The Slow, Painful Coming Death of the Mainstream Media and Social-Media
The mainstream media we see today won't exist in 10 years
Back in 2011, I wrote a famous post. Not Da Vinci famous. Not as famous as Kim Kardashian’s butt. But, famous to the people in the then still somewhat influential conservative blogosphere. It was called, “The Slow, Painful Coming Death Of The Independent, Conservative Blogosphere.” The reason it stuck with people was partially because it turned out to be a frighteningly accurate prediction of what was going to happen, but also because it put into words a deep, abiding fear people in that space had been feeling all the way down into their bones for a long time. These were talented, independent writers who had spent a significant amount of time working on their websites for years with the hopes of breaking through and becoming rock stars. They were the political equivalent of a band that spent the last decade trying to take off while all their friends and family were telling them that they were wasting their time, only to realize that maybe those people had been right. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
…Most bloggers on the right side of the blogosphere haven’t increased their traffic significantly in years. Moreover, the right side of the blogosphere as a whole is definitely shrinking in numbers as bloggers that have had trouble getting traction are quitting and fewer and fewer bloggers are starting up new blogs.
Why is this? There are several reasons for it.
…The market has become more mature. It’s like laundry detergent: If you come up with a better detergent that’s superior to anything on the market tomorrow, good luck trying to get anyone to buy it when you’re facing Tide, Cheer, All, Wisk, and all those other established brand names that spend more money than you’ll make in a hundred lifetimes on marketing and can sell their product cheaper than you because they pump out a Grand Canyon worth of the stuff every day. Sure, it’s not exactly the same situation in the conservative blogging world, but good luck convincing tens of thousands of people that if they have time to read only one more blog today, it should be your brand new blog instead of….Instapundit.
4) The market has also become much more professionalized. When I got started, back in 2001, a lone blogger who did 3-4 posts a day could build an audience. Unless your name is Ann Coulter, you probably couldn’t make that strategy work today.
Instead, most successful blogs today have large staffs, budgets, and usually, the capacity to shoot traffic back and forth with other gigantic websites.
…Bloggers have asked me: So, what’s the strategy to deal with this?
Really, it’s simple: Get big or go home.
What I said in that piece was meant just to be a description of what was happening, but for a lot of people, it was as unwelcome as an unexpected diagnosis of a fatal disease. I can still remember the conversation I had with one female blogger. I had been friends with her for years, had linked her work countless times, and the two of us had hung out and had a great time in person. After seeing her torch me publicly over writing that piece, I asked her about it privately and she flat out told me that I was trying to get smaller bloggers to quit in hopes of then having their audiences move over to my blog.
That was the end of a year’s long friendship.
Well, at the risk of ending any new friendships, today I am seeing the roots of another big shift happening. To help you understand it, I need to give you a 50,000-foot view of how the media landscape has changed over the last twenty-five years.
After Craigslist debuted in 1995, the amount of revenue newspapers made from running classified ads tanked. This put newspapers, which at the time put a lot of effort into giving people the perception that they were unbiased, under financial stress.
In 1996, Fox News went live.
In 1998, Google was created.
That stress on newspapers only increased when blogging blew up. Suddenly, readers had more options, much less of a reason to pay for news, and were more interested in getting news that matched up with their ideological opinions. This created the first big shift in the way people got their news.
The 2nd big shift happened after blogs proved there was money to be made talking about news in the online space. At that point, newspapers got involved in a big way and although they still paid lip service to being unbiased, the line between say the Daily Kos and the New York Times grew much thinner. Even so, there was a lot less revenue to be made online than selling papers, so newspapers suffered. Meanwhile, other corporate entities got involved and either bought websites up or created their own. Soon, the market became increasingly saturated with news sources, many of which didn’t even pretend to be neutral. Moreover, many of them used content taken from the already struggling newspapers as the basis of their own stories and takes.
The third big shift happened once social media really took off. At that point, the way people found news changed. Instead of going directly to their favorite websites, many readers started going to Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Instagram and THEN followed whatever links looked the most appealing before RETURNING to social media. This made social media into the kingmakers, not the actual websites that were providing the news which was in turn often scalped from newspapers. It’s a great place to be in if you run a social media monopoly because, in a sense, you control the news.
In fact, if you are a consumer of news, as opposed to someone who creates it, you probably have no idea how much people like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Jack Dorsey control what you see. They control it because most websites are dependent on the traffic they get from websites like Facebook, so those websites change what they write about. Social media outlets love stories with clear heroes and villains that produce outrage, anger, and bad feelings because that sort of emotion drives a lot of engagement. A lot of real, important news gets ignored because it doesn’t fit those parameters. Meanwhile, because people tend to follow those they agree with and ignore or block those that they don’t, the public has become increasingly intolerant of any news that doesn’t reinforce their narrow worldview. Good luck writing an article on Townhall agreeing with Hillary Clinton on something or on Vox congratulating Donald Trump for doing the right thing because their audiences won’t like it, won’t share it on social media, and may even storm off to another website because they’re angry about hearing something they don’t like. This is an even more serious problem on the Right because conservative websites nearly across the board now regularly self-censor their opinions to avoid the risk of being penalized by Facebook and losing some of their precious traffic. From a practical sense, it’s hard to blame conservative websites for doing that, but how many conservatives even realize that kind of self-censorship is happening?
This is where we stand today, but there is now a 4th big shift that you can see starting to take shape on the horizon.
The first inkling of it is in a revolutionary browser called Brave. What’s so revolutionary about Brave? Well, it has built-in privacy features and ad blockers that prevent the websites you go to from tracking you or getting ad revenue from you. However, there are still ads. You see, you have the option of having Brave send you ads and when you do, YOU get paid in cryptocurrency for looking at it. Granted, it’s not a lot, but YOU do get some money which you have the option of contributing to websites you like.
So, which model better serves you as a consumer? You go to websites; they take your private data and get paid to deliver it up to corporations, OR you keep your private data hidden and YOU get paid to see ads? The vast majority of people are going to prefer that second model. Further down the line, blockchain (which is the technology underlying cryptocurrency) also has the ability to transform the web in a similar way. Imagine a decentralized social media network on the Internet, where you could be ignored, but where no corporation could censor you. Where you couldn’t be tracked. Where YOU make the ad avenue, not the corporation. Granted, that’s not ready for prime time yet, but is there a good chance we’ll see that in a decade? Absolutely.
How will this change the Internet and the news business? Well, it will mean that most media organizations will need to get paid in a completely different way. That could be a subscription model (and yes, this was a big factor that convinced me to focus on doing a Substack instead of focusing on getting my columns published on more big conservative websites). You could even see a payment structure form on the Internet more like cable television. Pay a set fee and get access to a number of websites. It also wouldn’t be a shock to see news websites move from massive corporations back to small, local blogs where a handful of people in each city are covering the news less thoroughly, for a much smaller slice of the pie than newspapers, which simply wouldn’t be able to make enough revenue to support large staffs and huge offices.
Whatever the case may be, it almost has to be better than the current way our media is set up. We have heavily biased newspapers churning out news that’s regurgitated by even more partisan sources and then exposed to the public based primarily on the algorithms designed by fascistic weirdos with delusions of grandeur situated in Silicon Valley. It’s propaganda. It’s lunacy. It’s horror – and no one should mourn it when it finally dies an ignoble death.