The old media/new media chasm

In every era, traditional media channels will diminish, dismiss and ignore the new ones. They do this at the very same time that they are supplanted by the new ones.

While they will occasionally spend some time or money testing a new medium, they rarely leap.

This is the posture of the business people/publishers, but it also has an impact on their editorial approach.

Radio shows rarely became TV shows. TV networks didn’t embrace cable as they could have. The book industry generally ignores every innovation in tech.

As late as 1994, Bryant Gumbel was spending time on network TV being befuddled by the ‘internet’. And in 1999, Conde Nast bought the print half of Wired but intentionally left the web version behind.

Twenty years ago, newspapers were in a perfect position to establish blog networks—they had their reader’s attention and advertiser’s trust. But they blinked.

New media tends to be adopted by amateurs first. And it rarely has a mass audience in the early days (because it’s new). But professional content for the masses is precisely what old media stands for. As new media gains traction, the old media doubles down on what they believe to be their value, because they no longer have a monopoly on attention.

The editors at Encyclopedia Brittanica were proud of the control they had over every page, so they ignored Wikipedia. The producers and directors of movies love the gloss of film, so they ignored video games. And the editors of newspapers like their local hegemony so they fight against distributed content.

So the Times publishes a snarky, poorly written takedown of podcasts. Not because it’s based on the economic or cultural reality of today, but because their self-esteem requires there to be a chasm between all of these amateur podcasts and the few professional ones that they deign to create and publish.

Businesses make their own choices and suffer the consequences. The Mutual Broadcasting Network was a powerhouse in radio, but no longer. The problem is that these media businesses also narrate our cultural conversation, and that narration is historically wrong and prevents people from seeing what’s possible until it’s already well underway.

There were thousands of newspapers before there were only a few profitable ones. There are millions of YouTube creators, but only hundreds make a great living at it. And the same will be true of podcasts.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start a podcast. You should. Because a podcast is a generous way to share your ideas. Because it gives you a way to clarify your thinking. Because you can assemble a group of people who want to go where you’re going.

The Podcast Fellowship starts this week. Check it out.