I’m fast coming up to my first anniversary at Yahoo!. It’s been an amazing year to have been in the online industry and I’m glad I made the move from traditional media. In many ways, I’ve been forced to learn and relearn the news industry — the way content is created and distributed — and perhaps more importantly, witness the changing face of storytelling in the internet age.
The idea for this post came from Yahoo!’s country editor for Indonesia, Budi Putra, who himself made the leap of faith a number of years back when he left the esteemed Tempo to start a blogging network. Budi insisted that a post like this would be interesting (and hopefully) useful to others seeking to make the shift.
So this is what I’ve learned in Year Zero:
Traditional media is more important than ever. Bottom line — traditional, legacy newsrooms are still the most efficient sources of news production today. Traditional news teams, thanks to a tested (although sometimes dysfunctional) mode of operations, are able to deliver quality reporting on a predictable basis. I don’t know many full online news teams who have been able to do this. Despite all the buzz about social news, there would be little to Tweet about if not for traditional media.
Crowd-sourcing is the beginning, not the end of the process. Ignore the pundits who tell you that user generated content is the new news model. It isn’t. No matter how you slice it, UGC requires strong curation and distillation. Only a great editor is able to help you filter out the noise. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt put it recently, “If you’re ever confused as to the value of newspaper editors, look at the blog world.”
Commoditized content. I struggle with this word. Pre-Yahoo!, my world was about articles, photos, videos, comments, shows, rundowns, soundbites. In the online news world, so much of what is produced now comes under a faceless, commoditized product called “content.” This shift toward commoditizing the online news industry will only lead to more generic volume, coming at the expense of quality. Content farms like Demand Media and Seed are a worthwhile experiment on how to create this “stuff” quickly. Unfortunately, none of this is differentiated.
Shepherding the communities. This is arguably the most crucial role that online media plays — the ability to seed and drive dialogue and conversations about stories. However, this requires an investment in resources. Moderating and growing a community doesn’t come cheap and requires a lot of time.
Journalism isn’t dead. It just needs a new business model. I feel we’re getting closer to this. Just look at the nonprofit ProPublica, which recently won a Pulitzer for its collaborative work done with The New York Times Magazine. Nonprofit online investigative journalism meets an established magazine. A viable news model? We don’t have a choice but to give it a shot.