Newspapers are way ahead of their time

If you’ve arrived here, it’s probably because you think the headline sounds insane and you are ready to leave a comment telling the author what a nutbag he is. Well, maybe, but not for that reason.

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of traditional news companies and noticing that that their strategies, when reasonable at all, are strategies that belong in a different time period. Often that time is in the past, but in some cases that time has not come yet.

Let me explain.

As an example, most farmers use machinery, not livestock, to plow fields these days. In fact, it’s probably a necessity if one wants to compete. But back in the 1800’s there was a time when a farmer wished he could replace his livestock with a machine, but it was impossible, at least for him. The steam engine hadn’t been invented, or if it had, it really wasn’t feasible to create your own tractor. Another industry needed to mature first and only then could a farmer transform his business.

Eventually it became necessary for the farmer to transform, or die. And in between, lots of farmers that were slow to transform when out of business.

Right now, the internet is around the time when the steam engines are still being invented and perfected and an industry is blooming for that business, the business of web services and software.

While I understand that produce didn’t quite become the commodity that content has become, the ability to mass produce it eventually pushed a lot of small farmers to the brink.

A better analogy would be that the steam engine allowed individuals to create food and they didn’t need farms, but that’s not my point.

My point is that when I see traditional news companies trying to leverage users to crowdsource content, I see someone putting the cart way before the horse, or ehhh, steam engine.

The businesses that are valuable right now are the ones that enable and empower users, the one’s that provide steam engines. What everyone does with those engines will remain to be seen. Tons of things, I’m sure. It’s happening as we speak.

Value used to be in production and distribution. Now it’s in providing tools. If we provide our communities tools, they will sow the fields. That of course, is what Twitter, Facebook and Google are doing. They are becoming stewards of the land. They provide the land and tools and take a share in return. That’s a drastic difference from trying to get communities to work for free, which is what a lot of crowdsourcing attempts look like to me.

News companies should worry more about providing their communities the tools to be a community and leave the cultivation of those crops to the second wave of the revolution.

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