Gotham Media Ventures Presents: Media 3.0: What's Next?, The Samsung Experience, New York
April 21, 2009
What do gherkins, newspaper death knells, and acerbic Pinky and the Brain conversation style (oh, and a brilliant hot pink tie) have in common? They were all part of Gotham Media Ventures' panel discussion, "Media 3.0: What's Next?" Did I leave wanting to wring Michael Wolff's neck, or maybe just mashed-potato-wrestle him? No comment. Did I walk out with a brighter view of what's next? Not necessarily, but the panel was shockingly entertaining, and I only zoned out once, thinking about the slab of Trader Joe's meat awaiting me in my blueberry-stained refrigerator. Want to know what kept me awake?
Gordon Platt introduced the speakers while moderator and CEO of Air America Bennett Zier's gloriously brilliant pink tie stole the spotlight. Michael Wolff, published author (most recently of the book "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch"), and founder of newser.com, began the event with a scowl and exposed maroon socks (did you know it used to be a sexual taboo to expose your ankles?) while Craig Newmark, Founder and Chief Customer Service Rep of Craigslist, came armed with a dry, dude-in-the-basement, nerd sense of humor. He was the fair and easy going opposite to Wolff's "let's kill the newspapers!" media Beelzebub.
How has social media been successful?
"The problem is in the definition," smirked Wolff. "Does it make money? Is it beyond a compulsion of obsession? I don't know." Referring to MySpace being successful? "Fuggedaboutit." His belief is that the Internet is about one thing dying while being taken over by the next thing, and so on. For example, MySpace being eaten by Facebook, and now, according to Wolff, Facebook being eaten by Twitter. To mixed reactions he declared, "Facebook and Twitter cannot co-exist."
MySpace seems like a great platform for prepubescent light porn and cyberbullying, and I thought it had potential as a good music preview host, but I'm not an avid user. However, as a moderate user of Facebook for personal relationship fun, and as an avid user of Twitter for a more professional (not spewing corporate messages, however) style of update sharing and networking, I disagree with Wolff. They're completely different models that actually work well together. It's annoying when anyone tells the users of social media channels how to use them. In the end, the community defines its "best" usage regardless of how it's dictated. Give a kid peanut butter, he'll make paint.
Craig Newmark struggled with defining social media success as well: "I, as a nerd, should be looking at numbers [to measure success of social media] and precision! But I know some tools can't be measured, it's the effect."
Wolff's snark is served on an acid tongue platter and it made for a raucous slumber-party-debate feel with rolling laughter and snorts bursting from the audience throughout, especially after Wolff declared that "New media is all media that doesn't make money."
Craig Newmark put newspapers out of business
Newmark denies that he's an innovator, applauding the community for making Craigslist what it is. "I had a few great ideas in '95," Newmark humbly chortled. However, to answer Wolff's proud accusation that Craigslist put newspapers out of business, he said , "The real cause [of the downfall of newspapers] is the erosion of trust, the breakdown of the wall between editorial and advertisement." He echoes a common theme that bubbles up when the pay-for-information question begins. So I ask again, does that mean there will be a power hierarchy of people with the "right" paid for information above the people with the Swiss-cheese-holed free "rightish" information?
My background is high tech nerd labs, not media, so when I used to pick up a paper, my first thought wasn't "oh, this is cheap to produce because it's totally paid for by classifieds -- real estate, auto sales, and employment." No, I thought "I need to stop waitressing, show me the jobs." And now, real estate, bartering, auto sales, employment, and um... platonic nudie meetups are all on Craigslist -- while it's no secret newspapers are getting yanked left and right. While Newmark is unwilling to accept that Craigslist is the executioner of all the news fit to print, it's a scary and valid assertion. I mean, who wants to be the lone gunman?
How is the economic downturn going to affect media 3.0? (you know, the thing that no one knows what it is)
While Newmark seemed eager to preserve the art of journalism and fact-checking to provide accurate, trusted information, Wolff was intent on applauding the death of newspapers and long-form journalism, stating and restating that we need to "read less, know more" - this constant deluge of information needs to get to the point and it needs to get there quickly so that the reader can move on to the next news story or pop culture item. The man has a point, but I'm hoping our capacity to want to learn, rather than live in snippets devoid of history and backstory, force better filters, rather than condone a lifetime of information burps. Imagine if you made decisions and judgments based on SEO-built headlines alone? I just threw up in my mouth a little.
What's next for Wolff and Newmark?
Wolff 3.0 includes doing what he's doing. He sees newser.com as his brass ring, so he's on the happy horse. Back in the day, he always said he wanted to own The New York Times, "but I don't think that's necessary anymore." Newmark 3.0 is working a couple of projects, including a partnership with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the group that helped get the G.I. Bill passed and also helped to end Stop-Loss.
I guess the moral of the story is a quote that Newmark offered and a theme I wrestle with (obviously!), and that is "brevity is the soul of wit... if you have something to say, say it, then stop." And I counter that with: everything has its place. Isn't that what a diverse portfolio of though, investments, social properties (blog, Twitter, online content, print, etc), and kittens is all about? We shall see. If it's a comfort at all, at least no one really knows...
Recognize anyone? Maybe the guy who told Wolff he takes exception with his assertion that the New York Times will not exist in 18 months!
As an aside PS, Michael Wolff told the audience that "photographers are d*cks, I mean, we have to license this stuff? What do they do?" I wasn't as offended as I thought I would be considering the amount of time in stupid pointy toed heels I've spent running around for hours at an event to get great photos. My big toe is going to run away in my sleep. And forget about me, what about war photogs? I've met a few inconsiderate overly competitive photogs, but sheesh, come on, it's a talent and a skill, and people deserve to be paid for their hard work. Maybe media 3.0 is about everyone, including the media industry, wanting everything for free.