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Content and Social Media versus Traditional Media

Like most everybody, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the new role of social media and the decline of traditional media. But unlike a lot of people my livelihood depends on one or the other. I'm a freelance writer who blogs, hoping that if money stops flowing to one income stream it will flow into the other.

On the journalism end, companies are spending less on advertising. Since advertising pays for the journalism that surrounds it, there are less newspapers and magazines around, and those still around have reduced their size. Thus there is generally less journalism work around for those of us who freelance. (And a lot of unemployed staffers.)

Many companies who formerly advertised in traditional media are "shifting" to social media, but this shift helps create a content-free world. Here's how:

Because with social media companies/brands can now speak to consumers directly, they play in the social media space by "engaging" bloggers and others online. They may make games or have a blogger of their own. They send out recipes and often samples. They join in the conversation about their brand. This is all good.

But what I see as the problem is that conversations usually take place around content: the weather, a feature story, news of the day. Social media, including most blogging, is a conversational space but not a content generator. 

As brands shift their spending power toward social media, they are hiring bloggers and facebookers and twitterers to talk about their brands. This is internal spending; PR. But they're not so much buying ads in this space or doing much (so it seems) to generate content. It's more "Hey we're here. Talk about us!"

Though advertisements in traditional and social media are very static, boring things, they fund journalism and content creation for the content that goes around them.

Thus in the current model, No more ads = No more content. Imagine Facebook/Twitter if it was only internal. It would be all messages like "I had the best sandwich today!" and no sharing links to news stories or other outside content. Awful.

The internet has devalued ads (thanks, Google!) and also devalued content (thanks, copy-and-paste!), so that in the social media space there doesn't appear to be any reason to bother with content generation or advertising if you are a corporation. 

As someone who makes a living generating content, I'm worried about all of this. One one hand, journalists are being starved out of the industry. On the other hand, are corporations morally obligated to advertise to keep journalists employed? Unfortunately not.

I haven't thought of any workable solutions to this, and neither has anybody else that I know of. In the meantime I am hoping luxury brands who can afford it keep buying ads in traditional media and toss the occasional website sponsorship my way. Right now content isn't seen as a necessity because there is plenty of it still floating around for free. But in the not-too-distant future content may become a luxury item again.

Comments

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James Pratt

Good, well researched, fact checked journalism that tells a story or uncovers a truth has been dying for 30 years. Large publications have increasingly sought the sensational over the thought provoking and as a result standards in the mainstream media have slipped. Many publications missed diversifying into online and were caught cold. This isn't a criticism of hard working journalists who are trying to do the best job they can do, it's the industry at large. Social media and the growth of internet advertising have just been accelerators of something that was already happening.

With online publishing, all that is changing is your delivery channel. You (Camper) are no longer working for an editor who in turn is working for a publisher who is in turn trying to appeal to a specific set of customers. Those filters have gone and you need to be your own publisher and editor. Some people will succeed with that level of responsibility and some will not. Some blogs will effectively turn into magazines/newspapers - look at a site like Gizmodo or Engadget as examples. They are the New York Times or Time Magazine of their age. They identified a consumer need and filled it with a quality publication. Now they run very much like a newspaper with even more aggressive deadlines.

I disagree with you though that the need for good content has gone. Human beings have an in built need to understand a set of characters, and to see a narrative arc with a conclusion. A good journalist can deliver that whether the medium is a blog, a printed article or a series of tweets.

Your future is in your control. Your blog is the right step to diversify your income. Personally, I subscribe to your blog vs many other cocktail blogs out there because :

1. You publish regularly
2. Your content is well written
3. You are not pretentious
4. I can relate to your methodical experiments to - for example - make clear ice

Will you become the Engadget of the cocktail blogging world? Time will tell.

Beachbum Berry

Well said, Camper ... been obsessing a lot about this issue lately, nice to see your take on it...

InWithBacchus

You definitely bring up some interesting points. While I do agree that it is a stressful time for the writer/blogger in terms of steady income, I also think you're looking at it the wrong way. While the shift in PR from print to online decreases content in magazines, I feel it does contribute to content on the whole. While you (and I myself), refrain from extensive advertising there are many popular blogs out there who do not feel the same way. The money being used for print ads isn't just going into a person who cruises Twitter each day. It's also going to put ads on the websites that will generate the most traffic. Whether it is many smaller blogs at a lower price or a larger blog at a higher price is unknown but the fact is that companies are spending a healthy chunk of their original advertising budgets for online ads now. With Babelfish and Google Translate, these ads will reach a far wider audience than a single-language magazine can reach even on a modest traffic flow website. Goodness knows that I've gotten many hits/translations from countries all across the world and I don't even have ads.

As for Google devaluing ads, I also respectfully disagree. I can't think of any time myself or anyone I know has actually utilized any product or service offered by Google AdSense. I honestly don't even think I've ever clicked on an ad from Google AdSense. Maybe once, I guess, but I had already heard of the company in other terms. I really don't feel that AdSense/Google has cheapened ads because most people view them as almost a joke: they simply ask people to click various links just to generate some modicum of revenue. Most don't tout that it is a legitimate and respected avenue of ad-ship. People just want to start earning cash as quickly as possible with limited effort and AdSense provides that.

Francine Cohen

Camper,

Thank you for musing out loud. You make a number of interesting points.

You're right about the fact that there's no great answer at the present time but I suspect we'll stumble upon it eventually and I look forward to that happening and to the conversation continuing as we dive deeper into this new media world.

Meanwhile, don't give up on generating content. In fact, please band with me in a commitment to continuing to provide stimulating and useful content. Our words will be heard!


Best,
Francine

Camper English

Bacchus- When I say that Google has devalued ads, I mean that partially because of AdSense online ads cost a tiny fraction of what print ads cost. A magazine with a million subscribers can charge way, way more than an equivalent website.

On the web, the cost of distributing content/journalism/information has decreased down to nearly nothing, but the cost of content creation has not decreased by that much.

Armin

I don't know, I think there's more "content" than ever out there. The difference being there is more created by "amateurs" than by "journalists".

At least in my field there's tons of stuff out there from what many people would call "amateurs", often better than what many "professionals" write. Better researched, better expertise, more interesting or picking up small things the mainstream doesn't, you name it.

A lot of the content I find in the mainstream media is some rehashed old article or some PR puff. The rest frequently isn't much better. Unfortunately quite a lot has factual and other errors, either through lack of knowledge or through sloppiness.

Now I understand that this creates a problem for people trying to make a living with their writing and content creation, but that's not something I can change. I subsidise my content and writing with my day job, I very much doubt I'm the only one there. Keeping in mind my topic I don't think it would be feasible to turn it into a full time job, let alone would I want to. Having the day job in the background allows me to write what I want without having to fear the withdrawal of advertising or other financial support. It also allows me to write about things because I'm genuinely interested in them, not because it's my job.

Camper English

Armin- I think you're right on nearly all accounts. The decline of quality journalism in the mainstream is also due in part to advertising funds being pulled from it, so there are less staff writers and only editors who take content from freelancers whom they don't pay well and therefore do the minimal amount of work to get their minimal paycheck. I don't think (others disagree) that traditional media became lazy and bad; I think these publications can no longer afford quality.

I suppose this post is about a few things, but mostly it's about lamenting that there is not actually a transition from journalism in traditional media to online journalism, and this is the result of how the online world works. Nobody's fault, but what a mess!

InWithBacchus

The fact that AdSense ads are so cheap, I feel, is detrimental to their validity however. Hell, even I could afford an AdSense ad if I really wanted to but I know that it would only have limited returns. An ad in a magazine is more of an investment in my eyes as a consumer and I'd be willing to give it more weight than an ad that can pop up on any website out there. The rate of me actually pursuing more information on a product I found in a magazine ad is far higher (about 20x higher) than pursuing information from a Google Ad. It's the classic case of quantity versus quality, in some abstract terms.

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