Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ken Lerer observes the state of media, in 8 Tweets

As an avid consumer of journalism, I am always on the lookout for news about the business of journalism. New ventures are starting all over the place, led by big names or big ideas, and there is money in journalism again.

One of the people behind some of that money is Ken Lerer, known primarily for his role in the controversial origins of the Huffington Post but with a track record of supporting innovative success stories like BuzzFeed, MakerBot and Warby Parker that prove he has an eye for products people want to consume.

Lerer took to Twitter last week, inspired by investor buddy Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz, to share what are (so far) 8 observations about the state of the news business and its future. Let's pick them apart a little.
The first in the series comes after a Tweet pointing to an inspired post by Andreessen on why he is bullish on the news business. Among some choice quotes:
"Maybe we are entering into a new golden age of journalism, and we just haven’t recognized it yet.  We can have the best of all worlds, with both accuracy rising, and stories that hew closer to truth." 

Lerer starts by comparing the digital news business today to the early stages of cable television. The pipes are laid, the bandwidth is there, now we need content - quality content - to fill it. For Lerer, the future is in social media, the direct line to your audience's pocket, and one of the best ways a news organization can listen to its audience.

It used to be about what people were reading (NY Daily News vs. NY Post). Then it was about what they were clicking on (Huffington Post summary of the New York Times article), and now it's about what people are sharing, what they are talking about. And that conversation is happening on social media.

Now the audience just needs content worth talking about.
Favorite this tweet now because you don't want to forget this one: "Content without tech is a waste of time and money."

Implicit in this idea is the increasing sophistication of the information consumer today: they expect quality content and they expect a seamless user experience no matter what device they are using. The right publishing platform must be quick, responsive and integrated with the rest of the Internet, because the reader is.
He then turns to how to finance this quality tech and quality content:
Intelligent ads, yep. Sounds great and I can't wait to see them. I'm assuming this is something beyond just targeted ads.
Here we have a plug for Thrillist, an e-newsletter and men's interest site that combines clean design, good photography, and editorial content that you can buy. Oh and this company that is way ahead of the curve and the only ones "doing commerce and content the right way"? It's owned by his son. Does it matter? I haven't spent enough time with Thrillist to say, but it bears mentioning for transparency's sake, right?
Lerer brings it back to journalism (what Andreessen calls "Capital-J Journalism") to reiterate that a sophisticated audience demands sophisticated content. Not whatever trending crack like BuzzFeed quizzes happens to be ricocheting around the social Web this week, but quality content.

I could not agree more, and wish more organizations had the courage to invest time into projects that need many iterations to get right. Any organization that does is and will be rewarded.

For my final words, I'll turn to Andreessen's original post that launched Lerer's 8-point burst of inspiration, in which he describes the future of news in what sounds like a bubble but just means a new economic reality that will see many failures for every successful new organization to get in the game.
"The big opportunity for the news industry in the next five to 10 years is to increase its market size 100x AND drop prices 10X. Become larger and much more important in the process."
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