Media in all its various forms is the way with which society communicates and consumes information at scale. When my parents were young, they received their news from major newspapers such as the New York Times, The Boston Globe or the Wall Street Journal. They also had ABC, NBC and CBS nationally televised syndicates that distributed news on a nightly basis to the entire nation. Whether in a large city on the coast or a rural community further in land, most of the media produced and consumed for my parents generation was created en masse for the entire American market.
Then the internet which changed everything.
It brought the beginning of the Information Age, characterized by the launch of the personal computer, AOL and the smart phone. The internet ultimately changed the way media is consumed. Instead of curating information intended for mass-market appeal, now organizations work to distribute content to niche communities. As this happens, new publications arise, legacy institutions are fracturing and/or combining, and individual content producers are appearing as their own unique content production mills.
The proliferation of individual content producers has created a modern day cottage industry, creating and distributing information to a wide audience.
The media cottage industry began in the early 90’s with the rise of bulletin boards systems on the early web. These bulletins were equal parts community building, rumor mill and unique forms of personal expression across wide swaths of geographies. They also represented the first real opportunity to spread information outside of traditional mediums. As internet adoption increased and society started to understand the value of the internet, personal expression and a desire to share information with larger audiences gave rise to the blog in the mid to late 90’s.
Blogging entered the mainstream and during the 2000’s a Pareto Improvement occurred, ie: several blogs became dominant and improved industry standards. Examples include: TechCrunch, Mashable, Tim Ferris’ blog, TMZ, Gizmodo and perhaps most notably the Huffington Post.
The media landscape changed when individuals were able to express themselves and share information at scale. Newspapers around the country became insolvent and began to fail. News channels faced competition from several hundred sources of TV media. The rise of youtube video blogging, social media platforms and instantaneous information exchange of the current age has finally closed the massive information arbitrage gap that traditional media possessed.
To stay solvent, media publications now curate content on a race to be first basis. They attract audiences by what I call “wedge driving” or developing polarizing content to attract a specific audience and cause incendiary engagements. Its an “us versus them” style, packaging media tailored for smaller and more unique communities.
This is an ideal environment for the cottage industry of individual content creators. The democratization of tools of production, content curation and distribution has created a schism across the media industry. Media is consumed at a niche level by topic, by demographics, by geography, by medium (video, audio, short-form writing via twitter). Now the savvy individual with knowledge or a desire to cultivate and curate information can build an audience of like-minded people around any topic. With cheap internet access and tools empowering distribution, it’s possible to achieve enough scale to create profitable niche content.
Tools such as social media for personal expression at scale, no-code platforms for designing websites, digital tools such as email subscription widgets and SEO keyword searches have made it possible to quickly find and capture unique audiences. It’s now possible to publish and monetize content on a professional website without programming experience.
As more tools are developed and the media landscape continues to shift expect to see more unique content developed for the individual and small communities. Mass media will always have a place in society but the internet has forever changed how it will be consumed.