Technology is media’s overwhelming context

Very smart piece on Buzzfeed today from Charlie Warzel, who writes off the back of Ezra Klein’s new venture:

media reporting today is, for better or for worse, inextricable from technology reporting. Tech — the internet, CMSes, distribution and production — is not just a factor for media companies, but an overwhelming context.

This goes deeper than simply CMS issues, though they’ve long been the biggest bugbears of those in the industry dominated by print requirements as they moved onto the web. Journalism and the technology used to distribute it have long been so deeply enmeshed that separating them would be meaningless. You can see that in the launch of things like Inside, which is aiming to aggregate content in short, fact-filled bursts designed for mobile reading but not for grammatical sense.

You can also see the context-blindness that Warzel mentions in the launch of the Saturday Paper, a new Australian print weekly which is relying on entirely different technology to Klein or Inside. The conversations around it have mostly been about editorial quality, with the CEO coming out swinging at the print incumbents. What’s missing from that analysis is any kind of conversation about the technology used, the difficulties of expanding a print model through rural Australia, and the issues of attention competition. Like Inside, like any news organisation on any medium, the Saturday Paper has to compete not just with other attractions using its own tech and distribution method, but also all those using other methods too. Print is no more a monolith than the internet, but the media reports around this new print product aren’t (yet) about innovations in design or in production, editorial strategy (beyond ‘be better than the others’, which is a little nebulous) or how the content will fit the form.

It’s that last part that matters most. Journalism, in whatever form it’s in, is symbiotic with the technology it’s using, in ways that go far beyond 140-characters for Twitter reports or design parameters for print. Increasingly, journalism online is shaped to match or to work with algorithms, tapping into what works to trigger broader pickup on different networks. Snappy front pages sell newspapers because of the technology and affordances of the newsstand; Upworthy headlines get links shared because of the technology and affordances of Facebook; Inside is betting that the technology and affordances of mobile readership will bring it similar success. The content strategy can’t be sensibly separated from the technologies involved.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm an operations specialist, analytics nerd, recovering journalist, consultant, writer, game designer, company founder, and highly efficient pedant.

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