Digital Media and its New Skills Sets

Ezra Klein is a rising young journalist. He landed a job with the Washington Post and has been invited to host Rachel Maddow and appear on other cable news shows. He has it made, right? Here is Ezra speaking in a panel at the Aspen Institute a few months ago on the future of news

Not so fast. As Dave Carr writes for NYT, Ezra just jumped ship to start up with Vox Media.

What is going on? First, as Dave notes, Ezra is not the first journalist to jump from traditional news organization to digital media company. A bunch of folks have done this. And they are not just “cashing in”. The reason is that going digital offers opportunities that traditional media does not.  There is more flexibility, faster news story development and perhaps more fun too.

And we will see something new come out of this. A new type of media. As Henry Blodget (who runs BI) says

“Digital journalism is as different from print and TV journalism as print and TV are from each other … Few people expect great print news organizations to also win in TV. Similarly, few should expect great TV or print organizations to win in digital. The news-gathering, storytelling and distribution approaches are just very different.”

What is the difference? To see that, compare Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britanica. Encyclopedia Britanica was the ultimate print encyclopedia. Authoritative, deep, expensive and glacially slow to come out with new editions. Wikipedia came along as a digital “do it yourself” forum for gathering entries on whatever folks want whenever they want.  Few at Encyclopedia Britanica thought that people would read Wikipedia, but it has become the norm.

And what makes digital media better? For my money, print media has become way too slow. I read about things in NYT a week or two after I find out about it somewhere else. And when I do, I rarely learn much that I did not already know and want to know.  BTW, Dave’s article is an exception. In an era where we all have five or ten news sources, media that gives us a next step up in understanding what is going on will win out.

And here is Ezra Klein himself writing about his decision.

New information is not always — and perhaps not even usually — the most important information for understanding a topic. The overriding focus on the new made sense when the dominant technology was newsprint: limited space forces hard choices. You can’t print a newspaper telling readers everything they need to know about the world, day after day. But you can print a newspaper telling them what they need to know about what happened on Monday. The constraint of newness was crucial.

The constraint of newness? Hey! This is a different slant! And just what do I “need to know” that is not “new”? According to Ezra, I may know better than ever what is happening, but I probably don’t have a great understanding of the context – why it is happening.

Well said!

And … extrapolating here, as we get better at understanding why things are happening around us, we will find better ways to connect with trends. That is the inspiration for this blog.

Just for fun: Want a glimpse of the “old” style? How about republican senator Ted Cruz asserting — with a straight face — that President Obama was responsible for shutting down the US government last autumn. What a whopper! Here is the Maddow Blog take on what Cruz said, and its context.  You got what he said, and why he said it. Nice.

FOLLOW – So was the Washington Post and its new owner, Jeff Bezos just stupid for passing on Klein and letting him run off to Vox? Well, as Nicholas Carlson from BI points out, from a strictly numbers point of view, maybe not. Klein’s web platform at Washington Post is pretty small potatoes. For this investment to pay off for Vox, Klein is going to have to generate a lot, lot more traffic.  Will he do it? Well, let’s see.

On the other side, Vox has a pretty interesting video about how it builds online communities.


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