Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.
That’s a big part of why we are making this change today.
We decided we needed to take a different — and bolder — approach to this problem. We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.
The problem isn’t with the content we’re producing. Cheap content that generates lots of pageviews is not going away, no more than crappy TV is going away. We will always have the McDonalds of content. And let’s be honest, even the best of us are happy to snack on it every now and again. There’s nothing wrong with McDonalds, but when it’s the only thing I can eat, there’s a problem. Consumers want more options.
The internet is inherently horizontal, with millions of niches full of passionate communities. And yet publishers and advertisers have grafted on old models of creating destinations (be it a website or a print edition) to attract eyeballs. The most efficient way to get a lot of eyeballs is to cater toward average things with mass appeal. In almost all cases, advertisers love mass appeal, so that’s what we readers get.
Let’s imagine a reality where there aren’t any major publishers who will reasonably pay for quality stories because they’re all playing the pageview game (tough to imagine, huh?). What does that world look like? You’re out there with your Syria piece trying to make ends meet. And no, hundreds of thousands of people might not want to read it. But you know this story is important and believe that your readership is out there. You’re absolutely right. They’re out there looking for something other than McDonalds.
When you strip away the decay of old publishers and the pageview mold from the world of “content,” you are left with three essential things: the storyteller, the story, and the reader. If we’re to create a strong economic structure for journalism, it will need to be hyper-focused on the value created between those three things.