that, but it’s not a stop the presses moment (to borrow a phrase) in the development of the blogosphere.
Mad Money Accelerates the Demise of the Traditional Newspaper
Mister Snitch also talks a lot about the acceleration of the end of traditional print media in the face of wild spending on these move to the edge, citizen media driven, online sources.
Clearly, I agree with this. Like many other areas, the movement to the edge will result in the banishment of the traditional gatekeepers, be they record labels, radio stations or newspapers. As Mister Snitch correctly points out, Craigslist, Monster and eBay have already taken a lot of the traditional revenue sources away from the traditional newspapers.
The clock is ticking for traditional newspapers. Once our parents’ generation passes, the clock will stop. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
The Continuing Interest in Local News
I also agree Mister Snitch that the failing health of the traditional newspapers has nothing whatsoever to do with a lack of interest in local news. Sadly, however, the local newspapers don’t have the same talents and resources to reposition themselves as the leaders in local online news as their new born-online competitors do. For one, they move too slowly, as the Digg/Google Pack story indicates.
Additionally, the move to the edge will benefit citizen media (bloggers and aggregated blogs) first and foremost. Old media was the gatekeeper for a long time and once that wall is knocked down, human nature will dictate a change in the parties responsible for distribution of news and other content.
I do think that the one and only chance traditional newspapers have is to go online completely by putting it all out there for free and trying to move their ad sales online. One thing newspapers know how to do is sell ads. But every day that passes makes this transformation harder and less likely.
The Counter Arguments
Mister Snitch then examines and makes the counter-argument against a couple of the arguments posed by myself and others over the past couple of days.
In general, the rebuttal to these argument is that a lot of the existing networks and mega-blogs are brands themselves- such that anyone who leaves can be quickly replaced. And that Gather is trying to be a platform where the writers are the brand, not the website. OK, but that’s true of any blog created and manned by these writers. Other than the fact Gather seems to plan on selling ads directly, what’s different about this and an AdSense supported blog or blog network?
The other argument, which we all know is dear to my heart, is that it would take too long for one of these displaced writers, acting independently, to build an audience. Certainly I agree with that, but as a lot of people have explained to me in the comments here and in cross-blog conversations, it can be done. Any “A-List” writer would have an audience that would follow him or her to the new location. Others could slug it out like I do or create or join a blog network. Again, what’s the Gather advantage here?
Then Mister Snitch goes into the “best of the best in one place” argument, which sounds an awful lot like an attempt to be the online gatekeeper. Maybe that will work, but there are two problems with it: one, the implication that Gather will choose the best of the best (surely not everyone can write there) implies a troubling subjective element; two, the best writers will find an audience, whether they write at Gather, at their own blog or on subway walls.
Mad money will allow the rise of a few of these print media to online content websites and a few of them will become major players in the blogosphere, but Steve is right, the party won’t last forever. Additionally, my extensive experience in the blogosphere’s forefather, the internet message boards, taught me that the best, most popular writers will eventually want to own their platform. So eventually the money will move on and the writers will jump ship. Like the demise of the traditional newspaper, the only question is when.