A couple of days ago I was speaking with Reuters reporter Connie Loizos, who’s been covering the Internet space since the days of the Industry Standard (she worked at the Red Herring). She was working on a story questioning whether there was a new bubble brewing in our space, a question that many have asked in the past few months, in particular as it relates to private financings of startups. You can find that story here, on PEHub.
As readers of this site know, I don’t believe we’re in a real bubble, at least not the kind that popped in late 2000 (or the housing bubble, which seems still to be popping). But that’s not the interesting part of our conversation. Connie asked if I thought the press was in part culpable for our collective obsession with sky-high private company valuations, “hot new startups,” and the like.
Of course the answer is yes – there’s an “interest bubble” of sorts – but the answer is nuanced. And nuance is something I’ve found in short supply throughout the Internet ecosystem – at least in what we’ve come to call “the press.”
So let’s break it down. First off, what is “the press”? If you define it as “responsible journalists working diligently at their craft” then I’d submit we no longer have an information ecosystem dominated by “the press.” Indeed, we have a ton of great reporters doing their jobs – probably far more now than we had even at the height of the first boom. But the overall conversation is no longer dominated by their work. Instead, we have migrated to a more free-wheeling discourse driven by any number of interested parties. As it relates to the Internet industry, that means VCs and entrepreneurs promoting or angling for investments or promotion (or souring a deal they didn’t get a part of), bankers trying to influence any number of outcomes, and sources within all manners of companies pushing their own agenda on Twitter, Quora, or in private conversations with bloggers and other media outlets.
The tweets, conference utterances, and blog posts of these sources are instantly turned into “news stories” by the post-cambrian publishing explosion of sites covering the narrative that was once the province of first-generation Internet magazines like the Industry Standard (that’s the prototype of the first Standard above). And of course, I celebrate this explosion – Federated Media has been central to the business model of most of these second-generation sites, either as former partners (Ars Technica, TechCrunch, Digg, Reddit and soon Mashable) or current (Business Insider, Read Write Web, The Next Web, VentureBeat, GigaOm and scores of others just in the tech space alone).
But while I love the role these publications play in our information processing, it seems we’re failing to evolve past the first few stages in that process. Sources hint or brag or dish, then those tidbits are quickly worked into stories. But where’s the bigger picture? Where’s the hold-on-a-minute-let’s-think-this-through-and make-a-few-phone-calls-and-see-how-it-develops approach? Where’s the conceptual scoop? The second-day (or even second week) analysis?
To be fair, every single publication covering this space does wonderful analysis, from time to time, but their bread and butter is chasing what Connie called “the echo chamber.” Lately, that chamber has gotten very, very large – millions upon millions of people visit these tech news sites, because the narrative they chronicle is more important than it’s ever been. Our industry impacts a huge swatch of society and culture, and increasingly is understood to be the core driver of pretty much all of business today.
I’m extremely proud that this story has gotten to the point of so much interest and so much coverage. But are we paying attention to the right things? I’m not sure we always are. I sense a big opportunity to create a new kind of publication, one that has at the center of its brand a thoughtful and deeply informed point of view. I’m not sure how such a site might become profitable in this current era of page-view driven publishing, but I’m relatively certain that could be figured out. I for one want to read this publication, and I wish it existed.