Monday, January 07, 2008

What kids don’t tell us about the future of news media

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, studies his three kids’ media diet as a micro sampling of the habits of the Always On Generation and comes out with predictable conclusions:

the net and video games rule, social networking is the new IM, people still read (case in point: you)…

If you are into Venture Capital or if you want to start a mee-too media company, then maybe, Fred’s article may interest you. After all, we all like to like to know about the likes and dislikes of that hard-to-please demographic which reside in and around San Francisco (one of the so-called Twin Capitals of the Blogosphere) – they are rich and have the time to spare to preside as the tech tastemakers for this world.

Fred notes that his kids are not much into newspapers, preferring websites for updates. This too is old hat. But, must we follow kids’ news reading preferences to predict the future for newspapers?

A future that is already taking place everywhere on the internet – free news websites, salubrious celebrity/sensation/gadget coverage are the way to go.

Even my brother is talking about starting his own spam blog network.

The average lifespan of an online news story is said to be 32 hours or something. That is more than thirty two times the attention time of an average kid. When we were kids, we scanned the front page and quickly moved to the sports pages near the end followed by bollywood startlets on the back page. As I grow older, I started reading the Op-ed pages and the syndicated columns. I am still improving the quality of my reading list for any given day.

I am 100% positive Fred's kids will have an even more extensive media diet than mine when they grow up and will eventually discover that playing video games and passing time Facebook doesn't seem so hot anymore.

The Internet pulled me out of the proverbial frog's well and I like that I am not paying for my access to the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine, but I wonder how long this free run would last. My free access to the NYT magazine is subsidized mainly by the ad-rich print version, and in a minor part by online advertising.

How long will this state of subsidy last? How long will the New York Times last in its present form?

Despite the low-cost nature of online publishing, I doubt whether anyone can start an online publication of the NYT Mag's quality from scratch and survive without long term funding strategy.

Nick Denton has come closest to creating a respectable online publishing empire with his Gawker network, but where are the long form stories ? Being Snarky doesn't cut it.

Coming back to Fred's point: A world full of adults with the attention span and habits of kids is good news for marketers of things that let us deal with our boredom.

But, we also need things that help us understand our world better. Nothing does that better than good journalism.

A study in 2007 pointed out that people do read long articles on the internet. Long pieces of investigative journalism, good feature writing (thank you New Yorker) will always have their say.

To know about the future of news, two important questions need answers:

1. Which news model must we follow?
NYT (free), WSJ? Economist (paid), Guardian (trust)

2. How do we make people pay for news?
Free paper (aggregated wire feeds, tips and tricks, and lots of ads) and the paid version (bigger stories, analysis)

Sadly, investors don’t seem interested in these tough questions. What the news business urgently needs now is investors who are willing to go beyond investing in oddities like and work with those in the News business to create New Brands of the Internet Era.

Till now, all I have seen on this front are 101 Social News startups.
Maybe more...Come on, think hard.

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