Interesting podcast conversation today between Steve Gillmor and Rafat Ali (of paidcontent.org). Steve labelled paidcontent.org "an emerging force in the new media" and this theme was explored during the podcast. My ears pricked up when Steve talked about blogs like Om Malik's, John Battelle's and Engadget becoming media properties in their own rights. No mention of MacManus' Youngbloods this time, but I'll let it slide ;-) Rafat said he thought Om Malik's weblog "has become the hub of Silicon Valley".
Rafat went on to say that some bloggers are media companies because they cover the niches that mainstream media (MSM) aren't looking at. PaidContent.org is a good example - its beat is digital media and it does a better job than most MSM of reporting it. But the thing I found most intriguing is that it doesn't stop there. The PaidContent.org's of this world are in turn getting trumped, by what Rafat calls "Super Niches". For example, a blogger that focuses on one particular part of digital media (because digital media is in itself a fairly broad topic, as Rafat admitted). Or a blogger that takes a single gadget as their niche and drills down much further than Engadget is able to do. Another example increasingly common: bloggers that focus on a single company.
Steve has a concept called a "new newspaper" (if I heard it correctly), by which I think he means that a person can select a variety of super niche bloggers to cover all of the topics they're interested in reading on a daily basis. As Steve pointed out, what we as readers look for is authoritative voices that give us unique perspectives (or views) of general news and information that flows into the system.
Bloggers drive trends, MSM ratifies them - as Steve said. Rafat seconded that by saying that MSM journalists nowadays tend to get their leads from blogs.
I want to finish by saying that none of this is meant as an attack or slight on MSM. Look at the work the BBC has been doing over the past year in using the Web as a platform for news media - they're ahead of the curve. And to take up Rafat's earlier point - the little dogs may be eating some of the big dogs lunch, but there are even smaller dogs yapping at the heels of the little dogs. No doubt Super-Super Niche Bloggers will soon become popular too - e.g. blogging about a specific division within a single company (I'm sure this is happening already).
The main takeaway I took from this thought-provoking podcast is that anyone can be a media company these days. I myself have done pretty well by focusing on 'Web 2.0'. One thing I do urge people to do though is that if you're going to focus on a niche, build value on top of it. Analyse, contribute ideas, drill down, drive trends. Be a hub, be your own media brand.
And of course MSM media should leverage all of these niche hubs. They're already doing it in a way, by hunting news and opinions from bloggers. Some like the BBC are doing it by inviting the public in to remix and develop media based on their content. Some are also hiring bloggers. Everybody wins.
I do love the Web.