To Eric Brazil whoÂ toldÂ me of theÂ beauty of theÂ desert bloomÂ Â
(I’m still at Joshua Tree National Park pondering the future of the Fourth Estate and my role in it. This prior posting isÂ suggestive of my line of thought.)
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The great hope of hard-pressed newspapers has been that theirÂ online traffic andÂ revenuesÂ would rise soon enough andÂ fast enoughÂ toÂ replaceÂ their evaporatingÂ print advertising. ButÂ there is some evidenceÂ (as Iâ€™veÂ bloggedÂ once or twiceÂ before) that trafficÂ flowsÂ to most online news sites have flattened.Â While aÂ few national and brand name online dailiesÂ continue toÂ grow, theÂ rest of theÂ online dailies stagnate.Â
Thatâ€™sÂ theÂ gistÂ of aÂ Harvard study at the heart of this concern. Paid Content editor Rafat Ali has raised a red flagÂ about the studyâ€™s traffic-countingÂ methodology.Â So donâ€™t take it as gospel.Â ButÂ the concern about a traffic slowdownÂ rings true to meÂ because it fitsÂ the way theÂ web has evolved. LocalÂ newspapersÂ had a natural advantageÂ when they went online aÂ decade agoÂ because theyÂ could repurposeÂ print content for Web 1.0. Their competitors had to create content.
ButÂ Web 2.0 is not aboutÂ content.Â For one thingÂ search hasÂ commodotized content.Â It has unwrapped and aggregated content in an efficient way that feeds people all the news they could possiblyÂ want by grazing the web. This invitesÂ nomadic behavior at odds with the old habitÂ of newspaper subscribership, andÂ helps create whatÂ Steve YelvingtonÂ recently calledÂ a promiscuous newsÂ audienceÂ â€“ a term he took fromÂ the â€œnut grafâ€ of research from the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company:
â€œThe research â€” an online survey of 2,100 consumers in the United States â€” found that the respondents divide their time among as many as 16 news brands a week. â€˜Brand promiscuity,â€™ it appears, is the norm.â€
SoÂ content is not theÂ king ofÂ Web 2.0. In fact it may be closer to the harlot. ContentÂ isÂ a good way toÂ drawÂ a click. But in a promiscuous world the quality content is unlikelyÂ to make the visitorÂ stick.Â Media compete inÂ an Attention Economy. Media thrive or fail depending upon how muchÂ time people spend with them. Thatâ€™s why Web 2.0 sites emphasize community, conversation, connections, votingÂ â€“Â anything to create involvement and buy-in.
Â None of this â€” notÂ this thought process of involvement, notÂ the inclusiveÂ technologies of Web 2.0 â€” are native to the newspaper newsroom. Newspaper sites couldÂ do well, at least traffic-wise, inÂ the first wave of the web because it was just like printing only without the paper. But a lot has changed in this new web. So much so that I wonder how much of thisÂ ethos of participation and involvement has filtered into the American newsroom?