Why Old Media Matters More Than Ever

There’s a persistent dangerous meme in new media, the idea that old media (television, radio, and newspapers) is irrelevant and dying. It’s not. In fact, if anything, old media is more relevant than ever.

Why?

In the old days – and by that I mean pre-1996 – old media was the only game in town if you wanted to reach a large audience. Newspapers and magazines covered print, television and movies brought the moving image to large audiences, and radio gave us music.

The Internet changed a lot of things, including effectively limitless channels of distribution, where every web page was a newspaper and every audio stream was a radio station. People – including myself – predicted the death of old media. As the barriers to content creation and distribution got lower, everyone could be a media producer.

Therein lies the problem.

When everyone can be a media producer, when a certain percentage of the population is producing media, it gets really hard to find media worth consuming.

A popular new media meme is that 99% of people just consume media and only 1% create it. With an estimated 1 billion people online, that’s 10 million media producers. Anyone who owns a cable television knows that it can take the better part of half an hour just to go through 900 channels, much less 10 million.

So what does this mean for old media? Instead of bouncers keeping out the masses, old media is evolving to become a content filter, finding decent stuff in new media and using its distribution networks to take the best stuff and bring it mainstream. The reason this model works is that advertisers provide an automatic filtering mechanism – if an old media outlet shows enough crap, people will stop tuning in to that show, to that channel, and advertising dollars will follow.

To keep advertisers – who pay the bills – happy, old media outlets have to find good stuff and present it. I’ve had this experience many times over the past year, as old media outlets have found the Financial Aid Podcast and featured it in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BusinessWeek, and US News & World Report. Find good stuff and present it, and the advertisers are happy.

Those old media outlets who insist on the bouncer model are indeed headed for the pages of history. Those old media outlets who are adapting and changing will become more relevant than ever, as advertisers trust their editorial judgement – something a lot of new media producers lack, for good or ill.

Does this matter to new media producers? Absolutely. I speak from personal experience that while Google juice is great, and position #1 for a popular search result is wonderful, the traffic from the New York Times is equally great. The smartest new media producers are the ones figuring out how to successfully marry old and new media distribution outlets together to create the best of both worlds.

What’s your old media strategy?

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