Barbarians at the Gate: New Media and Old Media

The afternoon sessions of mesh kicked off with a panel of Rachel Sklar, Cynthia Brumfield, and Loren Feldman moderated by Mark Evans.

Mark Evans: Picking up on Mike Arrington’s session … print newspapers seem to be in trouble. Is the San Francisco Chronicle staff layoff an isolated incident or a sign of something broader?

Rachel Sklar: It’s a sign of a bigger trend. But in every big change, there are opportunities. So for people who are creative, it’s an amazing opportunity. Look for how newspapers adapt. The good ones will be able to do this.

Mark Evans: Are newspapers prepared for change or are they merely scrambling for anything that sticks?

Rachel Sklar: Many of them are scrambling. You can see this as they reach out for new people who can do many things. But at the same time, they are laying off many of their elder statesmen, the people who have been there, done that and seen the evolution. The really smart media will be the ones that recognize this strength and preserve it.

Mark Evans: How about the broadcasters? Are they more willing to experiment and get ahead of the game?

Cynthia Brumfeld: Jumping into the Internet doesn’t really cost broadcasters a lot. They already have the video technology and the advertising relationships. However, the traditional broadcasters are losing audiences to cable as well as online. And they’re beginning to look like the dinosaurs of the industry.

Looking at newspapers. Their dependence on revenues from subscriptions to physical distribution of products contributes to their vulnerability to the online media. To the extent that you are dependent upon subscriptions for physical product, you’ll be hurt more by the Internet.

Loren Feldman: The Internet is not just little TV. There’s room for both. “You won’t watch people like me on TV. I do 60-90 second bits.”

Mark Evans: How about the impact of Google and RSS feeds? How do traditional media deal with these?

Rachel Sklar: “I don’t really use RSS. I don’t admit that often. I work hard on my own site and it’s presentation.” Computers don’t have the same feel as tangible media. Working with your computer is a much more solitary experience.

Cynthia Brumfeld: Traditional media will go the way of the dinosaurs. She uses the example of her parents who gave up a newspaper subscription because they could now access it online. The Internet has opened up the geographic reach of what you can reach and watch. Google adds to this. Suddenly, there’s not only one game in town. There’s twenty newspapers, twenty blogs – a multitude of sources that are immediately available.

Question: How will ownership of the pipes influence the shape of new media?

Loren Feldman: “As long as my stuff gets out, I don’t care who, how, what. Just get it out.”

Cynthia Brumfeld: The phone companies led the charge in the U.S. for tiered access. It’s too late. That train has left the station. Carriers will find a way to charge people more for access.

Mark Evans: Does that make the newspaper industry more at risk because they don’t own any pipes?

Cynthia Brumfeld: If Comcast loses subscribers to other media, it can charge its remaining subscribers more to make up for that loss. Newspapers can’t do this.

Question: Do you see your content being used differently by younger generations?

Loren Feldman: We’re in an attention economy. My videos rarely go over 2 minutes. I think that time will decrease to hold onto the attention of a younger generation.

Cynthia Brumfeld: I watch my teenage daughter and her friends. And it seems to me that they stay within fairly limited spaces. MySpace, then FaceBook. They don’t cruise. They don’t explore broadly. They stay within the area that is occupied by their peer group. And that puts limits on the number of different sources demanding their attention. Their world has shrunk as opposed to expanding.

Loren Feldman: It’s ironic. It’s a throwback to AOL.

Rachel Sklar: Quality and ingenuity are factors. Look at Harry Potter. The release of the final book will command and hold attention broadly when it is released.

Loren Feldman: Newspapers will be here in 200 years. People are tactile. They like to touch and hold information. It’s instant. It’s accessible. And remember, lots of people don’t have computers. I like reading a newspaper when I’m in a diner. I don’t want to sit there with a computer. To save themselves, newspapers have to change their content. They won’t be about breaking news. They’ll be about in depth analysis.

Question: What advice would you provide to old media in managing their concept of old media against the user generated concept of popularity.

Rachel Sklar: There’s value in being right. I’d rather be right than first (see Mike Arrington). Being right confers credibility. Every provider determines what resources to put into fact checking and background research.

Loren Feldman. The New York Times shouldn’t worry about things like Wikipedia or Digg. They are a joke.

Cynthia Brumfeld: One of the reasons newspapers were so blind-sided was because they didn’t think that competition was possible. Hubris was one of the big downfalls of traditional media.

Loren Feldman: The one hustler – a Drudge or an Arrington – is a greater threat to traditional media. Because they don’t have the overhead and they are able to build quickly. And once established, the leads and tips come to them.

Question: How do you get traditional journalists to prepare to be online?

Loren Feldman: Just tell them that they won’t have anything to eat.

Cynthia Brumfeld: I’d be very surprised if you had to convince any traditional journalists any longer about the value of being online.

Rachel Sklar: Teach them how to check their Technorati stats. Ego is a good motivator.