Promiscuous media

May 29, 2013

Two years ago, when I wrote about the death of blogging, I contrasted the decline of old-fashioned reverse-chronological blogs with the huge success of Twitter and, especially, Tumblr. Since then, of course, Tumblr has been sold to Yahoo for more than $1 billion, while Twitter is reportedly valued at some ten times that amount. Clearly there’s a lot of value in becoming a successful publishing platform.

One big reason for the success of Twitter and Tumblr is that they have a very clear idea of what their product is, and they focus on making that product great rather than on being all things to all people. Blogging was historically thought of as a one-stop shop: the place where people would post a series of things, and where those things would appear in reverse chronological order. Every so often, a blogger would write something elsewhere, usually for money, and then link to that piece from their blog. But when Twitter came along, something changed: bloggers would write some things on their blogs, and other things on Twitter.

After I realized that Twitter had powers that no individual blog could ever have, I started thinking increasingly about the best platform for any given thing that I wanted to do. Photos of my friends and family of course are easy: they go on Facebook. Less personal photos go on Instagram. And if something could be distilled into 140 characters or less, there’s a good chance that it belonged on Twitter. But Tumblr was great too, for certain things: I’ve now posted to my Tumblr 1,159 times, and have 36,475 followers there. I haven’t spent much time making it pretty or coherent, but short-form content, especially if it’s visual and doesn’t work on Twitter, is often perfect for Tumblr.

There are lots of other platforms too: I’ve seen people like Jerry Saltz get really good at Facebook, although I’ve largely shunned it as a publishing tool. Bloomberg’s Tom Keene is very active on LinkedIn. I had a YouTube channel for a while; that was a lot of fun, and allowed me to do things which don’t necessarily work in print very well. For conversations, podcasts can be wonderful, as can live events. And if I need it, there’s always my own personal blog. Basically, different types of communication require different platforms, and it’s silly to expect everything to fit into one template.

This morning, I posted some thoughts about CitiBike on Medium — which is also the place I chose to publish my big piece on bitcoin. I like how clean Medium is, and it’s quite well suited to content which is longer than a Tumblr post but also maybe not the kind of thing which I’ve started to concentrate on here at my Reuters blog. Don’t ask me to define exactly what I put where: a lot of these decisions are spur-of-the-moment things, and sometimes I change my mind at the last minute. (This post, for instance, was drafted in Medium before I decided to move it over to Reuters.) But I really do love the ability to create and present the stuff I create in the format which puts it in the best possible light.

The new Reuters site is based around the concept of streams, and the Felix Salmon stream on the site, which will appear at some point in the coming months, is by its nature going to be a different animal, on a different platform, than the current Felix Salmon blog on I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work — there will be a lot of trial and error involved, for sure — but right now the way I’m thinking about it is as a place where the various things I do on various platforms can be brought together in a single place. If I write something on Medium, or if I write an article for Wired, or if I post something on Tumblr, or if I create a video on YouTube, that thing can live in its own natural habitat while still being aggregated on my own Reuters platform. And of course I’ll always be writing a lot of original content right here — content which in turn will end up being linked to from Twitter, or syndicated on Seeking Alpha, or otherwise shared around the social web.

To put it another way: the death of the blog was really just the death of a single template into which all of a certain person’s output had to be able to fit. Now we have a multiplicity of options, and it’s silly not to take advantage of them. Media organizations have generally embraced their journalists publishing ultra-short pieces on Twitter; the future, I think, is going to be ever further in that direction. Certain journalists will be wonderfully active on Pinterest; others will develop huge followings on LinkedIn. As they do, their employers will be gifted with a brand-new way to extend their brand out to people they never reached before, in what feels like a very personal manner.

I remember having drinks with one editor-in-chief, a couple of years ago, after a NYT op-ed I had written received wide attention. He said that he would be furious if one of his writers had done such a thing: he had a clear expectation that his own publication would be the only place that his writers published pretty much anything longer than 140 characters. That expectation didn’t make much sense to me in 2011, and it just seems silly now. The same NYT op-ed, published as a Reuters blog post, would have been a very different animal: the medium helps create the message, as well as the audience that it reaches. Media companies should be in the business of curating and publishing what works best on their own platforms, rather than becoming jealous of what appears elsewhere. Indeed, many of them publish too much, and would be well advised to publish much less than they do.

Everybody is a curator, these days: publishers design platforms for certain types of content, editors shape publications by deciding what to leave out; journalists try to make sure that the stuff they’re doing is expressed to its best possible effect on the best possible platform. The result is a more fluid media ecosystem than we’ve been used to, but also a more effective one. Let content live where it works best; that way, the publishers of that content will be able to present something with maximal coherence and a minimum of feeling that they’re trying to do something they’re not particularly good at. The publishers who win are going to be the ones with addictive, compelling, distinctive content. Rather than the ones who are constantly flailing around, trying to copy everything that’s good somewhere else.

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