They couldn’t make it on their own.
Walt Mossberg, one of America’s two most famous tech columnists, shot himself in the foot. He left the “Wall Street Journal.” They’re finding out in news what we already know in music, you can go it alone, the internet allows you to do this, but in a chaotic world he with the established presence wins, the major record labels figured out the internet and the big news sites still rule.
What about BuzzFeed, and the “Huffington Post”?
The HuffPo is in decline. You can read about it in the “New York Review Of Books,” which no one opens except for intellectuals, but at least enough to keep the publication going. If you were gonna try and start a new printed book review today…FUHGETTABOUTIT!
But once upon a time the HuffPo was new and different. It focused on left wing news and link-bait, before link-bait littered every webpage you went to.
And BuzzFeed invented the listicle.
What did ReCode invent?
We don’t need me-too, we need new and different. And unless you’re gonna do new and different, stay where you are.
Ezra Klein left the “Washington Post.” He said his Vox site was gonna be different, and it is, a bit, but not significantly enough to gain traction.
Nate Silver left the “New York Times” for obscurity. The election prognosticator, our national data interpreter, put a stake in his heart and keeled right over. He started a whole website, 538, for data-driven articles, but the “Times” just doubled down with data and created the Upshot. Even worse, Silver didn’t realize if you’re starting from scratch you’ve got to have stars. And he’s the only star on his site. He’s earned my attention. But the rest of the writers on his site parsing the numbers…WHO ARE THEY?
And then you’ve got David Pogue, Mossberg’s nemesis, who left the “Times” for Yahoo and was promptly buried in the tsunami of bogus information on that site. He went from being one of the two experts to a nobody.
So what have we learned…
Just because you’re a star don’t think you’re bigger than the enterprise.
That’s what the film business has learned. They don’t pay stars as handsomely as they used to. As for these same stars funding their own movies… They have the twin hurdles of raising capital and distribution. Never mind having no ongoing catalog to keep them flush. That’s the movie studios’ greatest asset, as it is the record labels’, their historical product. It gives them guaranteed cash flow and bargaining power. That’s why the labels got favorable deals with Spotify…their copyrighted material!
As for records… George Michael sat on the sidelines and sued Sony and he never had another hit record. Trent Reznor did it his way and he got artistic freedom but fewer people cared, and he had to do so much himself other than create art that he ended up going back into the system.
When the world is wild and woolly, new and exciting, pioneers fight it out for eventual dominance. But once the landscape starts to coalesce…pick another venue! This is Tidal’s big mistake, not the press conference, but wading into a pool already filled with sharks.
The major labels control the modern music world. You can get started alone, you can even get some traction, but to break through big you’ve got to play with the established entities, they own radio and to a great degree publicity. Sure, you can do it your way, it’s just gonna be expensive and long. Are you up to that?
And it gets even tougher if you’ve got investors. They want their money back. They’ll pull the carpet out from under you when you least expect it, put heretofore unknown pressure upon you.
Bottom line… ReCode had the best tech news in the business. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher built a team of experts. But nobody cared, nobody went to the site, they thought their minions would follow them but it turned out they were aligned more with the “Wall Street Journal,” their former home, than the writers themselves. It’s kind of like when the lead singer leaves the band…good luck! Sure, there are exceptions, but… But now you can’t even find the new sites, you can’t get the word out. Furthermore, the “Journal” hired Joanna Stern, a cheeky tech writer who is not as good as Mossberg but oozes personality, and Geoffrey Fowler, who’s technically sound, albeit dry. Turns out we don’t need THE expert as much as AN expert. (And the “Times” got Farhad Manjoo, who in his own way is just as good as Pogue.)
So if you’re starting something new…by all means go for it, it’s the essence of Silicon Valley.
But if you’re an individual star, chafing under the reins of your boss, believing you can go it alone…
You probably cannot. Especially if the world you live in is solidified.
“Vox Media Adds ReCode to Its Stable of Websites” (read this for the traffic numbers)
“Digital Journalism: How Good Is It?” (The HuffPo has traffic, but is in the throes of an identity crisis that presages decline)