I recently got an email newsletter from the I Want Media site, and nearly every single story highlighted was related in some way to technology and the Internet disrupting the traditional media business. I Want Media is mainly an aggregator of media business news — meaning it points to and summarizes articles from other sites. The stories are broken down into categories like “Newspapers & Magazines” or “Radio & Television.”
But lately, the main section with the most important news has been dominated like never before by headlines such as Microsoft, NY Times Partner on ‘Onscreen Reader’ Software or AOL Launches Blog About Time Warner. The explosion of digital technology into the previously stodgy worlds of print newspapers and radio and television has brought a sea change to the types of stories media insiders want to read.
At least that’s what I thought by the patterns of what I was seeing each day on I Want Media, a barometer of sorts for the mindset of the media biz. So I checked in with Patrick Phillips (pictured above), the man behind I Want Media, who shares my obsession with all things media. He noted that the site has always had a preoccupation with technology-related stories from its inception in 2000 during the waning days of the dot-com boom.
“Our media landscape is in the midst of a major transformation, as elements of everyday media use are colliding and being reworked for delivery over myriad new channels and devices,” Phillips wrote in an essay on I Want Media in 2000. “Traditional newspapers, magazines, books, television, radio, and movies certainly don’t look as familiar when they’re accessed through e-books, cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, and other Flash Gordon-ish gadgets in the pipeline.”
Phillips is a former media company PR guy, and is now running I Want Media along with being an adjunct professor at the journalism department at New York University, where he teaches a digital journalism class.
The following is an edited transcript from a recent email Q&A I had with Phillips.
Q. What’s your background before I Want Media, and tell me the history of how you started the site.
Patrick Phillips: I Want Media is a part-time, one-person-operated website that I produce out of my East Village studio apartment. Its daily readers include media execs, analysts, editors, reporters, TV producers, FCC staffers.
IWM has posted original interviews and brief “One Question” commentary from the likes of Richard Parsons, Sumner Redstone, Michael Eisner, Mel Karmazin, Mort Zuckerman, Bonnie Fuller, Donny Deutsch, Tina Brown, Matt Drudge, Jayson Blair. Over the years, advertisers on IWM have included The Wall Street Journal (twice), Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, CNNMoney.com.
I launched IWM in July 2000 to help promote my freelance corporate media writing, shortly after leaving my full-time job in corporate communications at Hearst, the diversified media company. At Hearst I created the company’s first corporate site (hearst.com) and spent a lot of time on the web doing research — tracking down industry data, statistics, information from trade organizations, etc. I thought it would be useful if one site existed where you could quickly access a lot of the free media-related information that’s available on the web.
Now, of course, there are countless blogs covering every aspect of the media. Many of these bloggers subscribe to IWM’s daily email newsletter. But I don’t think there are many sites that have IWM’s straightforward approach to headlines about media business (with a very subtle “take” on the news, as New York Times media columnist David Carr pointed out during a visit to my class at NYU).
I don’t like to be heavy-handed with commentary. I think IWM’s audience is media savvy and doesn’t have a need for it.
Q. How has your coverage at I Want Media changed over that time?
Phillips: You [told me] that you believed IWM is now covering more Net and technology news. But I don’t think IWM’s focus has changed at all since it began. At least, I don’t see it. Check out this home-page reproduction from IWM’s first year.
Perhaps my teaching duties at NYU — where we focus on the new-media journalism world — may be having some unconscious influence on me. If anything, though, it’s probably more that Net and technology companies are encroaching steadily into the traditional media world.
When I launched IWM in July 2000, Google was just a young search engine. There was no Google Adwords. Google News was still two years off in the future. Now, of course, Google is taking steps into several traditional media strongholds, taking more and more advertising dollars away from “old” media. Yahoo is also moving aggressively into many traditional media areas. In addition, blogs and social networks like MySpace have emerged in recent years as legitimate alternative forms of media.
Traditional media companies are now eyeing them as possible acquisition targets — and as rivals. The concept of “media” itself has broadened beyond print and over-the-air to include digital and search. So, naturally, IWM covers the activities of these kinds of companies as well. Google is now a media company just as much as Time Warner.
Q. How much is the Internet and disruptive technology changing what’s going on in the media business? Has this become a bit of an obsession with media types?
Phillips: As I said previously, I think the pace of change in the media industry has only accelerated since I launched IWM in July 2000. It seems like every other day comes the news of a pioneering new-media startup that has won backing from an “old” media company, or the debut of a new device that will force viewers to watch commercials, or the launch of a new social networking site, or a new competitor to Craigslist, or…
That’s sort of the
This is truly a disruptive era for traditional media businesses. And from all that I read, and from everyone I talk with, I don’t think anyone can safely predict which business models are going to take hold and which businesses are going to fade away. New technologies are empowering consumers to create and share their own content. People expect to be able to skip commercials on television and get their news online without having to pay for it. Consumers are more demanding than ever, especially the younger ones.
Everything is now, now, now. I can see it in the students in my class at NYU. Every other student walking around the NYU campus is talking on their cell phone, checking email, playing a mobile video-game device. Slowing down to read a print newspaper doesn’t seem too realistic for this bunch. The publishers of the free New York papers Metro and amNewYork have shrewdly placed distribution racks all over campus, reinforcing the idea to this generation that news is free.
The elevators in the new student union building have video monitors with news. So why in hell would anyone ever pay for it? News is like running water. Expecting younger people to acquire “old” media consumption habits as they get older when they are already so digitally savvy may be wishful thinking. It’s like, “I’m now driving a car but when I get older I’m going to start driving a horse and buggy.”
Many old rules about business don’t apply anymore. It’s a scary, weird and strangely exciting time in media. Has this become an obsession with media types? Well, professionals in all areas of media should be concerned about what these changes mean for their future livelihood. If they aren’t, they’re fools. It must be unnerving to be a captain of an industry that has the potential to die off, or at least be weakened severely.
To me, Craigslist is a remarkable story. The Internet has empowered one individual (Craig Newmark) to shake up an entire industry (newspapers). Simply incredible. Who knows how many more “Craigslists” will emerge and rock other media businesses? Will YouTube do it for television? It appears unlikely, but…
Q. Do you get the sense that the average person in Peoria really cares if they can get a TV show via iTunes or at ABC’s website? How important are these changes?
Phillips: There’s a good chance that the average person in many communities across America might not even be aware of such developments. But if audiences start to embrace these new forms of distribution, it could have significant repercussions. What will it mean for local affiliate stations? They’re supposedly set to get a cut of some of these new revenue streams. But will it make up for what they might lose?
Then again, consumers might not want to watch TV shows on their iPod or PC. This is still very new territory.
Q. Of the old media industries — newspapers, radio, TV, magazines — which one has shown the best resilience when it comes to disruptive technology?
Phillips: I don’t think anyone is safe. No one is in the catbird seat. Every traditional media sector is on shaky ground to one degree or another.
Newspapers? They have to contend with readers getting news for free on the Internet and from free youth-targeted tabloids. Radio? They have to address the challenges of satellite radio and iPods. Television? Programming is becoming available for free on the Web and via iTunes while viewers skip commercials on traditional TV. Magazines? Like newspapers, they’re watching their readers move to the Web and other platforms. And all forms of media have to compete with the new options taking up consumers’ time: gaming devices, social networking sites, and on and on.
Myself, I’m still a big fan of “old” media. Then again, I’m “old,” as I tell my NYU students (I’m a baby boomer, tail end). I love the experience of exploring a print newspaper, relaxing with a glossy magazine, passively watching television. I sometimes hate the idea of being “always connected,” with my cell phone, or being online or whatever.
I was waiting for the elevator in NYU’s journalism building the other day with five or six students, and I couldn’t help but notice that every single one of them had their cell phone out, checking their emails, looking at photos, or involved with whatever else mobiles are capable of offering nowadays. No one was talking to each other or even acknowledging one another’s presence. Everyone’s attention (except mine) was focused on their cell phone.
If you have a few moments of down time, you check your device. Actually, there no longer is a down time. Video screens with news — usually accompanied with advertising — now are practically everywhere: elevators, taxi cabs, public restrooms. I find media’s power and influence on our lives fascinating, but I think it’s healthy to be able to turn it off. In our increasingly media saturated world, that’s getting more and more difficult to do.
Still, I was up early one morning recently and watched as a newspaper truck picked up bound stacks of the previous days’ unsold papers at a newsstand near my apartment. The delivery guy was laboriously picking up bundle after bundle of old papers and heaving them into the back of the truck. The process seemed so wasteful, inefficient and archaic. I felt like I was watching an activity from the 1940s. How much longer can this form of news distribution continue?
When I read letters to the editor published in a newspaper or a magazine nowadays I can’t help but think that they, too, seem somehow archaic. After becoming accustomed to reading the unedited, unvarnished user comments on blogs, the typical letter to the editor published in a print publication now seems filtered and slick, even phony. How were these letters edited? What passages were cut out? What did the letters say that the editors chose not to publish? Were they more critical? The concept of “letters to the editor” seems outdated.
Q. When you teach students at NYU about digital journalism, what subjects interest them the most? What draws them to this field, do you think?
Phillips: In spring 2005 I became an adjunct professor in the journalism department at New York University, teaching a course in digital journalism, covering blogs.
Last year we posted an online magazine featuring student interviews with Craig Newmark of Craigslist (students love his site), journalism blogger Jim Romenesko, Jacob Weisberg of Slate and others.
This current semester my students are running their own blog, We Want Media (clever title, I know), which is intended to explore their use of media and present their commentary on current topics in media and journalism. They’re blogging about using Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, etc. Students admit to “stalking” fellow classmates by scanning their MySpace profiles and riff on topics like why their prefer celebrity blogs to celebrity magazines. They’re also posting entries about class guest speakers, including NYT media columnist and the paper’s first blogger David Carr and Gawker editor Jessica Coen.
Rocketboom host Amanda Congdon came by our class a few weeks ago and videoblogged about us. Students are especially curious about blogs and how they fit into the media scene. There’s an awareness that blogs seem ascendant and possess increasing cultural clout. A student in our first session observed: “It’s like we’re in the Age of the Blog.” Growing numbers of traditional news outlets are launching blogs or incorporating blog-like features into their online offerings.
TV Guide recently launched 65 new blogs written by its staffers. Money magazine is calling “blog editor” one of the “trendy new jobs.” Still, my students are very smart and media savvy and are aware that everything they read on blogs may not be factually correct. Then they read about the Page Six scandal and Jayson Blair, which gives them doubts about certain traditional news outlets. And that’s the current state of our media world. But then, as I’ve said here, it keeps changing.