Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Future of Media is, apparently, all about Twitter

In a panel at 20 Cooper Square's 7th floor television studio in New York City yesterday afternoon, panelists Nick Denton of Gawker Media, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Bonnie Fuller of Bonnie Fuller Media, Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray, and Craigslist founder Craig Newark gathered and spoke with moderator Patrick Phillips, founder of IWantMedia and adjunct NYU professor, about the trajectory, impact, and trends in new media for the remainder of 2009 as they saw it. Mostly, the themes of the panel centered on the concept of community and user-dictated need and services; opinions on whether or not users will be satisfied with a "pay wall" for their valued news and information, even if each site only mandates a wall for small portions of their content; the importance of blogging and the difference between old school and new media journalists; a grasping attempt by Murray to talk about advertising, which was quickly lost in the more timely topics of discussion; and, of course, the media wonder that is Twitter.

Everyone on the panel uses Twitter, and more recently, they all noted, everyone was using it to find their news even before consulting other trusted news aggregators like Google. While most of them recognized that there needs to be more credibility and fact-checking in these tweets, the fact remains that all five of these people who ultimately have control over the media we consume daily feed off of tweets for myriad reasons, whether for access to news, building a community with friends, or self-promotion. Dorsey admitted that Twitter was a constantly evolving animal, and that this evolution was driven by the users, not the programmers; the appearance of Trends, of @replies, of the search engine (which Dorsey states is not a search but a discovery engine...um, okay...) were all because the people at Twitter saw these things happening or saw a user need for these modes of functionality. The folks at Twitter just made it easier for their users to execute these actions and fulfill these needs.

Something I found interesting was Denton's insistence that old media producers (ie: print journalists) did not work fast enough to be successful in the blogosphere. Claiming that while these "old media" journalists did fantastic investigative work, they were not prepared to have the tightened deadlines or produce the amount of stories required for the new media format of blogging. I wonder, and sometimes fear, that the need for instant information will eventually mean an ultimate breakdown of credibility and reliability. Actually, this has already begun. But I digress.

The half-hearted attempt to discuss advertising quickly fizzled out when Denton trumped Murray's claim that advertising online was not the way to monetize a service. Gawker takes a significant portion of their revenue from ad dollars, and is still utilizing this advertising model successfully, much to the chagrin of other media outlets who are no longer succeeding with this model (for example, Murray's WSJ). Murray and Denton, who were sitting next to each other, got into a slightly heated debate during which the former raised his voice and the latter simply sat their grinning and looking overly-confident through his rebuttal. Murray admitted that advertising was indeed a part of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle. Coming from someone whose company has effectively monetized a pay wall, Murray must have been slightly irked at Denton's claim that Gawker is thriving off of ad dollars. Newmark joined the conversation to ad that the biggest threat to the advertising model that some adhere to so stringently is actually user review services, which are huge in the gadget community (enter another excuse for Newmark to mention how nerdy he is).

There were some stark contrasts among the panelists, and this is not a comment meant to be in reference to their opinions and thoughts: their appearances and mannerisms alone defined their unique characters, almost dictating what would come out of their mouths. Dorsey, the youngest in the group and by far the best dressed in a casual blazer with sunglasses dangling from the front pocket, looked like he was going to throw up any second. He was by far the most soft-spoken, and I'm not sure whether I should chalk that up to his actual modesty or his industry greenness in comparison to the other panel members. All of his statements seemed very calculated and cautious, and I don't blame him: everyone's watching Twitter's actions right now. Denton portrayed the ultimate "I'm totally confident and I don't give a f---" new-generation kind of UK business man, draping his right elbow over the back of his chair and idly swinging back and forth on his revolving stool while eagerly grinning throughout the hour-long discussion. His mannerisms made it very clear that he, and his company, were sitting quite comfortably at the moment. Murray sat facing forward, almost on the edge of his seat, with his hands folded, stuttering a bit when he spoke up to contribute to the discussion and repeatedly talking loudly over Phillips or the other panelists. Probably the only individual still grasping to survive the "old media" model (despite the WSJ's pay wall system that seems to be functioning quite nicely, depending on who you ask), it was obvious that due to the uncertain future of the newspaper business, this man constantly lives on edge. Newmark made it known that he was a "nerd" who lacked common social skills, and made this painfully clear by emphasizing several of his points with old-timey radio effects cued up on his sleek white iPhone (a rimshot, a wah wah wahhhh noise, etc). Fuller's demeanor was pretty uninteresting by comparison to the others, although her random interjections seemed like futile attempts to establish her credibility as a celebrity journalist.

Fuller, I must add, should not be totally discredited just because she is a celebrity journalist. She did have some very interesting things to say, especially on the topic of the vanity searches that are so popular on Twitter and how this relates to new media's catering to our need for fame in our personal lives. She made a comment relating to our individual need for being known, and that the Internet can now fulfill this need better than a short-lived reality television stint can.

As the panel was coming to a close, moderator Phillips mentioned that IWantMedia does a poll each year to determine the most influential media person of the year, and asked the panelists who or what this person was likely to be, even though the year is only half way over. Fuller, Denton, and Newmark all said that, without a doubt, "It's got to be the Twitter guys." Dorsey simply sat there, hiding his smile and red face behind his hand that was casually covering his mouth. Murray piped up, saying "I was going to put Murdoch," but eventually agreed that the guys at Twitter would be "a good choice." Dorsey, in all of his modesty, whether real or feigned, calmly stated "I was going to say our users."

1 comment:

Josh said...

Twitter? I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

There is real problem with the current state of media. I remember when my story lengths last year got cut from a flexible 15-25 inches to a maximum of 12. It leaves no room for substance. I'm pretty sure that watergate would not have broken if it happened today. Few if any reporters have the kind of luxury of time for that kind of in-depth reporting and newspapers don't take the legal risk anymore.

So, there's that.