It’s November 2009 and we’re nearing the end of a decade. It’s been a tumultuous time of change for many industries, much of it driven by the Internet. The newspaper industry has been particularly affected by the Web. Over the past 10 years, news media has undergone a seachange akin to the invention of the printing pressin 1440.
Just as Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press brought books to the mainstream public in the 15th century, Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web brought commercial publishing to the people.
The Web has always been a medium where people could just as easily write as read (yes, the read/write Web), however it didn’t reach its potential until blogging came along earlier this decade.
Blogging not only allowed anybody to publish easily to the Web, it ended up shaking up the print media world.
Blogging began in the 90s as a form of online diary – Rebecca Blood wrote a good pre-history in 2000. One of the early popular blogging services was Blogger.com, launched by Evan Williams (who subsequently became a co-founder of Twitter) and Meg Hourihan in August 1999. The service was acquired by Google in February 2003, a couple of months before ReadWriteWeb began. At that point, 2003, blogging was still seen as an informal diary-type of publishing.
Around 2004-05, blogging started to become accepted as a legitimate news source. This was around the time that ReadWriteWeb began to publish tech news, as well as analysis.
By the end of the decade, many blogs were directly challenging newspapers – proving that a solid news brand, such as Huffington Post, can be created from almost nothing in a few years.
Blogging software was one part of the democratization of media. RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) was another. There were and still are different versions of RSS, created by Dave Winer and others. But whatever the flavor, syndication has had a major impact on media.
Basically RSS allowed people to subscribe to updates from blogs and other publications. Using RSS Aggregators, people could read news from a selection of niche and general news publications.
Blogs were the first to utilize RSS, but mainstream media followed during the 2005-06 period. Today it is very rare for a major news website – whether it be the New York Times or a leading blog – not to use RSS.
Twitter & The Real-Time Web
The next major development in news media occurred towards the end of this decade. It was of course Twitter and the Real-Time Web.
To be fair, this has challenged not only traditional media – but blogs as well. Now anyone, whether they’re a writer or not, can publish 140 characters to the Web. And it might end up as breaking news, as the Hudsen River plane crash proved earlier this year.
Media in the Next Decade
There is much talk of the mainstream media “dying” and blogs usurping traditional media companies like the New York Times. While it’s true that blogs sometimes report breaking news stories or analyze them better than newspaper websites, I’m a big believer in the power of brand. Washington Post, Wall St Journal, New York Times – these are all powerful brands and they reach a much wider audience than the vast majority of blogs.
The challenge of course for mainstream media is to (drastically) reduce their costs, because few people want to pay for content these days – news or otherwise.
However, in my view the traditional news media industry is in much less danger of extinction than the music industry. Musicians can bypass record labels completely nowadays, but there will always be a need for news to be questioned, put in context and analyzed. The best media publications of the next 10 years will do that and be successful, the ones that don’t will fade away.