The Online Media World Is in for a Big Shakeup
If you create content -- and who doesn't -- your world is about to change.
If you missed Donald Trump’s news conference last week, you missed an event like no other. The president-elect was in rare form, refusing to take questions from CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta and telling him “you are fake news.” He also called BuzzFeed “a failing pile of garbage.”
Trump was incensed over the media outlets’ reporting on unsubstantiated claims that he has ties to Russia. CNN simply reported on it, but BuzzFeed posted the salacious dossier in its entirety. The question of whether that was a good move or not will probably be debated for months to come.
In any case, I do believe Trump holds a grudge.
Meanwhile, Facebook is making a big move to improve “news literacy” in an effort to combat the growing scourge of fake news. While I don’t think misreporting affected the election, as some believe, I doubt if anyone would argue that the web has become a cesspool of misinformation masquerading as real news.
The question is, will the coming Trump era cause journalists to think twice before publishing claims from dubious sources, or embolden them to throw caution to the wind and dare the president-elect to sue them for defamation? That’s anyone’s guess, but I think the click-hungry media world is in for a wild ride in any case.
If you generate content in any form (and who doesn’t?) here’s how I see the online media landscape shaping up over the coming years, and how you can benefit from the changing competitive landscape.
The honeymoon is over for new media companies.
Venture capitalists and media giants have invested heavily in online publishers like Business Insider, BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice, but that’s starting to fizzle out as the private equity bubble continues to deflate. Venture deals hit a multiyear low last quarter, and so did investments in media startups, according to CB Insights.
Meanwhile, Medium recently laid off a third of its staff, Salon saw major budget cuts last year, and BuzzFeed slashed its 2016 revenue forecast in half. And while user and revenue growth are big deals, going forward, investors will be looking for high-quality growth, meaning low-burn rates and profitability.
Beware, or you’re liable to commit libel.
Rolling Stone lost a high-profile defamation case this year, and Gawker Media was forced into bankruptcy by a $140 million lawsuit over a Hulk Hogan sex tape. The latter was bankrolled by Trump’s man in Silicon Valley, billionaire venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Peter Thiel.
The lesson being, the First Amendment has its limits. Anyone who generates content needs to read up on defamation and libel. And that means you, Ben Smith (BuzzFeed editor-in-chief).
There will be a shakeout, and real journalism will come out on top.
Stanford researchers recently found that students from middle school, high school and college had trouble judging the credibility of online content. Many couldn’t tell the difference between unbiased journalism from trusted media companies and native ads or fake news sites with an obvious bias or vested interest. And I know far too many adults with the same issue.
Since roughly half of Facebook’s 1.8 billion users get at least some of their daily news from their Facebook news feed, I think the social network’s aforementioned journalism project to improve the quality of online news is a step in the right direction. There will always be clickbait, but I expect a shakeout of yellow journalism and fake news. In the end, journalistic integrity will win out.
Hot trends to watch: video, glasses and Snapchat.
What form of online communication most closely emulates the real world? Snapchat. When people get together, every moment is visual and fleeting. Welcome to Evan Spiegel’s vision of how people like to communicate online. Snapchat takes the stress out of messaging because, just like a face-to-face conversation, it’s intimate and there’s no record.
Meanwhile, Snap’s Spectacles are just the beginning of a coming trend: smart glasses. Apple, Magic Leap and a host of big companies are working on augmented reality glasses. Lenovo and several startups demoed products at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. Along with advances in artificial intelligence, that signals a shift from text to audio and video-based content and control.
Lastly, I expect the dog-eat-dog world of those who generate low-quality content for a living to only get more crazy competitive. For some reason, that’s what everyone who can’t do anything else seems to end up doing. If I were them, I’d get out and find a real career. That isn’t it.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.