Since the dawn of man, when we first started walking upright, humans have been curious about the world around them. This desire to understand, to learn, drove explorers to visit new lands, the invention of novel ways to communicate across vast distances, and more recently, during the past few centuries, it gave birth to the news industry. Before the internet the only way to find out about what was going on in your little town was to ask around or pick up a copy of the local newspaper. Then radio and television came along, and that too helped people make better use of the city that they called home. With the internet however, we broke all that. The “global village” was created, was then hyped in the late 90s, crashed miserably, and from the ashes rose the “web 2.0” culture where everyone was told that what they have to say is important, critical in fact, to the future success of the medium. That unhealthy attitude ruined the way we consume and create news.
One of the first things the internet did to news was convince everyone that they had to be the first to know about something. Knowing something before everyone has always had benefits, whether it be news that soldiers were marching towards the city gates or that a shipment of spices and silks was due to arrive at the harbor on a certain day. With newspapers, the guy who covered a story before the other papers had a chance to print it helped sell additional copies. But why is it that today we all think that we need to know something before our friends do? We tune into live blogs, modern systems even auto refresh to deliver minute by minute updates, we check our Twitter and Facebook streams more often than we care to admit, some of us are even addicted to RSS, but what exactly do we stand to gain from knowing about Apple’s latest products before everyone else?
The second thing the internet did was convince people that if they were passionate about a certain subject, they should write about whatever it is they were interested in and heavily promote their content. Back when blogging first became popular, during the first half of the last decade, it was nothing more than a bunch of amateurs writing about things they cared about. When advertisers noticed this they started pumping money into digital ads, taking away from what they would have otherwise spent on print, and these highly biased, yet extremely enthusiastic people, now had a paid opportunity to sit in front of their computer all day and pump out as many articles as their fingers could write on any given day.
The third thing the internet did, and this is more recently, was make everyone write about everything, all in the name of pageviews. If you look back to blog posts from 2003 and 2004, people wrote about topics that they were actually interested in, but because of Google and their AdSense platform people today write about every little press release that gets published so that when your typical reader of news types “high speed memory cards for my Canon DSLR” into a search box, they get articles from nearly every website on the internet. Every little thing that happens should be turned into a 200 word article because it drives hits, which increases revenue, which enables sites like TechCrunch and The Huffington Post to hire even more people, who cram out the same 200 word articles.
And why not? The news houses of today don’t have to deal with the costs associated with putting ink on paper and then delivering said paper to homes and news stands. When there was a limit to what you could say, you only focused on the most interesting stories and trimming away excess fat, while with the internet the same rule doesn’t apply. Some may argue that this is a good thing, that because of social networking only the good stuff surfaces to the top, but it was the same before the internet. Wrote a boring magazine or newspaper? No one bought it and you went out of business.
Writing on the internet started out as a hobby and for a few of us it’s now our main source of income, but don’t think for a minute that the writers of today’s digital age somehow have more fun than the guys who write articles for newspapers and magazines. We internet writers have to get up, make coffee, and pump out copy whether we find the content we’re writing about interesting or not, just like the old guys. We work from home, so we save money because we don’t have to rent an office. We don’t need to print on dead trees, so we save money by avoiding printing houses. We make less money, yet we work the same hours, so is that actually a good thing?
The $500 you’re thinking on spending on an iPad, why not subscribe to the few magazines and newspapers you care about, get it delivered to your home, and then call it a day? Anyone can write a blog post, but it takes a certain set of skills to get published in print, so even the worst magazine has better writing than the average article you’ll find on the internet. You can even tell mainstream media is still important because internet writers go gaga when they get a chance to appear on television or in a newspaper. They know that those are the real players, while what they do is small time and only possible because there’s a market for obsessive coverage about products from company X, Y, and Z.
Are there websites on the net worth paying for? Absolutely, but you can count them with your fingers and toes. In the technology world there’s Ars.Technica and Anandtech and that’s it. Reading Engadget is the equivalent to reading the small thick magazine from your local electronics store that gets included in every Sunday Edition of a newspaper. Gizmodo is slightly better, but that’s because they syndicate content from Wired, a monthly technology magazine. The site I write for, IntoMobile, could go away tomorrow and the world will keep on spinning, and I’d have to find another job, but it’s not really a significant loss. The same could sadly be said about most of the sites on the internet, so what does that tell you about how valuable they really are?
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