The Future Of Media: Interview With Gaby Darbyshire, VP, Gawker Media
Gaby Darbyshire: Print won't ever die completely, but it will shrink: there will have to be consolidation in news providers simply because print papers can't afford to maintain large numbers of staff reporters to compete in chasing "commodity news." Reporting of base facts will be produced centrally by agencies like Reuters, AP, etc., the brand papers will distinguish themselves by the insight they provide in analyzing the facts, and producing in the in-depth editorial pieces specific to their brand. And the best of the writers will be measured and become stars, and the workaday hacks who are interchangeable will be reduced to working anonymously for the big agencies, without the bylines and the perks. That's why journalists are so afraid of change.
The daily factual news perhaps moves almost entirely online, and the opinion and editorial pieces are the premium content that justifies offline subscription: perhaps the print papers end up looking a lot like magazines--a lot of which in their turn will have moved entirely online. Ironically, the most old-fashioned feature publications like the New Yorker are likely to survive such a transition best, I think. No one wants to read a New Yorker piece online--that's for sure.
Online media isn't after all so different from offline media, though: the best content, with the most loyal readership, wins out and gets the revenue to survive while others fall by the wayside. The difference is that a niche operation can survive on a fairly small budget with staggering distribution potential online in a way that offline operations never could. So that means more choice for the consumer, which is a good thing if you are the consumer who was underserved before. But beware too much choice: it leads to decision paralysis, and so you reduce your intake to a manageable level--and that in turn diminishes the size of the available pie to sustain new content creation. There's a lot of white noise out there, and a lot of people betting on being the voice that's heard above the din. It's no different with TV, or books, or any other form of media in any era.
Stahl: What will the public get tired of on the Internet that they currently support/propagate?
Darbyshire: As they age, people simply don't have enough time for all the constant "life sharing" they currently indulge in. So, as the current crop of pioneers start to get tired of twittering, Facebooking and the like, usage will settle into more pure utilitarian forms--Facebook as your de facto address book, for example, and both FB and MySpace as a mass marketing/group communications tool. Then teens and geeks will find something new to occupy their attention for a nanosecond--until that eventually gets adopted by the masses, becomes passé, and is recast as utilitarian in turn. MySpace will probably end up as a very useful tool for the music industry at its core.
Once something becomes too ubiquitous, it begins to lose its appeal. Pioneers want to be in the elite squad who are in the know, not rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi. It's already happening with Facebook--the more people are on it, updating every five seconds, the less and less we use it and the more likely we are to turn off all notifications. Few have the time to manage all the filters required to let some important information through and tune out the white noise, so the easiest option is to switch it off altogether.
So maybe the social networking successor to Facebook is something that is deliberately restricted, where the sharing is really just with your inner, expert circle. Which is how Facebook started. The moral? You can be big, or you can be cool. It's hard to be both in a sustainable fashion.
Stahl: Has the number of blogs more or less peaked, or can/will the growth of those continue to be exponential?
Darbyshire: Communication is still the fundamental raison d'etre of the Internet, and that is never going to change. The ability to personally broadcast to thousands or millions of interested parties is not going to lose its appeal any time soon. As those of us who age and lose interest in the effort required to shout into the void and hope to be heard--on a hobbyist level, which make up probably 95% of the blogs out there--drop away, a new wave of interested, creative, idealistic and passionate young communicators will take our place. Of course, there is a saturation point, so growth can't continue to be exponential--but I think the volume of personal communication channels will sustain at a very high and steady level. Perhaps the human genome will simply evolve to enable us to function on significantly less sleep.
Stahl: What is the next stage for Internet news- gathering, or will it continue to rely on existing traditional news organizations?
Darbyshire: Internet news--if by iNews we are talking about micro-news on specialist topics, typically on blog sites--has always been heavily opinion-based. If the "commodity news" scenario plays out, then iNews sites can have equal access to the same base material as any other publication--which is sustainable, since it is at a fraction of the cost of supporting a news staff. Thus, they can compete on the opinion-based analysis, and stand as good a chance as any other publication in being the provider of the best content on a topic they have invested effort in. Publications rely on each other heavily for source material already. Increasingly, material that gets to the Web first is subsequently picked up and analyzed by the "traditional" news organizations. There's a coming together of the two ends, and a meeting somewhere in the middle: blog sites will become more traditional and add more original reporters to their staff; traditional publishers will become (they have already) more blog like--with staff whose job it is to scour the Web for interesting facts that are worthy of development into a bigger story. It's pretty symbiotic already--not nearly as parasitic as the MSM would like to make out.